Restrictions have nothing on her.

Microbrewed Root Beer?

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A “sophisticated palate” is a concept that has always eluded me. What do you mean, a sip of this wine evokes elderberries and freshly trimmed grass? Oaky? Floral? I’ve just never gotten it. I suppose with practice I’ll be able to train myself but for now let’s just say I’m confused at best.

Recently I had the pleasure of tasting a microbrewed root beer, Virgil’s. It came highly recommended by a friend who saw the elusive elixir once, years ago, in a high end grocery store, never to see it again until Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s began to carry it. His girlfriend was away for the weekend and since as usual I bought far too much produce for one person to consume before it spoils, I invited him over for a home-cooked meal. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll bring the root beer.” It hadn’t occurred to me that root beer as well as beer can be microbrewed, but that makes sense, sure, and hey I’m adventurous. Ok!

My friend described Virgil’s as fragrant, with a strong wintergreen and anise after-flavor. Anise is one of the few flavors I detest and licorice flavored products make me ill — don’t even get me started on absinthe – ick! — so I was a little hesitant!

Meanwhile, as my friend read the comic books tucked on my bookshelf, I prepared dinner. Ever since I saw the Tomatoes Stuffed with Bulgur and Herbs recipe on NY Times I’ve been dying to try it, not only because tomatoes are in season and will therefore be tastier, but also because I keep bulgur wheat on hand in my pantry; it cooks way faster than rice or quinoa, has a pleasantly grainy texture, it’s tasty and pretty good for you. Also, I realized I had an extra heirloom tomato on hand from the farmer’s market I had forgotten about, so there was enough to make for lunch the next day, yes! In addition, in my earnestness to buy things in season, I purchased two ears of fresh local corn from the grocery store and several nectarines that I knew I’d never finish before they go bad, so as an appetizer I whipped up a grilled chili corn and nectarine salsa. Pretty tasty!

First I started on the bulgur wheat. After pouring boiled water onto it, it had to sit for half an hour or until fluffy. While that was resting, I chopped everything else up for both dishes. I accidentally threw out the caps to the tomatoes; they were supposed to be the lids when the tomatoes were stuffed but I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough. Oh well. When the bulgur wheat was fluffed enough, I combined it with chives and mint and a tablespoon of olive oil. I wish I had pine nuts too but I had to do without. Their crunchiness would have been a nice addition to the soft bulgur and roasted tomatoes.

Herbs and bulgur combined reminded me of tabouli, but without lemon. Instead, and this is what made it fantastic, I shook a whole bunch of cinnamon in the bulgur mix. Now, I love cinnamon. I eat it everyday with breakfast, either on yogurt or oatmeal. My opinion: you can’t go wrong with cinnamon. And wow, it really made the flavor pop!

After that, I salted and peppered the scooped out tomatoes and stuffed them. I drizzled olive oil onto my lidless tomatoes, wrapped it up in tinfoil and baked it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. I think I was supposed to add water to the pan but decided against it, as that always causes a mess. Or maybe I’m just a klutz?

Then while the tomatoes were roasting I grilled the corn. I sliced off the kernels of both ears, seasoned it with chilli pepper and some salt. When cooked through for a few minutes — the kernels slowly turned a bright yellow, I turned the gas off the stovetop and added half an onion, chopped. The recipe I was going by called for scallions but unfortunately I had none. Same difference. I let the corn and onion breathe in the still-warm pan while I pitted and chopped a nectarine into little pieces. Again, I was going with what I had on hand — really there should have been at least two juicy ones, and peaches at that. Whatever. About one tablespoon of chopped mint was tossed in with the nectarine bits and then I added the corn and onion saute all together. Instead of lime juice I squirted in lemon juice and salt to taste, then tossed.

It was absolutely addictive. The starchiness of the corn played off the sweetness of the nectarine just enough to balance each other and there was but a hint of chili flavor to make it interesting. Perhaps it should have been saucier but I preferred the salsa a little dry, and we easily scooped it up with crackers. By this time the tomatoes were done. Quickly I whipped up a garnish: greek yogurt with two cloves of garlic and a bit of chopped mint to dollop on top of the tomatoes, then served. The root beers had been opened and were breathing in tall glasses. We cheered – “To cooking!” and took a sip.

There was indeed a strong anise aftertaste, but pleasant. Soft. Not the sharpness of licorice but diffuse, with flavor. You know, I could taste the wintergreen too, but not as strongly. With the tomatoes the flavors were intensified. I don’t think I’ve ever had that much flavor in any non-alcoholic beverage before. Beat that, wine!

Later I discovered that root beer pairs perfectly with pizza. Was it the tomatoes, the cinnamon in the bulgur stuffing or the garlicky, refreshing yogurt that the root beer was reacting to? Who knows. But as my friend remarked after we wolfed it all down, “This root beer has never tasted better.”

2 Comments on “Microbrewed Root Beer?”

  1. 1 leah said at 5:25 pm on September 12th, 2009:

    that sounds like such a fun night! and a vivid description of both food and beverage. i felt like i was there! and now i want a root beer :)

  2. 2 Adi said at 10:24 am on September 14th, 2009:

    I am completely with you on the anise. Yeurgh! But I do love rootbeer, and would definitely give it a shot. I love when restaurants have home-brewed rootbeer. SO tasty.

    And the roasted tomatoes? Oh man. Oh MAN. <3

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