Friday, March 15, 2013

Foodie Faves: My Mandoline
What's cooking? Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Pecans

My food processor is a miracle worker at chopping a big pile of onions or grinding basil and pignoli nuts together for pesto. My blender produces the most velvety textures when puréeing vichyssoise or the strawberries for a sorbet. And when I want butternut squash in a half-inch dice for risotto or garlic in a fine mince, I’m even plenty handy with just my chef’s knives.

But none of those tools will give me the wafer-thin rounds of radish for a salad, or perfectly even slices – only ⅛ inch thick – of pear for a tart. Or those exquisitely cut carrots in a matchstick julienne. And while the food processor will slice Brussels sprouts for a sauté, the results are wildly erratic and are often accompanied by a bu-ta-bu-ta-bu-ta-bu-ta noise as the ends get stuck in that space between the lid and the slicing wheel.

No, for those particular slicing tasks, I have a Japanese Benriner mandoline – simple, plastic, cheap, and supremely effective. You can find one at pretty much any kitchen/restaurant supply site, online or in a physical store; but I’ll advise you to shop around, as with hardly any effort, the Kitchen Goddess found them at prices ranging from $19 to $65. (“Sixty-five dollars?!” she exclaimed with some emphasis. “Must be the designer edition.”)

It’s easy to operate. Just hold the food against the plastic front and slide it up and down across the blade. One source I read suggested sprinkling a little water on the front to make the sliding surface a bit slippery – a technique I haven’t used but which sounds like a decent idea. A small knob lets you adjust the thickness of the slices. And even the cheapest version comes with three toothed blades for julienne cuts ranging in size from French fries to shredded cucumber.

N.B. and BEWARE: There’s no motor, no whirling blade, no on/off switch. In fact, the blade is completely exposed, and that’s what makes the mandoline so exciting to use. The blade is sharper than Dorothy Parker. You can be merrily slicing away  – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh – and suddenly find yourself with a bit of knuckle or thumb in the salad along with those elegant slivers of carrot or fennel. And then it’s just a mess. So avoid the mess and the blood all over your white chef’s coat, and be careful as you cut.

* * *

Looking for lunch today, I noticed a bag of Brussels sprouts in the veggie drawer. So I got out my handy Benriner and shredded those sprouts faster than you can say, “Hand me some garlic, honey.” I sautéed an onion, added the sprouts and a bit of broth, and threw in some of those spiced pecans I told you about in December, along with a dash of balsamic reduction (click here – or you can now find it as Balsamic Glaze in grocery stores). Yummy and fast, thanks to my mandoline.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Pecans

 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, sliced thin
½ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic reduction
½ cup chopped spiced pecans (or other candied nut)

Heat the oil in a large skillet (one with a lid) over medium heat. Sauté the onion 5 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté another minute.

Add the shredded Brussels sprouts and the chicken broth, stir well, and cover. Let the sprouts cook, covered, until they are barely tender (about 5 minutes).

Remove the lid and stir in the balsamic reduction and the pecans. Crank the heat up to medium high and cook, stirring often, another 3 minutes.

Serves 6.

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