Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flowers and Scallops

These last couple of weeks I've been doing things in Holland that I haven't done the three years that I'm living here. Well, there is wisdom in the saying "Better late than never". First came the raw Dutch herring and then came Keukenhof. Keukenhof literally means Kitchen Garden but no, Keukenhof has nothing to do with cooking. It is a famous flower exhibition in South Holland and the largest bulb flower park in the world. Thousands of visitors flock from every corner of the earth to see the magnificent gardens and one-of-a-kind flowers, particularly the notorious Dutch tulips.

In the 15th century, the area that is now known as Keukenhof, was actually a hunting area. Countess Jacoba van Beieren- a very strong female figure of that time, who got married four times, was sent to prison and exile and started wars- was the owner of the land. Herbs for her castle's kitchen were collected there, thus the name Keukenhof.

Keukenhof was created as a "shop-window" for the flower industry in 1950 and it has since been one of the major attractions of The Netherlands. It is open only two months a year- from late March to late May- a fact which escaped me for the past two years, since I tried to visit once in February and once in June, only to find out that it was closed. This year I was determined though. How I managed to visit at the last day that it was open, is another matter.

If truth be told, I'm not a flower or houseplant person. I like the occasional bouquet from my boyfriend on my birthday, that survives only for a couple of days and I can tolerate an herb plant on my kitchen window but I'm not enthusiastic about anything more than that. I don't "ooh" or "ah" about flower arrangements and I don't discuss the future of gardening with my friends. Upon entering Keukenhof though, I had another thing coming. I was amazed and surprised by the collection of 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties and the more than 2,500 trees. Now trees I love but Keukenhof instantly succeeded in making a flower fan out of me. I wanted to grab them and take them home with me. I didn't.

Since it was the last day of this year's exhibition, there was a celebratory surprise for everyone, or so the organizers thought. There were a couple of these things around- I don't even know what they're called and I don't want to know- playing some horrible music that almost ruined the experience for me. But seeing the "Pink Floyd" (I still prefer the band to the flower though), the fuchsia "Sexy Lady" and the tricolored flower going by the most unique of names "Happy Generation", got me optically excited and I managed to ignore the annoying sounds in the background.

Smelling the sweet dark purple "Negrita" and the beautifully red "Hollandia" was a wonderful experience for my senses. I was astonished by the variety of colors and shapes of all the tulips and other flowers. Walking through the Japanese garden, we came across a charming, serene brook. Down another path, we discovered the most breathtaking, less-traveled road and even further down, we entered a labyrinth from which we quickly managed to get out of. Then we stumbled upon a huge mill, we climbed up the stairs to its balcony and a stunning view of fields appeared in front of us. When we entered the Beatrix Pavilion, we had the pleasure of seeing hundreds of orchids, perhaps my favorite flower.

Strolling down the various pathways of this enormous park, we came across these animals and then took a turn and found ourselves in front of an "inspirational garden" as it is called, featuring countless large jars of pickled fruits and vegetables of every kind. Then we headed for yet another garden with lovely canals and floating sculptures. Keukenhof is the largest sculpture park in The Netherlands featuring many sculptures and what is also interesting about Keukenhof is, that since 2006, each year the park has a specific theme. This year's theme was Russia and to my delight, there were several Babushka or Matryoshka Dolls all around the park. Naturally, there was no shortage of food around, with various restaurants and little shops. I bought cotton candy from a cute little store and of course, I had to have some homemade ice cream.

Speaking of food, I have something for you as delectable as all these flowers I saw at Keukenhof. Scallops. Who doesn't love scallops? Who is insane enough not to love scallops? We have a guest staying with us since last Saturday, a friend of ours from Greece and a couple of days ago I got to introduce her to scallops. I was apprehensive before I handed her a plateful, I didn't know whether she would enjoy this mollusc. As it turned out, she loved it. My boyfriend, S, was ecstatic. He's crazy about scallops and this dish was actually my special treat for him. It was his birthday, so we all grabbed the chance to indulge ourselves in a little luxury.

