Posts Tagged ‘cooking vegetables’

Using What You Have X: Double Layers of Vegetables

I’ve been yapping on for ten posts now about using what you have, and it occurs to me that today’s post shouldn’t be a recipe per se, but a series of comments about how I’m incorporating more of what I have into what I eat. So today is practical stuff about making sure you use the veggies and eggs that you grew or bought at the farmer’s market.
I have gorgeous broccoli in the garden right now:

One of the best ways to make sure that broccoli or any other fresh vegetable gets used is to prep it immediately. Cut off the florets, steam for five minutes, cool, and store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, ready to be added to a dish on short notice. If you plan to use the broccoli stem, peel it, cut the crispy inner pith into matchsticks or other convenient shapes, toss with a bit of lemon juice, and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. If you don’t prepare the stem ahead of time, you are unlikely actually to use it. I have a pet goat to take care of such utilization emergencies, or you can compost it, so either prep it right away or just dispose of it in an ecologically sound fashion without getting all guilt-ridden. Life is too short to worry about whether you utilized every last fragment  of your vegetable.

Right now I have a lot of eggs handy and use them wherever a protein source is called for. Often I cook the yolks and a few whites into a sort of pancake and then cut it in strips to be added to stirfries, but in this case I didn’t want to bother and just scrambled two eggs and two yolks with some soy sauce and scallions in the wok and put them in a bowl to be added back to the stirfry later. This is much like the way that eggs are added to fried rice, and you can see in the photo above that it is not pretty and uniform but tastes fine.
Next let’s consider the Permaculture Pasta that I wrote about before. If you have some in the freezer, clearly, an Italian or Asian noodle dish can come together almost instantly. But if you don’t, fresh pasta is still a possibility. Today I timed myself from beginning to end making a batch exactly as described in that post but a little bigger, and I had pasta ready to cook in less than an hour. Admittedly, I have my set-up worked out and know all my moves, which saves some time. But my point is that it did not take that long to make enough leafy noodles for four, which for two people means that you have a good meal and another meal to serve a few days later. Also, there’s no need to fool around with tree leaves if you prefer not to. Any mild flavored green leaf is good here, and chard is a wonderful ingredient for making green noodles. Just remove midribs, steam it for five minutes and proceed. If you are wondering what to do with those leafy greens that you bought at the farmers market, this is a good use for them. I often use Lambsquarters to make green pasta.
I won’t say that much about stirfrying because I think most people know how to do it already and I have written about it recently. I will just say that keeping the heat high helps keep the sauce clean in flavor. Don’t lose your nerve and retreat to a simmer. Have everything ready, and then stop for nothing and the cooking part is all over in a few minutes. Your mis en place is more important here than maybe anywhere else in cooking.

This particular stirfry uses lavish amounts of garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce along with a little chile paste as the seasonings, and the only vegetables used are a large amount of steamed broccoli florettes and a small amount of chopped scallion. The “juice” is half a cup of broth with a teaspoon of cornstarch, two teaspoons of sugar or equivalent sweetener, and a tablespoon of rice vinegar. Soy sauce is added as needed during cooking. The eggs were pre-scrambled and ready to add at the end.

A pot of salted water is brought to a boil and the noodles boiled just until barely done, less than a minute in the case of this delicate green fresh dough. Drain the noodles quickly, return to the pot, sprinkle lavishly with soy sauce and at least 2 tablespoons of Asian sesame oil, and toss around a little to keep the noodles from sticking to each other. Set aside, covered. Now quickly, heat your wok  over highest heat, put in some cooking oil of your choice, sauté the chopped garlic and ginger for several seconds until the pieces start to look opaque and the fragrance comes up, add the scallions, chile paste, and oyster sauce, throw in the steamed broccoli florettes, and stirfry for a few minutes until done to your taste. Stir the “juice” quickly because the cornstarch settles to the bottom. Toss in the scrambled eggs and the “juice“ and boil hard for another half a minute until it thickens. Divide the noodles into four bowls, or into two bowls and a container for the refrigerator, put the broccoli mixture on top, drizzle with a little more soy sauce and sesame oil, and relish your double layers of vegetables, triple layers if you count the greens that the hens ate.
For that second meal of noodles later in the week, you can cook a completely different dish to go on top or, if you are lazy or pressed for time or not too hungry, the noodles are delicious just reheated, divided into serving bowls, and drizzled generously with additional sesame oil and soy sauce and some crushed roasted peanuts on top. A generous grating of white pepper is good with this. If you want to drizzle in some chile oil, be my guest. A good grade of roasted sesame oil is essential to a good flavor, and I like the Japanese Kadoya brand best.

Food for Thought: A Cookbook for Cooking and for Thinking

I have been  vegetable gardening all of my adult life, and own several shelves full of vegetable cookbooks, and I have a very high bar when it comes to buying new ones.  Actually, that’s not true. I buy new ones in a fairly promiscuous fashion because that is my addiction, but I have a very high bar indeed for recommending that other people spend their hard-earned money on them.

So  here’s what I have to say about  Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by Joshua McFadden: go buy it.  Now. Read it. Think about it.  It really will bring you to think in a new way about how to handle familiar vegetables.  Take salads, for instance. I like salads well enough but am almost never really excited by them.  They always seem a little predictable to me, and just throwing some meat, cheese, or eggy thing of some kind on top does not make them interesting in my view. McFadden’s  way of putting a substantial “pad” of seasoned nut butter sauce, savory seasoned whipped cream, whipped seasoned ricotta cheese, or other interesting  possibilities underneath the salad does make them seem new and like a real meal that I am happy to eat.

