I often wonder if everyone who loves food feels slightly embarrassed (and even a tiny bit ashamed) when asked about an ingredient they have heard of but never cooked with. Or whether it is, in fact, just my relentless desire – and the root of endless disappointment – to know absolutely everything that prompts this shame.
Salsify fell into this category for me for a very, very long time. I’d seen it on Saturday Kitchen, read about it in the weekend supplements and even – I think – saw it on market stalls a few times. But I’d not so much as touched the stuff until last week, when it turned up in the ‘gourmet’ veg box I pay a premium for each week. I knew that extra fiver would pay off in the end. I can now rest smugly in the salsify cooks camp, and know definitively not only what one of these gangly, gnarly, knobbly roots looks like, but also that it is really very nice. If a bit of a faff to peel thanks to its lankiness.
If Higgs’s pomegranates from the last post would win the gold star in a fruit and veg beauty pageant, salsify would be a world away from the winners podium. But of course it’s what’s inside that counts and salsify has personality by the shedload. I drew inspiration from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe and added lemongrass, using punchy Asian flavours to make fritters from the grated roots. Be wary that it starts to brown almost immediately after peeling – not much of an issue if you’re making fritters in my mind, but putting it straight into water and lemon juice should prevent this if it bothers you.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy to get hold of salsify. I’ve never seen it in supermarkets but it does appear frequently at farmers markets when in season. It’s sometimes called the oyster plant as people liken its raw flavour to that of, you guessed it, an oyster. I confess my taste buds are not subtle enough to have been able to detect this, but I found its cooked form not dissimilar in earthiness and texture to a jerusalem artichoke or a parsnip. You could, in fact, try substituting either of those, or even potatoes, in this recipe.
I tossed up doing fritters with Jamie Oliver’s suggestion to cut the peeled roots into short lengths before frying slowly with butter, wine and thyme. This vegetable impressed me enough to be reassured that there will almost certainly be a next time.
Salsify, lemongrass and coriander fritters
2 garlic cloves
1 red chilli
Half a thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 lemongrass stalk, with outer skin removed and top discarded
3 spring onions
A handful coriander
1 tbsp flour
1tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges to serve
First prepare your salsify. Wash, peel and grate it coarsely. Melt half the butter in a sauté pan. Sauté your grated salsify over a low heat for 10 minutes or so until soft, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, get your other ingredients ready. Mince the garlic and chop the chilli, ginger, lemongrass, spring onions and coriander very finely. Combine these in a bowl and add the salsify once soft. Push the mixture to one side of the bowl and crack the egg in, beating gently before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Add the flour, a good dose of salt and pepper and stir.
Warm the remaining butter and olive oil in the pan you cooked the salsify in over a medium heat. Squish a quarter of the mixture into a patty shape in your palms and, once the butter has melted and is sizzling, place in the pan. Repeat three times with the rest of the mixture, leaving space between each fritter. Don’t be tempted to touch initially but turn once after about 3 minutes – check the underside is nicely browned before flipping. Cook for a further three minutes on the other side, then serve with lemon wedges alongside.
Posted by Monks