My inner seven-year-old (well one of them) created this, inspired by the local produce department. It was very much a sort of fingerpainting with food, my favorite way to cook. That may cause problems for some of our readers, since I live in California, where things like tiny orange kumquats and cream-colored bundles of enoki mushrooms are relatively easy to find in many places.

This dish is permeated with citrus flavor from the kumquats, which are seduced by the stove's heat till they lose their tartness. The bits of beet add more color and sweetness, the slices of portobello become moist with flavor and oil, the enoki are subtle threads of flavor, and the beans perform as crispy entertainment throughout. And I just like to put artichokes in everything. They can become the focus of the dish if you pile them on top or in the center, or they can be these interesting accidental chunks of artichokiness that you have to stop and eat alone.

I tell you this not to make you jealous if your world is kumquat-free, but to explain what part each ingredient plays so that you may substitute something else. If you can find tangerines, or even cut up orange peel and slice off the pith, that might substitute well for kumquats. Artichoke hearts, non-marinated, might do if you can't find baby artichokes, or leave them out altogether. Any mushrooms would work well, although each kind brings something different to the table. Any beets, too, but be careful with red ones - they might stain the other ingredients and turn the whole thing a sort of maroon-ugly color.

Bright Citrus Stirfry

Take off the tiny stem of each kumquat and slice into thin circles. Remove any pits that come out with the slicing.

Slice the enoki mushrooms, similarly, into short pieces. It's best, I think, to slice off just the caps first; they turn up as soft little spheres in your plate later. Then cut the rest into pieces perhaps half an inch long.

Pull out the portobello's stem - this should be easy if it's ripe. Can mushrooms be called ripe, being at best a tasty fungus? Never mind, ripe it is. Slice it, like a tiny pie, into triangular wedges.

Cut the baby artichokes into quarters. Place them in a bowl with water to cover - except that they float in it. Which is perfectly okay. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, and microwave, uncovered, on high, for seven minutes. Pull off the tougher outer leaves and eat 'em.

Cut any leaves and tail off of the beet and chop it into tiny orange-gold cubes. Yum!

You can cut or snap the beans in half, or leave them as is. I cut the wax beans in half and cooked the sugar snap peas whole.

Add heat:

Pour maybe a quarter-cup of olive oil into a good wide sauté pan, or if you're like me, into whatever pan you can find. Put the artichoke quarters, beet cubes, and kumquat slices in, heating gently to medium-heat until cooked. If you're feeling adventurous (since I haven't tried this addition) this would be a good point at which to add minced or sliced garlic, being careful not to burn it. Sliced would provide a milder flavor.

Cook for a few minutes, then dump all the mushrooms and beans in to join their friends. While they cook, add spices; I used dried thyme, salt, white pepper, dried basil, and a little dried dill. I would recommend adding a little paprika and/or something curry-related.

All right, I admit it.... I didn't just use salt. I used fleur de sel au thym de Noirmoutier. I cooked pretentiously.

I haven't timed this; pull it off the heat and into a storage container just before (or just as!) the color of the sugar snap beans starts to dull. Otherwise you end up back at vegetarian meals that are just brown gack.

And I meant a storage container. Just after it's made, the citrus is too tart, the flavors are too stiff. After it's mellowed for one day, it's ready to be eaten; after two days it's perfect.


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