Issue 30

The Comfort of Veggies

The Comfort of Veggies

Are you the sort of eater who can plow through fresh tomatoes for breakfast, a bunch of radishes (salt only) and a nuked beet (salt and lemon juice) for lunch, and grilled squash and eggplant (salt, lemon and olive oil) for dinner, with maybe some pickled cuke for dessert? If so, you’d be like me. But if all that sounds a bit too vegetarian for you, then you’d be like the rest of my family. They like their veggies, but only sort of, and not too many.

Great, I say; work with what you have. So while I crunch away on raw spinach for lunch, I make comfort veggies for my family’s dinner. My kids don’t adore green beans, but stir fried til just tender and dressed with a bit of soy sauce, garlic, sesame seed, and brown sugar, they love them and they make a great side to almost anything. Carrots can be done the same way and instead of garlic and sesame, I use the soy/sugar to dress at the end with a little ginger. Broil some half-sliced brussel sprouts dressed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper and just a little lemon juice, and people who don’t like them might actually eat them. Do the same thing with beets or sweet potatoes (peel them first) and cut them up into chunks, and cook them on a tray like the brussels and the results can be met with surprising approval. I’m not saying you should force people to choke down strange veggies they would normally never touch, but it is good to explore a little. Make friends with the veg, and good things can happen.

Seriously, there is no need to be sneaky about it. And I believe that kids who know food grow to love food. Not everyone can love a turnip, but just about anyone can eat a pizza. Make your own dough (2 cups flour, dash salt, 2/3 cup water, dash oil, pack of yeast) and rise it in the fridge overnight. Adorn with fresh basil and cherry tomatoes from your garden, fresh mozzarella, or whatever your family likes. Too complicated? When I was little, my Dad made cheese toast with very thin tomato slices and broiled them, tomato on top, cheddar under. The tomato caramelized over the melted cheese. With sourdough bread, goat or sharp cheddar cheese and local hot house tomatoes, this can be an elegant snack or half a meal.
Summer or fall salads are another way to make tempting veggies. A good coleslaw is easy and my kids love it. Buy a real cabbage from the market, in whatever color you like. Peel and quarter it and shred it in the food pro, or if you don’t have that, thinly slice down through your quarters until you have thin strips or julienne of cabbage. I actually prefer the texture of the strips, especially if it won’t be eaten right away, the texture doesn’t turn mushy. (You need a long chef’s knife for this, and most other big kitchen tasks. Do try this at home, but not with a paring knife, or you’ll be there all day.) Don’t despair about the right way to make slaw; make one your family will eat. Onion? Carrot? Pickle? Shred or chop small. Jicama, radish, even apple is fine—anything with low moisture content. Dressing is easy. The French basic recipe is a bit of whole heavy cream with salt and pepper and a dash of lemon juice. Use mayo, or sour cream, or your favorite creamy salad dressing. Start small so you know when you’ve put enough dressing. It takes surprisingly little. When you’ve got lots of corn, tomatoes, and zucchini, and you’ve run out of ways to fix them, chop them together in a fresh corn salad with some onion and a little fresh basil. Olive oil and cider vinegar are all you need beyond salt and pepper. For fall, put any of these veggies with a little bell pepper and some cooked beans (black, white, pinto) and dress the same way. These salads can be served at room temp, cold, or even just warm, and they go with anything you can poach or grill.

Potatoes may have been tainted in our minds by all their mistreatment in processed and fast (read fat) foods, but they are actually a vegetable of noble standing, and are not nutritionally embarrassing in the least when treated properly. Creamy little farm fresh potatoes? What can’t you do with those? Get the waxy kind with red or yellow skins from an organic or local source.  If you have time, slice them thinly and put into a casserole with a little butter, salt, pepper, and cream and bake low and slow for a perfect gratin. If you’re in a hurry, wash (I never peel) and quarter them, then toss with olive oil, lemon juice and some chopped rosemary or thyme, and broil them on a tray. Or do a quick mash by boiling whole, draining, and mash with a potato masher with a small clove of grated garlic, a little butter and some milk. If you want to do a potato salad, try the German one we like. Boil your little potatoes and drain. Fry some bacon (try some heirloom Berkshire bacon with no sulphites and no added water from the local coop), lower the heat and in the leftover grease, stir in some chopped green onion, then deglaze with a little cider vinegar and brown sugar. Then half or quarter the potatoes and pour the vinegar dressing over them while everything is still warm. Garnish with cooked bacon. It is interesting to note that many European recipes for veggies contain butter, cream, or yes, even bacon. Nevertheless, they are eating their veggies, made from scratch, and what the heck, aren’t they supposed to taste good?

One more comfort veggie dish I make for my family is quiche. Strangely, my children are fond of broccoli, which is complemented well by cheese. There is no need for meat here, but a bit of diced smoked pork or ham would be fine. Beat some eggs (about 3 per person) and add a quarter cup of milk for each person (or every three eggs). Then sprinkle in some grated cheese (you can use pre-grated, if you like) and half a diced onion, some broccoli (I parboil it while I do everything else by just pouring boiling water over it and letting it sit, then drain.) or frozen peas (do the same thing with the boiling water in a bowl to thaw them) or chopped asparagus, or zucchini or spinach, or whatever. Then pour into a greased casserole and bake at 375 for 15-30 minutes (depending on how thick the mixture is—for faster cooking, use a wider shallow pan) until firm through and brown on top. It’s a comfort veggie, but it’s still a veggie.

I recommend local produce whenever possible, or an organic option that doesn’t come from too far away. Check your Nebraska food coop, and your supermarket, but don’t settle for something that looks like it was bred for mass transport, it will probably taste like the cardboard it is meant to hold up as well as. Explore a little, and stop steaming things for a change.  Put a little comfort into your veggies.

Ann Summers

Ann Summers

Ann Summers is not a 40-umpthing-year old rock climber who got shut down in Boulder Canyon and drowned her failure in a microbrewery. She is neither a mother of two, a fan of Latin plant names nor a lover of fine Italian Grappa. You’ll not catch her shooting guns for fun or hollering like a redneck. She hates Shakespeare, and doesn’t call a certain fast food chain “The Scottish Restaurant.” She turns her nose up at organic yellow beets, eschews fresh oysters, and loathes chubby guinea pigs with Violent Femmes hairdos. She is also a dreadful liar


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