Seconds in a juicer, minutes on the stove turn ordinary veggies into luscious sauces In a Whirl

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Outside, sleet and snow and freezing rain are piling up in dismal mounds of slush. Inside, chefs Jerry Edwards and David Fusting are performing magic.

With a few props, and a little assistance from an observer, they are whipping up a quartet of savory, scrumptious, simply smashing vegetable sauces that light up meat, fish and poultry the way Bastille Day lights up Paris. It's hard to believe that such a flavor wallop can be packed into such a simple package.

And there's more: These rich and varied sauces fit perfectly into a healthful diet.

"All these sauces are made from vegetables and herbs, strictly -- so they're very high in vitamins and very low in fat," Mr. Edwards says, as he prepares the sauces in his catering kitchen in Timonium.

Carrot with dill, beet with rosemary, red pepper with garlic, cucumber with leeks and scallions -- the secret of these scintillating sauces is a simple juicer. Mr. Edwards, co-owner with his wife Judi of Chef's Expressions catering, turns on the machine and feeds in a couple of fat carrots. The juice is a clear, carrot orange. He pours it into a low-sided saute pan on the

stove, whisks it until it begins to bubble around the edges, adds a little "slurry," or soupy paste made of arrowroot, and whisks again as the sauce thickens. He adds just a splash of brandy. The sauce just takes a minute or two to reach the desired consistency.

"We're going to pull it off now and let the heat infuse the flavors." He whisks it gently, adds some chopped shallots and dill, and there it is: A beautiful, bright sauce with a hint of underlying sweetness that turns a plain grilled chicken breast into a sparkler of color and piquancy.

"With these sauces, you've got to do them quick," he says. "You can't cook them for hours.

"A la minute," says Mr. Fusting, the French phrase for "in a flash."

"The key to these sauces is to stop cooking them when they get to their brightest color -- just like green vegetables," Mr. Edwards says.

Arrowroot is better than cornstarch as a thickening agent, Mr. Edwards says, because it makes the sauce a little clearer.

The clearness enhances the luscious colors of the sauces: the carroty orange of the carrot-dill sauce; the deep purple-red of the beet-rosemary sauce, the red-orange red pepper-garlic sauce, and the lime-green cucumber sauce. Paired with simple grilled chops, fillets or poultry breasts, the sauces create lively, low-cal, no-fat dishes that are easy enough to whip up after the toughest day and exceptional enough to serve to guests.

Mr. Edwards puts some red bell pepper slices through the juicer, preparing to make another sauce. He pulls out a small bowl of garlic juice. "This is something you always want to have around the house," he says, adding a bit to the red pepper juice. He usually adds a splash of red wine, but today he's trying Marsala (Italian fortified wine). "Let's try something different, see what it does . . ."

He quickly prepares the sauce, pulls it off the heat, adds some chopped scallion, and there it is: a full-flavored sauce with enough power to punch up a fillet of beef.

The beet sauce with rosemary, however, is his favorite sauce, Mr. Edwards says. It contains a pinch of salt and a touch of red wine, and is infused with the rosemary, which is removed when the sauce comes off the heat. Paired with seared and baked lamb chops, the sauce imparts a complex, plummy flavor.

Mr. Edwards says he began experimenting with the vegetable-juice sauces after he and his wife got a juicer for Christmas. "I like fruit juice," he says, "but I couldn't drink carrot juice." Then he read an article in a professional chef's magazine about vegetable syrups. "They were adding sugar to thicken it," he says. "I think that's too sweet. It's OK if you have a hankering for sweet things, but I prefer savory things. So we use arrowroot slurry as a thickener."

He knew that whatever he prepared, part of the appeal would be the fresh, clear color. "That was attractive to me. Because you eat with your eyes first."

He's experimented with all kinds of vegetables. Some are great successes, some are not. "I juiced a mushroom and tasted it -- it was horrendous," he says, laughing. "Most of the vegetables that work well are root vegetables, like beets." He doesn't use thickener with the beet sauce, because it is already starchy, and self-thickening. "Turnips are good, too."

Celery works; zucchini and squash don't. Broccoli was too strong-flavored. Cucumber works well, if you leave on the skin, for color and texture, and take out the seeds. "Red and yellow bell peppers are just beautiful" in sauces, he says. He tried roasting some red peppers and juicing them, "but it was too much." Roasted peppers make sense in a coulis, or puree, as a sauce, he says, where you use the vegetable pulp and all and the roasting adds richness. But when the sauce is from the juice, he says, what you're looking for is a "fresher, livelier flavor."

