Back in February, my wife and I made the trek out to Tomball to celebrate the one year anniversary of Bootsie's Heritage Café. The dishes spanned a wide range of tastes, flavors and textures. From the unparalleled freshness and sense of place on offer in a communal dish of live grass shrimp harvested just hours prior from Galveston's West Bay, to the deeply savory and mineral earthiness of a beef onglet sheathed in cipollini onion ash, the meal was both surprising and familiar, often in the same turn.
Scattered throughout the courses ran a steady stream of foraged ingredients, from the wild violet leaves garnishing the onglet to the coastal samphire adorning a seafood dish accented by an earthy and tangy bronzed whey. Those touches, which give the dining experience at Bootsie's a tantalizingly fleeting quality, always stick with me well after a meal there, influencing my own cooking in sometimes subtle, sometimes overt ways.
This particular meal left me deeply enamored of two dishes in particular, both deceptively simple yet with such focus as to demand attention. One, a simple savory porridge with foraged mushrooms and henbit; the other, raw carrot and parsnip, shaved thin and served with parsnip granola and hay-scented foam. Neither was elaborate, focusing on a sort of rustic elegance and pointed flavor.
A little while later, I found myself at the market, staring at beautiful, variegated bundles of carrots, and was transported back to that dinner. I bought them, not quite sure how I was going to treat them. As I walked through my back gate into the kitchen, I noticed wide swaths of henbit, now in full bloom, scattered throughout my lawn, and was reminded of the flowers garnishing hearty, earthy porridge. The memory of those dishes working in the background, I began thinking through a dish.
Henbit is a distant relative of mint, and its leaves carry a subtler, fleetingly similar flavor. It's not actually minty, but it's certainly reminiscent. The flowers bring an earthy, almost mushroomy note (why they made so much sense in that earthy porridge). Mint and carrots are a pretty classic combination, so it was no great leap to pull some henbit from the lawn and pair it with the beautiful root vegetables.
I quickly decided that I wanted to preserve the quality of the carrots as much as possible, so I gave them a quick rinse, and sliced them thinly on my mandoline. A quick rummage through my refrigerator brought the idea for a miso-cream, and hazelnuts on the counter offered a bridge between the flavors and textures.
Cream and miso infused over gentle heat until the cream was deeply flavored. I strained it, chilled it, then whipped it to soft peaks, reserving some cream un-whipped. Into a bowl went a spoonful of whipped miso cream, surrounded by a pool of liquid. Carrots went on top of the cream, with a scattering of crumbled hazelnut and a few sprigs of henbit.
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The carrots were sweet, with an undercurrent of slightly bitter grassiness that was tempered by the savoriness of the miso cream. The henbit added an herbaceous hit and some subtle earthiness, while the hazelnuts mirrored the nuttiness of the miso; their slightly softer crunch segued between the crisp carrots and the silky cream.
For a dish inspired by two vastly different plates of food, a trip to the market, and my own backyard, it was remarkably good. It was also a good reminder of the power of food to shape the imagination. Without that dinner at Bootsie's, this dish probably never would have come into being.