Posts Tagged ‘vegetable dinners’

Peapod Feast

One of my favorite vegetables in the world is the Oregon Giant snow pea. It makes large pods that don’t acquire their best flavor until the peas inside swell to nearly full-size, more like a snap pea. At that stage they’re the best thing in the garden, and everything else goes on the back burner while they’re in season. They do need their strings removed before cooking. Anything this delicious is worth working a little for.

Most of the time, I use them the same way that I’d use hand-rolled fettuccine. I prefer the simplified Alfredo treatment shown above: Boil enough  pods for two people in salted water for four minutes, put in a strainer to drain thoroughly, and to the hot pan add two tablespoons of butter and half a cup of heavy cream. Boil furiously over high heat for just a few minutes until the cream starts to thicken, then return the peas to the pan and boil hard for another minute. Turn off the burner and add a three-fingered pinch of salt and a generous handful of grated Parmesan, stir just until the cheese begins to melt, plate the peas, and sprinkle a bit  more cheese and some freshly ground pepper over the top. Have fleur de sel available at the table. Perfection.

As to what quantity of peas serves two people, well, how many do you have? I use this recipe for about a pound to 1.5 pounds of pods. I could probably eat a pound myself, but try not to. If you have more, scale up the sauce a bit.

If you need some variety, peas also respond well to a carbonara treatment with egg yolks and some pancetta or bacon (don’t sneer at the bacon. It’s inauthentic but delicious.)

The pods are also delicious plain with some butter and salt, or grilled in a grilling basket, or dipped raw into dip of your choice.

 

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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The Eggplant Chronicles II: cooking eggplant

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Like most Louisiana natives I love eggplant, and I have fervent opinions about how it should be prepared for cooking. For any application in which it is to be sautéed, I believe that it must be salted and drained first. This is not to get out bitterness, as some cookbooks say; a well-grown eggplant of a good variety doesn’t have bitterness. The disgorging process gives the eggplant a better texture, almost silky, and in my view is not optional.
For this dish, I cut an enormous yet still young Black King eggplant into thick meaty slices about half an inch thick. I salted them liberally on both sides in the morning, stuck them in a bag in the refrigerator, and in the evening laid them out in a single layer on half of a clean towel and pushed down hard on the slices with the other half of the towel, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Now sauté them in olive oil over medium-high heat, laying them out on a baking sheet as they finish cooking, and making sure to cook them until they can easily be penetrated with a fork. Meanwhile, decide what you want to put on them. I had some horta (cooked greens mixture) made according to the description in my amaranth post, liberally flavored with garlic, fennel fronds, and salt-cured olives, and decided to use that. Other possibilities include leftover cut-up meat or chicken with herbs, scrambled eggs highly seasoned with herbs, tomato sauce, or whatever. I mixed the horta with crumbled feta for a little pizazz. Top with cheese ( I used an artisanal cheese similar to Parmesan) and pop in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes or so. Pull them out, top with pine nuts or your own favorite nuts and a lavish sprinkle of Maras pepper flakes or other good red pepper flakes, and put back in the oven for a minute or two. I added some roasted onion halves on the side. Serve. Eat.
This sort of dish screams for a good smooth red wine and has to be eaten with a carefree attitude. Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
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Veggies for One, or Two

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One of the joys of early summer is seeing gorgeous big heads of broccoli “crowning” above the leaves. After you’ve cut the central head, the fun is just beginning. Keep replenishing fertile mulch around the plants and keep them watered, and soon a ring of side shoots will appear above the foliage. Cut the shoots with their long stems, being careful not to harm the main stem of the plant. Rinse them off and peel the stems carefully with a vegetable peeler. Steam to taste. In my opinion, broccoli should be steamed for eight minutes, and raw broccoli is not a vegetable at all. Your mileage may vary.
My favorite way to eat these long elegant stalks is with a quasi-Korean dipping sauce. I was particularly hungry and added a fried egg (double-yolked, so I got a bonus) and drizzled it with the dipping sauce too. The sauce is flavored with gochujang, a lovely deep-flavored fermented sweet chile paste that is unlike any other form of chile. Currently the only brand of gochujang I use is from the quirky company Mother-in-Law’s Kimchee.it contains rice powder and sugar and has some carbs, but you don’t use that much and it doesn’t have any corn syrup. I make this sauce by the pint and keep it in the refrigerator. The recipe as given here makes just over one cup.
The sweeteners that I use are oligofructose, a chicory root derivative, and liquid stevia, because I’m a ketogenic eater. If you don’t worry about carbs, you can just add sugar to taste at the boiling stage. If you do use oligofructose, I recommend the Sweet Perfection brand. Other brands have a bitter taste to me.