But he can imagine adding a little champagne mustard to the carrot sauce, or perhaps using poblano peppers with the red bell peppers -- "to give it that chocolate-y flavor. There's just so many things you can do."

Sometimes he "finishes" the sauce by adding a touch of butter -- about half a teaspoon -- at the end, when the sauce has been taken off the heat and seasoned. "A chef's touch," he says, "You just whisk it in."

"If I was doing a seated dinner I'd finish with butter, to give it a little more shine -- it's what gives it that velvety texture."

When you're considering a sauce match, he says, "you want to match lighter flavors -- like cucumber and carrot -- with lighter meats and fish -- and more robust flavors with deeper, richer red meats, where you need more powerful flavors."

The sauces are also a perfect way to match wine and food, he says, if you add the same wine to the sauce that you plan to drink. "I learned that from [noted California cooking teacher] Madeleine Kamman, actually. She said the bridge between wine and food is the sauce." He laughs. "She also said don't ever cook with a wine you wouldn't drink."

He's also used the sauces as dips for vegetables, he says, and he thinks the cucumber or carrot sauces would be perfect accompaniments for a platter of roasted vegetables. And they sauces have yet a final virtue, he says. "They hold nicely. They'll ,, hold for two to three weeks in the refrigerator."

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Here are Mr. Edwards' recipes. The technique is basically the same; juice the main vegetable, whisk it over medium heat to a simmer, add slurry to thicken, add flavoring such as wine or brandy, take off heat, add herbs (and scallions) and blend gently. At the last minute, whisk in a half teaspoon of butter, if desired. (Wine or brandy is also optional; you could use lemon, lime or orange juice for extra flavor.)

To make the slurry, add a teaspoon of arrowroot powder to 2 tablespoons water. (Arrowroot powder is sold in the spice racks in grocery stores.)

Mr. Edwards paired the carrot sauce with grilled chicken breast, the red pepper sauce with a grilled fillet of beef, the beet-rosemary sauce with lamb, and the cucumber-lime sauce with grilled fresh tuna. But feel free to experiment; once you've made one sauce, it's easy to do others. Mr. Fusting uses the leftover pulp in his vegetable stock.

Carrot dill sauce

Makes 1 1/2 -2 cups

2 large carrots

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon arrowroot slurry

1/2 teaspoon brandy

1 teaspoon green onion tops, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon butter, optional

Wash and scrape carrots and run through juicer. Discard pulp, or reserve for another use. Pour juice into small, low-sided skillet or saute pan, whisk over medium heat until bubbling at edges. Add slurry and cook, whisking to desired consistency; don't cook too long. Whisk in brandy; remove from heat. Whisk in chopped green onion. If using, whisk in butter until blended; serve.

Rosemary beet sauce

Makes about 1 cup

5 ounces canned beets, drained

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

pinch of salt

2 ounces red wine

1/2 teaspoon butter, optional

Run drained beets through juicer. Discard pulp, or reserve for another use. Pour juice into small, low-sided skillet or saute pan, whisk over medium heat until bubbling around edges. Add rosemary sprigs and salt. Cook, whisking, to desired consistency. Whisk in red wine, remove from heat. Remove rosemary sprigs. If using, whisk in butter until blended; serve.

Red pepper garlic sauce

Makes about 2 cups

2 red peppers

6 drops garlic juice

1 tablespoon arrowroot slurry

2 tablespoons red wine

1 scallion top, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon butter, optional

Cut peppers into quarters, remove seeds and white pulp. Run through juicer. Pour juice into small, low-sided skillet or saute pan, whisk over medium heat until bubbling around edges. Add slurry and cook, whisking to desired consistency. Whisk in red wine, remove from heat. Add green onion, whisk in gently. If using, whisk in butter until blended; serve.

Cucumber leek sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 cucumbers

1 tablespoon slurry

juice of half a lime

1 tablespoon white wine

pinch of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped green onions

1/2 teaspoon butter

Wash cucumbers, cut in half and scoop out seeds (leave skin on). Run through juicer. Pour juice into small, low-sided skillet or saute pan, whisk over medium heat until bubbling around edges. Add slurry and cook, whisking to desired consistency. Whisk in lime juice and white wine, remove from heat. Add dill and green onion, whisk in gently. If using, whisk in butter until blended; serve.

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