My mother is a very good cook. Now.
But when I was growing up, mealtime was a source of immense stress. Mom had to squeeze every penny out of an Army sergeant’s monthly pay to feed five hungry kids, and she accomplished that task admirably. Except when it came to vegetables. There are no words for how much I loathed mealtime when I would see she was serving, for instance, peas and carrots. I can hardly stand to add this photo:
Nasty little cubes of carrot and the dark green dented peas that spurted out a dry mealy paste, EGAD, the horror of it all. Even burying them in mashed potatoes and swallowing them whole couldn’t hide how awful they were.
You see, my family was not a democracy, and there was no negotiation at the dinner table. In the immortal words of my father, the US Army sergeant, “If your mother serves fried combat boot, you kids will eat it.” You better believe we ate what was on our plates, in my case often gagging.
So you get the picture, right? Other than corn and green beans, I despised vegetables.
And today, I’m practically a vegetarian.
Thank the culinary gods for the revolution in American cooking that came along in recent decades. My conversion resulted from discovering the glories of roasted vegetables, salads, and stir fries.
The WordPress Daily Prompt suggested writing a post today based on the most recent photo you’ve taken. Mine was – surprise!- food-related. Feast your eyes on this veggie (and fruit) still life which ended up last night as Ottolenghi’s Sweet Winter Slaw:
My friend, Carol, an excellent cook, pointed me to Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” last winter. This amazing cookbook has opened my eyes to a whole new level of preparing vegetables.
We all know how to roast vegetables, right? They are perfectly delicious drizzled with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, maybe some garlic and herbs, and popped into a hot oven until lovely and caramelized. But that’s just the starting point for Ottolenghi. In this dish, for instance, the roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, and garlic are enlivened with cherry tomatoes and at the last moment, a bright caper vinaigrette. Heaven, I tell you, just heaven.
And the poor maligned Brussels Sprout of my youth. Gray-green little slimy balls of cabbage, they could almost bring me to tears when facing them on my dinner plate.
Of course now they are possibly my favorite vegetable. But only if they make an appearance in my kitchen like this. No frozen or canned allowed:
Ottolenghi describes this Brussels sprouts and tofu stir fry as “probably one of the best things you can do with the old Brussels.” The man speaks the truth. Shiitake mushrooms, sweet chile sauce, cilantro, green onions, soy and sesame oil combine to make this dish a party in your mouth.
But keeping it simple works too. Carol sent me a New York Times recipe for Hashed Brussels Sprouts which has become a staple in my kitchen. A lovely combination of garlic, butter, lemon, white wine and shredded sprouts cooks up in two seconds flat and is just out of this world. Try it!
OK, I’ll leave you with something special. If you want to jazz up a pan of roasted vegetables, try this Pecan Gremolata. It will work with most any combination of vegetables. You can make it ahead of time and then just stir it into the veggies when you’re ready to serve. Prepare yourself for the fawning of your guests.
Pecan Gremolata (recipe from Epicurious.com)
- 3/4 cup pecans
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
Using on/off turns, chop pecans in processor until coarsely ground. Transfer ground pecans to small bowl; stir in grated cheese, parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon peel, garlic, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season gremolata to taste with salt. Drizzle vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Sprinkle gremolata over vegetables just before serving.
And today my mother would never dream of serving canned peas and carrots. Or combat boot for that matter. She’s come a long way too!
Thanks for reading,