“I very famously had been put on a ban from writing about lemon in my day job,” laughed Gwendolyn Richards, recalling how she came to centre her first book, Pucker, around citrus fruits. When Richards first began food writing on the side of her job at the Calgary Herald, she occupied her time pitching one lemon recipe or another until her editor finally issued the ban.
After lunching with Elizabeth Baird and Rose Murray—“the Grandmothers,” Richards said fondly, of food writing in Canada—she decided she would write her very own book on lemon, lime and grapefruit. “I thought about doing all citrus and then I realized I don’t love oranges,” she said. “I like the fruit that makes you pucker. Everything fell into place from there.”
Pucker is both comprehensive and accessible, surprising and familiar. Richards covers lots of ground, including everything from cocktails to main dishes to desserts, all touched by tangy citrus in over 90 recipes. “I wanted to show the versatility of citrus,” she said.
Basing the recipes on commonly found ingredients was equally important for Richards. “You can get [everything] at any everyday grocery store, no matter where you are. I didn’t want people shelling out big money for certain ingredients. I just wanted something where they could literally think, ‘I want to make that,’ and go get the ingredients and make it.”
Richards stays true to food that is citrus-traditional, while also exploring dishes that call for unlikely pairings. One example is the Southwest Asian-inspired Banh Mi Burger, which features spicy lime mayo and fresh lime zest in the patty. “That’s my ideal food—a burger—so it was really important for me to have a burger in the cookbook. And it is often one of the first things people make out of it,” Richards explained. “You get the heat and the tang.”
In addition to learning about the power of lemons to expose an otherwise hidden cut, Richards was surprised to find a substantial geographic divide between limes and lemons. “Lime is used more in Southwest Asia, South America, and Mexico. Lemons are used more in Mediterranean areas,” she said. Despite the divide, citrus is super-flexible, adding an extra something to almost any dish you can think of. “For fifty cents, you can completely elevate the flavour of your dish by adding a little bit of lime, lemon, or grapefruit.”
Having grown up in a household where elaborate Wednesday night dinners took centre stage, Richards credits her family for much of her inspiration. “I was very lucky to grow up in a family where food was a big deal,” she said. The cooking styles of both her stepfather and grandfather, who taught her about the power of work in the kitchen, resonate throughout Pucker in recipes like Sean’s Lime Soda and Curry-Lime Lentil Soup.
The infamous lemon ban was a step in the right direction, because the food writing on the side turned into her current full-time food writing job at the Calgary Herald. She had previously been a crime reporter, writing pieces about murders and car crashes that garnered her the nickname “Onion Peeler” for their ability to make readers weep. Her longtime food blog, Patent and the Pantry, began as a space where Richards could pursue other interests. “I wanted a creative outlet that had nothing to do with my day job,” she said.
Driven by a love of photography, Richards is used to being behind a camera; she busily snaps food photos for both her blog and job. It’s no surprise that all of the images in Pucker are of her own making, some of which put her smack-dab in the middle of serious danger. “I bought a step ladder, and I would be there in my pajama pants and tank top shooting,” she said. “And there was a couple of times I thought, ‘I might actually do myself bodily harm hanging onto my China cabinet.’”
Interestingly, Richards’ food writing is deliberately self-involved, which is part of a radical shift away from her previous news reporting and into personal storytelling. “I’m really passionate about eating,” she said. “I just want to foster that in other people.” Drawing inspiration from her stepfather’s experimental know-how or her grandfather’s love of Italian cooking, Pucker is a labour of love, but not without honouring Richards’ own experiences. “Every little recipe header is, ‘I went to Morocco. I hate Brussels sprouts but I figured out a way to like them.’ It’s a really personal book.”
Banh Mi Burgers with Spicy Lime Mayo and Pickled Carrots
I have an unabashed, well-publicized, never-ending love for burgers. So, there definitely had to be one in this book. This pork burger is a play on Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches with a mayo I spiked with chili paste and cooling pickled carrots. Friends of mine have debated what the best bun is for the “Big Mi” burger, as it has since been nicknamed. Whether they side with sesame buns or hearty kaisers, all agree the buns should be lightly toasted.
- 1 egg
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lime juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) chili paste
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
- 1 pound (500 g) ground pork
- 11/2 tablespoons (22.5 mL) cornstarch
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) panko (approximately)
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL)
- vegetable oil
- 4 burger buns
- Spicy Lime Mayo (recipe follows)
- Pickled Carrots (recipe follows)
- fresh basil or cilantro (or both)
Start by putting together the Spicy Lime Mayo and Pickled Carrots (recipes below), which can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to assemble the burgers.
To make the burgers, in a large bowl whisk together the egg, green onions, garlic, lime zest and juice, brown sugar, fish sauce, chili paste, ginger and salt until well combined. Add the ground pork and mix gently with your hands (overworking will lead to tough burgers.) Sprinkle the cornstarch and about half the panko over it, then gently mix again. If the pork mixture is too wet, add the rest of the panko. Divide the mixture evenly into quarters.
Add the oil to a large pan set over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, form the pork mixture into balls, then squish slightly until they’re about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Press a dimple into the centre of each—this keeps the patty flat once cooked. Add the patties to the pan and fry until cooked through, flipping once, about 12 minutes total (an internal temperature probe should read 160°F [71°C].)
Remove to a plate and assemble the burgers. Dollop some of the Spicy Lime Mayo onto the bottom of each bun (or both sides, because a good burger is a messy burger) and then top each one with a patty and some of the drained Pickled Carrots. Add fresh basil or cilantro leaves, if desired, and then the top half of the bun.
Spicy Lime Mayo
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) mayonnaise (approximately)
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lime juice
- 11/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients. If the mixture seems too thin, add another tablespoon (15 mL) or so of mayonnaise to thicken. Taste for seasonings—adding more chili paste, if desired—and then refrigerate while making the burgers.
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
- 2 cups (500 mL) julienned carrots (about 1/2 pound [250 g])
In a bowl large enough to fit the carrots, mix together the vinegar, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) hot water (from the tap is fine), sugar and salt. Stir together until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the carrots, mixing them in the pickling liquid. Set aside, stirring occasionally.
These can be made a few hours in advance and refrigerated until you’re ready to make the burgers.
Fat Girl Food Squad has two copies of Gwendolyn’s amazing book for you to win!
The contest begins on Friday February 27th and closes on Friday March 6 at 5PM EST. Winners will be notified of their win 24 hours after the contest closes, via social media.
photo illustrations by Yuli ScheidtTags: author profile, Banh Mi Burger, book review, cooking with citrus, Fiorella Morzi, Gwendolyn Richards, Pucker, southwest asian cooking