Dipping sauce
3×1″ piece of ginger, peeled
8 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 tablespoons gochujang depending on your heat preference
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Sweet Perfection oligofructose
Drops of liquid stevia to taste

Chop the ginger and garlic while a small saucepan heats up over medium heat. When hot, add the coconut oil, let it heat a minute or two, and add the chopped ginger and garlic. Stir-fry until they are cooked and fragrant but haven’t colored at all. Add the rice vinegar and soy sauce, bring to a boil, and slowly pour in the oligofructose with your nondominant hand while whisking rapidly with your dominant hand. It will form awful clumps if not handled this way. When it is all incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, let stand at least ten minutes to cool, and add liquid stevia just 2-3 drops at a time, tasting to make sure you don’t go too far. Serve in neat small bowls with nearly any meat or vegetable that could use some quick perking up. It seems tailor-made for broccoli, but a big glug poured over rapidly stir-fried greens is also pretty damn good, especially with chopped hard-boiled egg on top to complete the meal, and a salad of leftover thinly sliced steak or chicken, fresh sliced romaine, and this sauce as a dressing makes a beautiful lunch.
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Vegetables for One

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I hear people talk about how difficult they find it to cook vegetables for themselves. I’m on my own tonight, so I decided to try it. I started with a bunch of mustard from an area where I’d sown mustard greens thickly as a quick cover crop. The greens were thinned to 2″ apart in the seedling stage, and now are about a month old and maybe 8″ high. I grabbed a handful and pulled them out by the roots. Then, still holding the stems together as a bunch in my left hand, I used my right hand to snap the roots off of each stem at the point where they snapped rather than bending, taking the lower yellowed leaves away with the roots, and put the roots aside on the mulch and avoided dirtying the leaves. It’s important to break the stems where they snap. If they bend almost double instead, they have acquired more fiber than you can chew. Then I took the rootless mustards inside and washed them quickly. They grew upright due to the crowding, and that keeps them clean and saves washing. This entire process took five minutes, plus another minute to snap off two young tender garlic scapes and rinse them.
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Then I heated my skillet over fairly high heat, and while it was heating I cut the garlic scapes crosswise into 1″ lengths. When it was hot, I put in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and tossed in the garlic scapes. I put in the cut-up bud sheath from the top of the scape too, but I ended up picking it out later because it was too large and tough. No issues, you are alone and there are no mistakes. While they sizzled, I cut the mustard bunch crosswise into 1″ sections.
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After the scapes had cooked about three minutes, I added the stem ends of the mustard, cooked a couple of minutes, and then added the rest of the cut-up mustard and a large pinch of salt, stirred and fried a few minutes, and added a heaping quarter teaspoon of ground chipotle chile. If you don’t care for heat, Spanish smoked paprika would work well. Keep tossing every minute or so.
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Just before they were done, I added a good dash of Red Boat fish sauce, which is easily obtainable at Asian markets or online and is the closest substitute for Italian colatura. Stir another minute, check doneness by eating a leaf section and a stem section, and keep cooking until it tastes good. Keep the heat fairly high but not hot enough to brown the leaves. When done to your taste, plate it. I think everything tastes better on red plates.
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Then I looked in the refrigerator for a cheesy protein component. I suddenly went all Greek and crumbled some wonderful locally made goat feta over the top. If not using feta, check the salt. If really hungry, top the greens and feta or other cheese with a fried egg.
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Eat in solitary splendor. You are doing a good thing for your body and it tastes good. How cool is that? So eat on the patio under the romantic lights.
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Have a little dark chocolate for dessert, because life is short.

