Posts Tagged ‘vegetable dinners’

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.

Vegetable dinners: Starting the new year


Recently a reader contacted me about how to transition to a diet of “all real food.” Expense and time were real concerns for him, as they are for most of us. ¬†Well, there’s no question that if you’ve been eating a lot of convenience and supermarket food, real food is likely to be more expensive. You will be making more things from scratch, so it will take more time, too. So my first piece of advice is: don’t make a New Year’s resolution to change your whole diet. I am very mistrustful of New Year’s resolutions; in fact I am mistrustful of any statement that anyone is going to make sudden sweeping changes in their way of being in the world and maintain those changes over time. Personally, my transition in food and lifestyle took place over years, with one step building on the previous ones, and no one change so huge that I couldn’t maintain it until it became a habit.
So here’s how I would approach this change: eat more vegetables. Fill your plate with them. Twice a week or so, make two or three simple vegetable dishes for dinner, and don’t have any meat available. On the other nights, offer a small amount of meat and lots of vegetables. A loaf of good bread is a great way to center the table for all-vegetable dinners, and at first you can buy the bread and transition to home-baked later on if you want to. Heat the bread up and have butter or olive oil available to make it festive. Let your vegetable meal be a celebration. Learn a few simple whole-grain dishes and use them as “grounding and centering” dishes to offer some variety from bread. Don’t forget vegetable pasta dishes, which are delicious and appeal to kids. Buy your vegetables wherever you usually shop, and learn to cook them in ways that taste really good. Notice that at this first stage you do not torment yourself by trying to grow all your own food, eat local only, or eat organic only. You just cook the veggies that are readily available to you in ways that work for you. Pay special attention to learning to cook leafy greens in ways that you really like. They are abundantly good for your health, and if you take up gardening later on, they are among the easiest things to grow, but they are also the most likely to sit in the garden unused if you don’t have your kitchen techniques down pat. When you and your family are used to eating lots of vegetables, you can add more whole-grain dishes, or go organic, or shop at the farmers’ market when possible.

If you make this your first step toward a whole-foods diet, you won’t save much money initially because CAFO meat at the supermarket is cheap, but you won’t spend more than usual. Invest a very little bit of money in a really good vegetable cookbook; a wonderful and inexpensive one is Fast, Fresh, and Green by Susie Middleton. Check out my “vegetable dinners” category, too.

When you and your family are really loving your veggies and you can turn out vegetable dishes smoothly and without kitchen trauma, and plates heavy with vegetables look just right to you, take the next step. Enlist your family in deciding what the next step will be. If you use a lot of dairy products, organic dairy might be a good step. Or consider a backyard garden, or a farmers’ market excursion once a week in season, or more whole grains, or whatever. Bear in mind that truly ethical meats are going to be expensive, and if you just substitute them for the supermarket kind in the amounts you are used to eating, you are in for a nasty surprise when you add up the bills. I don’t suggest changing to them until you have formed the habit of eating small amounts of meat and making veggies the biggest part of your meal.
Don’t forget breakfast. Cook a pot of wild rice or red quinoa ahead of time and heat up enough for breakfast, topping it with some butter and maple syrup or honey. This is a treat even for people who don’t like “health” foods.

I don’t believe that negative energy is ever very helpful. Don’t berate yourself for the things you aren’t doing, just be appreciative of the positive changes that you’re making. If you need to pick up a quart of milk at the convenience store some night, don’t go crazy over it. If unexpected events change your life for a while, respond to them as needed, and then go back to your new way. Somewhere along the way, read or reread The Omnivore’s Dilemma, still head and shoulders above other books about factory-farming systems and, in my view, much better than Pollan’s subsequent books at helping you remember why you are making these changes. Love your food, and enjoy your mealtimes, and step will follow naturally on step. Have fun, and happy New Year!