When I woke up the other day, the Weather Underground told me the temperature outside had plummeted to minus 18 Fahrenheit, with the wind making it feel like minus 34. It’s times like these that I think of the five winters I spent in Florida, with my friends Danaya and Kendal. We lived outside of Gainesville, as far away from the beach in any direction as you could get, which seemed to me a cruel irony. But I was there, after all, to work on my dissertation, not my tan, and there was one great compensation — Danaya and her Dad made the world’s best margaritas, which was our reward for completing a hard-at-work day. They would haul out an enormous citrus press from a cabinet beneath the blue-tiled countertop and a huge bag of limes from the double-door industrial fridge (neither Danaya nor her Dad every did anything in a small way!), and get to work. In minutes, pulverized lime rinds littered the counter and the scent of lime juice filled the kitchen. Soon, we were sitting out back with our drinks, listening to the scratching palm leaves high overhead, squinting into the deep blue sky, sneezing at the orange blossoms, and thinking life, even in the dead center of the state miles from its famous beaches, was not so bad.
I have been thinking a lot about my friends, those late afternoons, and the scent of limes lately. But I can’t bring myself to make a margarita when it’s minus 18 degrees and there’s a foot of snow on my deck. I need to chop root vegetables and crank my oven up high.
So instead of margaritas, I bake a lime quick bread, and roast shrimp with garlic, cilantro and lime, and cook Brussels sprouts and leaks in lime-ginger butter. I don’t even like Brussels sprouts, but these are divine. Now, it may still be minus-18-feels-like-minus-32 outside, but inside it’s warm and my kitchen smells like Danaya’s did on those Florida winter afternoons — which will have to suffice until I can return to central Florida for the best company, and the best margaritas, in the world.
Brussels Sprouts and Leeks in Lime-Ginger Butter
Whenever I make this dish for company, I follow the recipe in Fine Cooking. It calls for browning the butter in a separate pan, adding a nice nutty flavor to the vegetables. This step is definitely worth it. But on a weeknight when getting one more pan dirty is just too much, I take the following shortcut.
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon ginger root, peeled and diced
- 1 Teaspoon fresh lime zest from one medium lime, washed and dried
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice squeezed from that same medium lime
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1/4 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
- Kosher salt
- 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts sliced into thin rounds, rings separated, thoroughly washed but not dried
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts, toss in the oil, and sprinkle with salt. Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove the cover from the pan, turn the heat down to low, add the leaks, stir. Arrange the vegetables in as much of a single layer as possible, and cook until the leeks are tender, about 15 more minutes.
Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the pan, swirling and stirring until melted. Cook for one minute. Add the ginger, cook for one minute more. Add the lime juice and zest. Stir, season to taste with a bit more salt if needed, and serve warm.