The exact dish was lightly seared scallops in olive oil with an avocado- tomato-red onion-chili spread (the well-known Mexican guacamole) on toast, topped with tiny bits of streaky bacon, toasted coriander seeds and baby rocket leaves and a squeeze of lime. What a combination. When I saw this recipe, I was immediately smitten by it and I had to make it. I bought the scallops from my fishmonger, got the vegetables from the farmer's market and bread from my favorite bakery near my apartment. I was all set to go. The bacon needed to be baked until crisp and dry, onion, tomato, chili and fresh coriander needed chopping, the bread and the coriander seeds needed toasting, the lime needed squeezing and the scallops needed searing. All done. The result was one of the most flavorsome and colorful dishes I've ever tasted or laid eyes on.

Both flavors and textures of this dish are sensational. It's a spicy, zesty dish with refreshing notes and sweet and sour nuances. Crunchy warm hearty bread, smooth creamy avocado, red hot fiery chili, aromatic fresh coriander, pungent onion, sweet juicy tomato, crispy toasty coriander seeds, vibrant sour lime, creamy light soft scallops. Surprisingly enough, all the other flavors do not overpower the delicate sea jewel that is the scallop and the distinct contrast of textures of all the components in this recipe, make this an incomparable tasting experience.

The luxurious sweet scallops have a very unique taste, slightly reminiscent of crab meat or lobster but far better in texture and subtlety of flavor. This dish is ideal as a first course for a spring or summery dinner with friends and it definitely makes a superb lunch. Pair it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and you've got a match made in heaven.
Consider having this dish without the scallops or bacon for a vegetarian option. It's fulfilling and different and it will definitely brighten up your taste buds. Or as a less expensive alternative- since scallops are, unfortunately, rather pricey- you can just replace them with seared shrimp or deep fried calamari tentacles. It will not have the same dashing effect on your guests but it will still be a toothsome and refreshing first course dish.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon, Coriander Seeds and Guacamole on Toast
Adapted from Delicious magazine

If you choose to buy whole scallops in their shell, make sure you know how to open and clean them, otherwise ask your fishmonger to do it for you. What is needed in this recipe, is a clean scallop with the orange roe and small muscle attached to its side, removed. I always buy them ready myself.
Keep in mind that scallops are not supposed to be cooked for a long time because they become rubbery, dry and lose all flavor.

I used multigrain bread which adds more texture to the dish but you can also use sourdough or rye bread. I wouldn't suggest you use plain white bread. It's too ordinary and tasteless.

I used a small amount of fresh coriander leaves (1 tsp) but I know that there are many people out there who can't stand its taste. I too don't enjoy it in large quantities but in this recipe it is very subtle. Still, you can substitute with flat-leaf parsley if you wish.

You can use baby rocket leaves, micro herbs, flat-leaf parsley or coriander leaves to serve. I prefer the rocket leaves because of their slightly bitter taste.

Yield: 2 first-course servings

6 medium-sized scallops (without shells and with orange roe and muscle removed)
2 thick or 4 thin streaky bacon strips
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 fresh long red chili
1 avocado (around 200 g), flesh scooped out and roughly chopped
1 small tomato, deseeded and chopped
3 1/2 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 tsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 slices of multigrain bread
Baby rocket leaves, to serve
2-4 lime wedges
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: small food processor

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Put the bacon strips on a small, baking paper-lined tray and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes until the bacon becomes crisp and dry. Check the bacon after 5 minutes or so to make sure it doesn't burn. Keep in mind that if the bacon strips you're using are very thin, they will take a shorter time to crisp up.
Once ready, remove tray from the oven and immediately place bacon strips on kitchen paper to drain any excess fat and to cool.

Toast the coriander seeds by placing them in a small sauté pan and dry-frying them over medium-high heat, stirring them around so that they don't get burned, for 4-5 minutes, or until you're able to smell their aromas.

Place the toasted coriander seeds and cooled bacon in a small food processor and process to crumbs. Do not over-process because they will turn to powder. You don't want that. Set aside.

Cut the chili lengthwise, remove the seeds and membranes with the tip of your knife, thinly slice the one half and set aside for garnishing the dish. Mince the other half of the chili and place it in a large bowl along with the avocado, red onion, tomato, fresh coriander leaves and lime juice. Mash everything with the help of a fork to a coarse paste. Set aside.

You can either toast the bread slices in the oven or in a toaster. I prefer using the oven.
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Place bread slices in a small baking tray and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake the bread anywhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want it to be. I want it really crunchy myself.

