I blogged about riffing in the kitchen last summer when a quinoa salad just evolved (riffing is kind of the opposite of following a recipe I think). Here's another great invention that never would have happened without a certain odd confluence of leftovers. I can't even recommend trying to make this because it just has to be freestyle, but maybe the story is of interest! Let me tell the long tale of Parsnip Cakes.
My older child is five and when we go grocery shopping I sometimes try the trick of having her pick out a vegetable to try, thus investing her in the idea of actually eating it later. Once she picked an artichoke. Once she picked baby bok choy. Last week she chose parsnips, which I promised were kind of like mashed potatoes (totally beloved), but sweeter and... different.
Saturday was parsnip day. I boiled the heck out of our 3 parsnips so they'd be soft enough for my Foley Food Mill. I milled and milled to get about 2 tablespoons of gorgeous parsnip puree. I had also planned to serve mini farfalle, but our dinner still needed protein. The freezer came to the rescue as I thawed and sautéed a few handfuls of cooked shrimp. Complete meal served to children? Accomplished!
There were a few small issues however. It turns out that parsnips are very fibrous and there was a ton left in the upper part of the food mill, ostensibly rubbish but looking pretty edible. Plus (of course) my children did not eat much of their shrimp, so I had a good handful of chopped-up shrimp left over. Never mind what happened to the parsnips and pasta (one of these was dispatched quickly, not the other).
Parsnips and chopped shrimp reminded me a lot of dim sum--chopped shrimp is a prime ingredient in a lot of delicious fillings, and parsnips are kind of like turnips, which are used for turnip cakes. Hmmm.
The next day at lunchtime, I was ready to riff. Here's how it went down:
I combined the fibrous bits of 3 parsnips, 5-10 chopped leftover shrimps, a bit of red onion I was chopping anyway for a quinoa salad, a dab of kim chi because I didn't have any ginger, some garlic-chili paste, and some tamari. I mushed everything together. Then I heated peanut oil to very hot and formed 3 cakes, browning them on both sides. I served them to myself with a tamari + rice wine vinegar dip and a flourish.
Oh my goodness parsnip cakes are so good! I almost want to replicate them on purpose, but that wouldn't be right. But it is a very happy accident to come across a meltingly sweet, piping hot, super spicy, almost-dim-sum lunch on a quiet Sunday afternoon.