At my physician’s suggestion (and invitation), I recently spent a weekend exploring Lancaster County, PA. While this little trip did nothing to improve my aforementioned chronic condition, it resulted in a number of delightful eating experiences.
After booking our room (the Duchess) at King’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Dr. S received from the owners a comprehensive list of nearby restaurants. Aided by this list and the recommendations of the ever-helpful Chowhound message boards, we had pretty much decided on Effie Ophelia in downtown Lancaster for dinner the first night. But when we learned that the restaurant was scheduled to close in just two weeks time, due to a job-related relocation for the chef’s spouse, the decision was sealed. Of course we must eat there! If not now, when?! And upon strolling by and peeking in the windows on the afternoon of our arrival in town, we were gleeful in our choice. (OK, perhaps “gleeful” better describes my reaction, but Dr. S certainly agreed that it looked like a great spot.) We saw an intimate space, seating only 30, made cozier by the dark wood of the interior, the cushioned benches, and the red velvet drape protecting diners from the opening and closing of the front door. Anticipation for dinner now beginning to build, and having skipped lunch after having eaten a rather late breakfast, we rushed off for the sustaining distraction of a hot chocolate with whipped cream.
A few hours later we were seated in that candle-lit room, sharing our two first courses, and making mental notes as to how we could recreate one of them at home. While the sea scallops served over a mound of whipped parsnip and pear puree were perfectly seared and comforting on what was a chilly night, it was the roasted carrot and chickpea salad that captured our full attention.
We had not expected that the salad would be served warm, but it was. It arrived at the table in a perfectly round form, a low cylinder, about 2 1/2 inches high. Jutting out from the compressed form of chickpeas, spinach and roasted fennel, were roasted carrot batons, and a spiral of honey curry vinegar circled the plate. After a few bites, it was quite clear that this was an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Nothing fussy was going on here, just simple roasted vegetables with this interesting honey curry dressing. As much as we enjoyed the sugar barbecued pork loin and striped bass that came next, the carrot and fennel salad remained on our minds.
And so it was that two nights later we decided to try to recreate it as part of our Sunday night dinner.
Clearly the carrots and fennel had been roasted, but we weren’t sure what the treatment had been for the chickpeas. Because we they were somewhat flattened and blackened on one side, we surmised that they, along with the roasted vegetables, had perhaps been seared on a flat griddle beneath a heavy spatula, and then everything spooned into a cylindrical mold. Not having a griddle, I decided to just toss the chickpeas in to roast along with the carrots and fennel. (This would turn out to be a bad move.) Determining that the spinach would need only a quick wilting, we turned to the honey curry vinegar.
With the discovery that his cupboard was bare of curry, Dr. S made a “kitchen emergency” call to his neighbor, and returned bearing a restaurant kitchen-sized container of Madras curry, but also somewhat soggier due to the torrents of rain he had to brave in the process. We mixed, we tested, we added, and we learned a few things:
Number one: it’s helpful to heat the curry in a little bit of oil in order to best bring out the flavor
Number two: it’s helpful to heat the honey a wee bit, as well.
Number three: mix the curry and honey first and add the vinegar (we used rice vinegar) drop by drop. You want the consistency to remain honey-like. The object is a sauce with a sweet, hot taste, zinged up with a bit of vinegar.
The vegetables done, we were ready to compose! Foregoing any attempt at a mold, we served the dish as a traditional salad, with a drizzle of honey vinegar. The result . . .
Success – almost!!!
As I alluded to above, the chickpeas had not been properly handled. They were crunchy. And though I understand that some folks like crunchy, roasted chickpeas as a snack, they were out of place here. After discussion, Dr. S and I agreed that the next time they should be thrown in for only the last few minutes of roasting, or perhaps even just heated in a bit of (curried?) oil. But other than that, we were pretty pleased with our experiment. It was the first time either of us had tried to recreate something we’d eaten in a restaurant and it was great fun! I do believe we may do it again.
Thanks, Effie Ophelia!