As good as the recipes are, I put this one in the “thinking cookbook” category,  i.e. an idea-rich cookbook that will affect the food you put on the table whether you were actually following a recipe from the cookbook or not.  Take the salad shown above, for example.  I had a lot of lettuce in the garden, including some dark red lettuce that still looked beautiful but had grown the slightest bit bitter  in hot weather.  I kept tasting bits of the leaves, thinking about what would make them taste good.  Ultimately, I whipped and seasoned some homegrown goat ricotta  with olive oil and salt, and smeared the plates with it, then arranged the red lettuce and some sweet green lettuce on top.  Then I put some of the ricotta mixture in the blender with an egg yolk and two cloves of roasted garlic, blended in more olive oil and some salt, and acidified it with lemon juice and white wine vinegar until it tasted just right, added some chopped marjoram because it seemed to fit in well, and used that as the dressing. I slivered shallot greens, soaked them in cold water briefly as McFadden recommends, pressed dry, and scattered them all over, and finished with warm leftover steak and bright sweet crunchy slivers of kumquat rind. The earthy rich ricotta dressing made the faintly bitter lettuce just right and complemented the steak beautifully, and dripped down to the whipped ricotta beneath to season it, while the kumquat rind added an electric zing.   Delicious and interesting to eat. It isn’t a McFadden recipe per se  but was entirely inspired by his methods and I would not have come up with it without reading his book.

The cooked vegetable recipes are very good too, as are the techniques. Just to name one, McFadden recommends grilling your vegetables “dry,” i.e. without oil, and then drizzling them with olive oil afterwards on the grounds that the burnt oil produces strange chemical flavors.   Even if you like the ones grilled in oil, I think you’ll like his method better. Try it and see.  I am also a fan of his section on pickles. These are not pickles that you can put on your shelf and keep forever. They are quick, delicate refrigerator pickles that serve as seasoning and garnish and add wonderful nuances to the flavor of vegetables.

This is a useful and excellent book at any price,  but I do wish to point out that the Kindle version is a special bargain and I highly recommend it.

A Cookbook to Make You Cook

Right now I am reading two cookbooks that could hardly be more different from one another. Both are large, high quality, available only in hardcover, and gorgeously illustrated. One will make you cook, and one will make you think. The think-book will be reviewed tomorrow.

The one that will make you cook:

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I have owned Sarah Raven’s addictive book about garden-based seasonal cooking for years. It has stood the test of time. Each spring I rediscover it, and it is on my bedside table right now. It seems to be neglected these days, which is why I’m doing my bit to get people to remember that it’s there. It is chock full of pretty photographs and, far more important, recipes that work and taste good. You can flip it open almost at random and come to a recipe that will become a kitchen favorite. It will help you cook your way through your garden or farmer’s market, and while your seasons might not correspond exactly to British seasons, you will cook through the seasons at your own pace in practice. The recipes are never tricksy or overly fussy, and lean toward full pure flavors.

Favorite recipes: Peaches with Bourbon, Romano Beans with Cream and Savory, Lamb with Thyme Tapanade, Cranberry Beans with Sage, Braised Celery, Parmesan and Walnut Crisps, scores of others.

Conclusion: buy it and cook from it. You will eat more fruits and vegetables and you will thereby be healthier and happier.

 

A Carrot of a Different Color

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I like carrots in general, and this year I’m especially enamoured of the carrot variety named Deep Purple. As you see above, it is not a wimpy purple-blushed orange carrot. It is a startling deep indigo-violet right to the core. It is packed with anthocyanins, which can only do us good, and the flavor is a bit less sweet than many modern hybrids, which suits my preferences. I like carrots, not candy bars.

If you are accustomed to boiling carrots you will need to rethink your strategy, because the rich anthocyanin content in this one makes it bleed on the plate like boiled beets. This is not attractive, and I am no fan of boiled vegetables anyway, so a cooking method that keeps its juices inside where they belong makes sense.

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I am cooking a lot of carrot steaks lately and this is a great method for quick vegetable accompaniments that requires no forethought. The prep is quick. Catch your carrots, scrub them thoroughly, cut off the tops and bottoms, and cut the body of the carrot lengthwise into “steaks” of the thickness that you prefer. I like 1/4″ because I like them to cook quickly and get a little cooked clear to the center. I cook all the odd-shaped side slices because they are all delicious; the tapering parts get a little gooey and caramelized, which adds depth and savor. I salt the slices lightly, rub them with good olive oil, and add any seasoning that I might want. In the case shown here they were to accompany blackened fish chunks and so I dusted them lightly with blackening spices.

After you cook your entree, or in a separate nonstick skillet, heat the pan over medium-high heat and lay in the carrot slices, not letting them touch each other. Let them cook at a brisk sizzle until the underside looks cooked and is deep brown in spots, flip, and repeat. Serve and eat.

Incidentally, when I say “nonstick skillet,” these days I mean seasoned cast iron. The newer ceramic-lined nonstick skillets might be safer than the older ones, but their nonstick qualities rapidly break down if used over high heat and they are not considered safe for use under these circumstances. I also dislike the mushy not-really-a-crust that is produced over lower heat, and only fairly high heat will produce a true sear. So cast iron it is. Keeping a skillet seasoned takes a little extra work but not much. The Maillard browning reaction is the cook’s friend for deepening flavor and it happens happily in hot cast iron.  The meaty tang that browning produces makes carrot steaks an ideal vegetable entree.

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The same general method can be applied to purple carrot quarters as shown in the steaming plateful above. In this case I cooked them over lower heat for a longer time with no seasonings but salt and olive oil, and added thyme butter just before serving.

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Grilling is another great way to cook purple carrots. The ones shown above are a purple-blushed variety that I grew before I discovered Deep Purple, seasoned with garlic and ginger midway through grilling so that the garlic doesn’t burn and topped with chopped turmeric leaves to accompany a dish of southeast Asian grilled shrimp.

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