Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.
Prepare yourself. This is going to be one of those crazy all over the map posts. The common string is unfamiliarity; whether it's an ingredient, a cooking method, or simply a term that is rooted in an unfamiliar language. This theme came to me initially this week when a Dinova sales person signed a restaurant in Seattle named Girin Steakhouse, and was then reinforced on an internal team call where the topic slipped to a sunchoke with black garlic dish at another Dinova newcomer, Rambler.
When I initially saw the name I thought (maybe) some guy named Girin opened a steakhouse, and when I visit I would order a NY Strip with a baked potato. However, a quick look at the website revealed something much different…following the word “steakhouse” comes “ssam” and “bar”. This is not your typical American steakhouse. I know what a bar is, but ssam?
If you have ever enjoyed one of P.F. Chang’s most popular dishes, Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps, you’ve had something very similar to ssam. “Ssam is an offering of leafy greens and vegetables for wrapping proteins with garlic, soy paste, chilies and banchan."
Translated to English banchan means side dish. Of course, had I been familiar with the Korean language I may also have recognized the namesake of the restaurant. In Korean culture "Girin" is a divine creature said to bring good luck, prosperity, and serenity. Apparently the good luck came to fruition since they were a James Beard Best New Restaurant nominee. How about that?
But, now it's on to sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. Not botanically related, as the latter name implies, they have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that can be somewhat reminiscent of an artichoke. I think sunchoke is a more fitting name, they are the tuber of a plant that is related to the sunflower.
I will go off on a tangent here and mention the difference between a root and a tuber. Simply put a root’s sole purpose is to absorb water and nutrients from the ground. Tubers store nutrients and can propagate new plants. Potatoes are tubers, carrots are roots.
Now, back to the sunchoke, it looks like a big piece of ginger and is in season now through spring.
Black garlic is served with the sunchokes at Ramblers in San Francisco, and this combination deserves a little attention as well. I first tried black garlic at a food show about five years ago and it was love at first bite. Unlike purple potatoes, garlic does not come across this intense color naturally. Garlic is heated over a period of several weeks, a process that turns this common root (had to say that) into a caramelized head of sweet and sticky goodness. Black garlic is common in Asian cuisines and is known for its health benefits. America hadn’t seen much of this exotic ingredient before 2008, and now it's available in many different restaurant concepts.
After this immense knowledge dump, I bid you well prepared for a weekend game of Foodie Fight, the “trivia game for serious food lovers.”