New Year's Chef Challenge: Try These 5 Palate Pleasers!

Ring in 2008 with These Top Ingredients...

Trying new things in the kitchen will not only inspire your culinary passions, but make you a better chef to boot. Turn a new culinary leaf this New Year-resolve to work with new or underused ingredients! Here are five tasty recommendations to get you started, along with a few tips for preparing them.

Culinary Arts

Plate Some Pork Belly

Casey's use of this fatty cut of pig in Season Three of Top Chef helped launch its popularity with novice chefs, but professionally-trained cooks have known about this delicious ingredient for years. Tia Harrison, owner of Caffe Sociale in San Francisco, frequently offers pork belly on her menu. This month's feature is an appetizer of seared pork belly served with mostarda and watercress salad.

"Don't be intimidated by the fat. Once you braise it [pork belly], it can crisp up and is really delicious," Harrison advises first-time pork belly chefs.

Interested? While many butchers may not have it in stock, most can order it for you.

Try These Awesome Blossoms: Zucchini, Squash, or Cucumber

While finding a source for these delicate blossoms can be challenging, a visit to the farmer's market in early summer should yield results. The most common way to prepare blossoms is to deep fry them, after first dipping them in a very thin batter. A stuffing of ricotta and herbs is optional.

Blossoms can also be sliced and quickly sautéed at high heat to use as a garnish or appetizer. Although their season is still a few months off, the light flavor and unique texture of blossoms is worth waiting for.

Kick Up Kohlrabi

Root-like in appearance, the edible part of kohlrabi is actually a thickened stem, usually sold with leaves attached. Its flavor is often compared to that of a turnip, making it an ideal choice for roasting. Look for kohlrabi at farmers markets or in the produce section, and choose small, firm specimens free of yellowing leaves.

To prepare kohlrabi, wash it well and remove the leaves, which can then be sautéed or steamed. Grated kohlrabi is a tasty addition to salads or slaws, and even complements a crudités platter, especially when paired with creamy dill or horseradish dipping sauce.

Dragon Fruit: Fire Things Up

The dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or strawberry pear, is originally from Central America. With its hot pink exterior and seed-studded white flesh, this exotic cactus fruit is an eye-catching ingredient to add to your repertoire. The flavor of dragon fruit is similar to that of a kiwi or prickly pear because it is mildly sweet and slightly acidic.

Dragon fruit may not be available in your local supermarket, but you can order it online. To prepare dragon fruit, simply wash and peel it. Try grilling dragon fruit or cook it with peaches and raspberries on vanilla ice cream. Dragon fruit also tastes great in chutneys or fresh salsas.

Go Wild for Boar

Popular in Italy (where it is called cinghiale), wild boar is gaining ground in the United States as amateur chefs begin to appreciate its distinct flavor. A range-fed meat, wild boar is lower in fat than farmed pork, and thus much better for you. It's also sure to wow your culinary audience as a rarely-served treat.

Harrison's Caffe Sociale frequently offers wild boar entrees, which she says are popular with diners. One of her favorite ways to prepare boar is in Bolognese sauce, served with pici, handmade pasta typical of Southern Italy. Not up for grabbing a rifle and hunting your own boar? You can order wild boar steaks, roasts, or even sausage online.

A Year of Kitchen Firsts

If this list doesn't whet your palate, look to the Chef2Chef Recipe Center for more inspiration. Whether you choose oxtail and sunchokes or persimmons and caribou, new ingredients are sure to liven up your menus in 2008 (not to mention sharpen your cooking skills).

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