One of my very first food memories is of radishes.
Grandma, I questioned, Do you really like radishes?
My grandmother was standing over her kitchen sink washing a bunch of radishes. She was lost in thought, looking out the window above the sink at a bird who was merrily chirping nearby. A refreshing breeze fluttered the curtains and brought with it the scents of freshly mown grass, lilac, and earth. It was late spring and we were about to enjoy what was probably our first meal of the season outdoors, in the backyard at my grandparents’ house. I was about six.
I continued. To me, they taste a little like spicy dirt.
She laughed, nodding her head. To me too, but I don’t mind them.
Since then I’ve never asked my grandmother if she actually likes radishes or just sort of tolerates them. I know for myself, despite the numerous healthy things I make myself ingest solely for the sake of health, radishes are still not something I like. Or eat.
But I do like to challenge myself.
For the months of April and May, the 5 Star Makeover challenge was a little different than normal. Usually the group leaders (Laz and Natasha) tell us the secret ingredient and everyone cooks their own dish using that ingredient. Instead, for the months of April and May, we were broken up into groups of three people and each team (or “restaurant”, if you will) had to come up with their own theme ingredient. Each person in the group then chose a different course from a three-course meal (i.e., appetizer, main dish, and dessert) in which to use the common ingredient to simulate a full meal that you might have at a restaurant – hence the fun title of this challenge, Restaurant Wars!
I was paired with two talented ladies, Evelyne (Cheap Ethnic Eatz) and Shannon (Tri to Cook). We spent a while thinking about and discussing what we wanted our theme ingredient to be. In the end, in the spirit of challenge, we decided to go with something that none of us were crazy about – radishes! For a little extra fun, we decided to incorporate lemon and vanilla into all three of our dishes as well.
Here’s our team’s lovely restaurant menu board, designed by Evelyne. (Thanks, Ev! Also, thanks to Shannon for being our fabulous group leader!) Be sure to head over to their blogs to check out their dishes — Shannon is making the appetizer and Ev is making the main dish.
I had an idea in mind and I volunteered for the dessert course.
I was picturing radishes that were roasted or braised to mellow their peppery flavor a bit…softened with sugar and maybe strawberries, spiced with vanilla and citrus…pureed into a velvety sauce. And then the real pièce de résistance, the part of my dessert that I knew was worth making even if my radish sauce didn’t convert me into an instant radish lover: muhallibeh.
Muhallibeh is a Middle Eastern pudding that’s made of a milk and cornstarch base, subtly sweetened, and gently flavored with rose water and orange blossom water. It can be eaten as a pudding, stirred to give the effect of a clotted cream, or inverted like an Italian panna cotta. I wanted to serve mine panna cotta-style, on a bed of the luscious sauce.
I like my puddings a bit more on the wobbly side, so I used 4 tablespoons of cornstarch to thicken 3 cups of milk. If you prefer a bit of a stiffer pudding (which is undoubtedly easier to unmold if you want to invert it), increase the cornstarch to 5 tablespoons for this amount of milk. And I have to mention, I didn’t let my pudding set up quite long enough in the fridge. I was pressed for time, so after the pudding cooled to room temperature, I only chilled it for about an hour and a half in the fridge. However, overnight really is best if you’re planning to invert the pudding. The next day I inverted one and it came out perfectly – and ironically ended up looking much nicer than the pudding in the picture. :)
So, how did I like my dish? Well, I adored the muhallibeh…but I still don’t like radishes. In the end I’m glad I gave them another try, and I had a fantastic time brainstorming with my teammates. I probably will give radishes another taste in the future…do you have a radish dish that you’re certain will make a radish lover out of me?
Citrus & Vanilla-Scented Muhallibeh:
Makes 4 individual puddings
3 cups milk
4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Get out 4 (6 oz) ramekins and have them ready.
Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and the cornstarch to form a slurry in a small bowl; set aside. Heat the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil; whisk in the cornstarch slurry, bring it back up to a boil, and boil 1 minute, whisking constantly the whole time. Turn heat off and whisk in the vanilla bean paste, orange blossom water, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
Divide the pudding between the 4 ramekins; cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until fully chilled (overnight is best if you want to invert the puddings). Invert each pudding onto an individual serving dish and serve with the Velvety Radish Sauce.
Velvety Radish Sauce:
Makes about 1 cup
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1 (3/4 lb) bunch radishes, trimmed of leaves and stems and cut in half
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
Heat the clarified butter in a medium-large, lidded, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the radishes, cut side down, and cook without moving until they start to turn golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the sugar and water, turn heat down to medium-low, cover the skillet, and cook 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and strawberries, and then cover the skillet and cook 5 minutes.
Cool slightly, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat and stir in the vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and orange blossom water.