Mystery Basket Challenge: Olive Tapenade, Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Tapioca

Do you watch the Food Network show Chopped?  I am mildly obsessed with it, which is a shame as I don’t own a TV and Food Network online frequently gives me trouble.  For those of you who don’t know, Chopped is a competition show where four chefs have to make cohesive dishes from three or four ingredients in a “mystery basket”.  These are usually crazy weird ingredients, like gummy bears and fennel and venison and bitter melon, or grape soda and brie and matzo crackers.  You get the idea.  There’s an appetizer, entree and dessert round, and in each round one contestant is eliminated (or “chopped”).  Super fun, super hard.

I’ve always wanted to play Chopped at home, partly for the fun of the challenge and partly to hone my culinary skills, but I always had trouble finding willing partners.  So, I decided to solicit ingredient ideas on Facebook and use the first four ingredients in a dish.  I’m going to try to make this a regular feature on the blog, listing the ingredients, the dish, the reasoning behind my choices and the success of the final product.  I think if I explain why I make the choices I did, it will help you (and me!) become better at looking at how to intuitively match flavors and textures.  First round…

Mystery basket ingredients: olive tapenade, Brussels sprouts, bacon (veggie bacon, of course) and tapioca.

Final dish: Tapioca-flour crepes with braised Brussels sprouts and bacon, topped with caramelized onion-olive relish and goat cheese.

The reasoning:

Tapioca was probably the thing that threw me most in the virtual mystery basket, but other than that I think the ingredients went together pretty nicely (too easy??).  When I think of tapioca the first thing that comes to mind is tapioca pudding (and I hate pudding) or the tapioca pearls in boba tea.  Not great texturally.  But tapioca is actually the common Western name for the starch of cassava root, and tapioca flour, known for its binding properties, is a common substitute in gluten-free baking.  Since tapioca flour has great binding/elasticity but not-so-great leavening properties, I thought my best bet would be to go with a crepe.  I used this recipe from Allrecipes as a starting point for the crepe, substituting about 3/4 tapioca for the given amount of flour and using regular wheat flour for the other fourth.

Next, Brussels sprouts and bacon was a no-brainer together, so I pan-friend the vegetarian bacon to crisp it, then added the shredded brussels sprouts and some minced garlic and black pepper, braising everything in a splash of vegetable broth.  Done and done.

And, finally, the tapenade.  The kind I got was heavy on kalamatas and super salty, but I began a caramelization on some diced onion before adding the tapenade and garlic to make a sort of sweet and salty relish.  The caramelized onion added just the right amount of sweetness to counter the olives, just as the earthy-sweet Brussels sprouts were a good foil for the fatty, salty bacon (okay, okay, less fatty for me since it’s a veggie substitute, but you understand the logic).  I dotted everything with tangy, creamy goat cheese for one last flavor and textural element.

The verdict:

I have to say, this dish was a success.  Of course some of the flavors already went together, but I think braising the Brussels sprouts amped up the savory aspect and the salty/sweet/rich (umami?) elements really played off each other well.  I think next time I’d use less bacon, since it kind of overwhelmed the Brussels sprouts, and add a little more salt to the crepes, which were good (I actually flipped it!) but kind of bland.  I have definitely not been chopped…and it was SO much fun experimenting and really thinking long and hard about flavor, texture and technique.  I know I sound like a total foodie nerd here, but I love to do it, and in the end that’s really the most important thing, right?


So, what do you think?  What would you have done with the mystery basket ingredients?


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Filed under Challenge: Food

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