In the meantime, rinse the scallops gently under running water, dry them completely using kitchen paper and season them with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed, non stick skillet over high heat and once oil starts to shimmer, place scallops in the pan. Cook for 40 seconds on both sides, until they take on a slightly golden color on the outside and the rest is just opaque. Do not overcook them.
You must keep in mind that you need to adjust the cooking time in case your scallops are larger or smaller in size. Larger scallops will require more time to cook while smaller ones will need only a few seconds.

Spread enough of the avocado-tomato-chili mixture to almost cover the top of two slices of bread. Place 3 scallops on top of each bread slice and scatter with bacon bits and coriander seeds. Garnish with the reserved thinly sliced chili, baby rocket leaves, grind some black pepper all over the dish and serve with the lime wedges.

You will probably be left with some leftover avocado spread which you can store in the refrigerator for one day. You can spread it over some toasted bread and eat it just like that or with a side of rocket leaves the next day.


  1. Magda, I don't seem to find any scallops here in Greece, except some frozen mixed with other seafood. It looks delicious.
    BTW I don't know if you know this information. The Dutch sailors who visited Chios during the medieval times were so impressed by the tulips which grow wild on the island and which are called by locals lalades that they took some seeds back in their country. There are about six kinds of tulips on Chios and the important fact is that they are self-grown, without the care of anyone. That is how Holland started cultivating tulips, which have become since then its trademark.

  2. It's a shame you can't find any scallops Ivy. Perhaps if you asked your fishmonger he could supply you with some.
    I always thought that the Dutch took seeds (or bulbs?) of the tulip flower from Turkey. I never knew about our island of Chios. Thanks for the info Ivy!

  3. What an easy and delicious scallop dish. The bread looks great and I like guacamole as a base doe the scallops.

  4. Looks so good - quick and easy, which is right up my alley!

  5. Many years I went to Keukenof with my family. I loved the beautiful tulips and have never seen anything like it before. It made such a lasting impression on me that I have vowed to be back. Your scallops, also beautiful, has also made me vow that I should try the recipe.

  6. Those look amazing! My husband is iffy on scallops- but I might try these for him and see if I can win him over!

  7. WOW. WOW. WOW. Those scallops are gorgeous to look doubt as gorgeous as the flowers your saw at the Keukenof! I have never cooked scallops and must admit, I'm a little nervous about it, but I you have certainly inspired me to try this recipe!

  8. Oh, what an intriguing mixture of tastes and textures! I am definitely going to try this--though I'll be eating this all by myself since my family shies away from scallops. More for me!!

  9. Nisrine, thanks!

    Maris, thank you. Glad you dropped by

    Trissa, you must definitely come back, the tulips were gorgeous!

    Melange a trois, I think you'll probably will with this recipe.

    Patty, it's so easy to cook them and quick!

    Just a plane, such a shame your family doesn't enjoy scallops. But as you say... more for you :)

  10. Pan-seared scallops are simply yummy and the bonus of being beautifully presented...whoa! I would want to eat this!

  11. Pan-seared scallops...yummy! And well-presented too :D

  12. That was luxurious. Every word of it. I love reading your blog :)

  13. Hi Magda, I enjoyed reading about your Keukenhof visit, and this scallop recipe looks delicious, just right for a celebratory spring supper. An excellent use for all those baby rocket greens in my garden right now.

  14. tigerfish, Tracy, Nancy thank you all :)

  15. I love this idea. Scallops are a long time favorite. However I have a tip/thoughts about the gauc. While the ingredients are esentially the same the process of making an authentic gaucamole is different. The guacamole would have a much smoother flavor if you made the salsa first then add it to the guacamole. Guacamole is essentially salsa mixed with avocado. For it to be a salsa it needs to marinade first so that the flavors blend. If you add the salsa ingredients directly to the avocado you won't get the marinade and the flavors will stand apart and over power each other. So I would mix the onions, chili, lime etc. Let it marinade an hour or more then add it to the avocado. Otherwise it looks lovely!

  16. Stinkbugphoto, thank you for your tip about guacamole. I consider this recipe to be a guacamole-inspired salsa and not the authentic guacamole though.
    I'll try it your way sometime, see the difference. I'm sure that marinating the ingredients will give a great depth of flavor.

  17. Yum, those scallops look marvelous! I really need to get out to the Netherlands in spring so I can check out the Keukenhof.

  18. Marc, Keukenhof is so beautiful. Thanks for dropping by.