Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fried Veggies: Cymlings, Green Tomatoes and Tomatillos Fritos

A few years ago, my wife and I used to live a block away from a fabulous Cajun restaurant called Bayou. Sadly, it is gone now, but memories of their Sunday brunches remain, especially the fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce they offered with their various Louisiana-inspired variations on eggs Benedict.

A recent food article in a newspaper featured tomatillos, sometimes known as “Chinese lantern plants” because of the papery covering that encloses the green bulbous fruit. Typically used in sauces like salsa verde, they have always reminded me of green tomatoes, which prompted the thought: why not fried tomatillos with remoulade sauce and eggs Benedict?

Several cookbooks offer recipes for fried green tomatoes, including Joanne Weir’s You Say Tomato (Broadway Books, New York, 1998), but the most interesting one I found was from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking (University of North Carolina Press, 1985). This recipe was especially useful because he precedes it with a general discussion of frying vegetables, noting the range of different types that can be fried and giving specific advice for each, including green tomatoes. The thing that made this recipe particularly intriguing, though, was the one vegetable he gave the most detailed instructions for: fried cymlings. Fortunately, he defines cymlings, because I had never heard of them: they turn out to be a Southern U.S. vegetable also known as the petticoat squash, and Neal gives a parenthetical history of the name. Evidently, it first appeared in 1705 as a corruption of simnel, a Lenten currant cake that somewhat resembles the petticoat squash in appearance. I have never tasted a cymling, but it’s now at the head of my list of things to seek out on my next southern excursion.

Convinced that I had invented something completely new, I was all ready to adapt Bill Neal’s fried cymlings recipe to tomatillos. Before I actually did that, however, I decided I should check the Internet just to see if maybe one or two other people had thought of the idea before me. They had: a quick Google search turned up 287,000 hits, including one for Tomatillos Fritos from Recipe Zaar ( http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/Tomatillos-Fritos-Fried-Green-Tomatillos-140997 ). I ended up fixing that one, which I recommend: it soaks the tomatillos in milk and egg with hot sauce, and it uses a combination of cornmeal and flour for the breading. They went great with the remoulade sauce, the eggs Benedict, and the bloody Mary’s we served them with to round out the brunch. It wasn’t quite brunch at the Bayou, but it did bring back memories.

In the future, there are two variations I plan to try. The first is to go with my original idea of adapting Bill Neal’s fried cymlings recipe, in part because it is extremely simple (you coat them in cornmeal and fry them in bacon fat or peanut oil). The second variation is to replace the bloody Mary (delicious as that was) with one of the recommended wines from Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page’s book, What to Drink with What You Eat. They list five wine choices under their tomatillos entry, and their preferred one seems to be a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

When it comes to cymlings, though, it appears that I am on my own: Dornenburg and Page don’t have an entry for them.

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