A Veggie Cookbook Worth Owning

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There are a lot of vegetable cookbooks on the market currently,most of them much of a muchness and pretty forgettable as far as I’m concerned, but now and then I come across one that must be bought. I bought this one. Then I bought another copy for a friend. It’s of special interest to anyone who grows their own vegetables or gets a CSA box for a few reasons:

1. The organization is by vegetable type, so if you have leafy greens in the garden you can turn to the leafy greens chapter and consider some cooking options.

2. It offers suggestions for vegetables, or parts of vegetables, that aren’t usually eaten. Broccoli leaves, for example, which are good to eat and highly nutrient-dense ( be careful how many you harvest, though, or your broccoli-bud crop will be significantly reduced.) Ms. Ly’s improvisational kale-stem pesto gives you a flexible way to use up the “nasty bits” of your kale. Tomato leaves are used well as a seasoning, and no, they aren’t poisonous. There are numerous other examples: I am looking forward to trying her chard-stem hummus later in the season. The recipe for pan-charred beans with bean leaf pesto looks like another winner.

3. The recipes that I have tried work and taste good. This does not go without saying. I have come across recipes, especially no-waste recipes, that look lovely in the picture but aren’t really edible. Ms. Ly’s recipes are good.

Oh, and 4. It’s available on Kindle if you need to save space on your cookbook shelves.

I don’t accept review copies of cookbooks. I buy them at my local indie bookstore, paying the same price that you will pay. That’s the only way that I can judge whether the value/ price ratio is really favorable. I think this one is worth the money. Even an old hand in the kitchen will pick up some new ideas for using vegetables.

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Spinach


For some reason, probably simple curiosity, I tried an old spinach variety called Giant of Viroflay this spring. It was a hot, early spring with lots of wind and duststorms, and I didn’t think that this European antique would survive our high-desert climate, but in fact I have never had such a good crop of spinach. The leaves are smooth and about 10″ long,and in the current June heat I’m still picking from the row that I started harvesting in early May. The particular strain that you have can make a big difference. I got mine from Nichols Garden Nursery. I have seen seeds around labeled “Giant Noble,” which may or may not be the same thing. The maintenance of a good line of seed takes a lot of attention, and it pays to get your seed from the best source that you can find.
The flavor is wonderful, full of the richness that good spinach has, with no metallic or bitter flavors. The texture is smooth and melting when cooked properly, and wonderful in salads too. When I have spinach this good, I like plain creamed spinach more than any other way of cooking it. I think that the French method of blanching first produces the best flavor, and I make up for any diminishment of water-soluble vitamins by eating a great deal of it.
Pick a lot of spinach, since it shrinks greatly when cooked. I use a 5-gallon food-grade pail to pick into, and pick it 2/3 full (loosely filled) to serve 4. Wash very well three times in sinkfuls or pailfuls of cold water. Don’t neglect the washing step. Any bit of grit will spoil your perfect spinach. Then bring a gallon of water to a rolling boil in your big stockpot, toss in the spinach, DON’T cover the pot, and stir with a wooden spoon to get all the leaves exposed to boiling water. When the water returns to a full boil, stir and boil for another minute, then drain in a colander and press ALL the excess moisture out. Turn out on a clean cutting board, chop rapidly with your big chef’s knife, and put in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of butter, half a cup of heavy cream, and salt to taste. Cook over high heat, turning regularly, until the cream is reduced and there’s no drippy liquid. Serve forth promptly, with a little more butter on top. If you know someone who has a Jersey cow, your cream can be thick raw Jersey cream, which is the best cream there is. Shave a few shreds of fresh nutmeg on top just before it goes to the table (I do mean a few, 1/8 teaspoon or thereabouts.) Some fresh pepper is nice too. Sometimes I add some sauteed shallot or green onion, and sometimes I feel that alliums impair the delicacy of the thing.
I like to eat this as a meal all by itself, with a few slices of good baguette alongside. It also makes a great base for poached eggs, and accompanies delicately seasoned chicken and fish dishes beautifully. It is one of the joys of late spring, to be enjoyed lavishly in its season.