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Simple recipes for simple vegetables

In season saladIf you take my advice and plant a few of the easy vegetables mentioned in my last post, you will quickly be overrun with fresh produce.  Now what do you do with it?

First of all, it's essential that you get over the grocery store mentality that a slight blemish means a vegetable gets tossed in the trash.  Your vegetables may have a bug nibble here and there, or even a crack in the side.  Don't worry about it.  I can't for the life of me find a link, but I was recently told about a sect of monks who were quite healthy vegans until they began to buy commercial produce and came down with nutritional deficiencies.  It turned out that the insects they were accidentally ingesting in their previous diet of non-commercial vegetables had been keeping them healthy.  I don't wash our homegrown produce, and we find it delicious, bugs, dirt, blemishes, and all.

Yellow cherry tomatoesChances are, once you discover how good your homegrown vegetables taste, a good amount of the bounty won't even make it out of the garden.  Eventually, you'll probably want to present the vegetables as part of the meal, which is the purpose of this post.  Tomorrow I'll give you pointers on becoming a bit fancier.

Lettuce - By the time fresh tomatoes and cucumbers reach my plate, lettuce is long gone, which blows my traditional salad out the window.  Here are some in-season salad ideas.

Swiss chard - The easiest way to prepare stellar greens is to cut them into bite-size pieces and steam them for a few minutes until the stems are soft.  Drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and eat.  Once you get bored with that, try sauteing the greens in a large pot in a bit of oil, adding minced garlic for the last minute of cooking.

Tomatoes - Once you get sick of just eating tomato slices (if ever), try our cucumber and tomato salad.  Some people add goat cheese and/or mozarella to the mix for a heartier salad.

Homegrown mealBasil - Pesto is the obvious solution to an overdose of basil.  I've posted my recipe for chestnut pesto, but we usually use walnuts in our daily lives.  Pine nuts are the classic pesto component, but are extremely pricey.

Sweet corn - In my opinion, the only way to eat sweet corn is to very lightly cook it.  Bring a big pot of water to a boil while you shuck the corn, then drop the ears in for less than a minute, just until they change color.  Carefully pull them out with a pair of tongs and eat immediately (with salt and/or butter if you prefer.)

Okra - I already mentioned that I prefer steaming okra, and that most people fry it.  What's your favorite way to eat okra?

Whatever you do, remember that freshness is key.  As soon as you pick an ear of corn, the sugars begin to turn to starches and the flavor declines.  Although the difference isn't quite as pronounced with other vegetables, the trend is the same.  For maximum flavor and nutrition, pick produce right before eating it.



This post is part of our Beginner's Guide to Gardening and Eating in Season lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Why... in gumbo of course. :P
Comment by Shannon Wed Jun 9 13:06:18 2010
Good point! I've always steered clear of gumbo because I'm not a seafood eater, but I'm sure it can be translated into vegetarian or chicken.
Comment by anna Wed Jun 9 16:22:04 2010
I actually prefer chicken and sausage gumbo to seafood.
Comment by Shannon Wed Jun 9 18:06:52 2010

I slice the tops off very carefully, so as not to cut into the pod itself. Then I put oil in a skillet and pan-fry the okra with curry masala spices. I like to get it good and browned. It's delicious and it avoids the sliminess some people can't handle.

Last year we had so much okra that I pickled most of it. Delish -- and put lots of peppers and garlic in, too, 'cause those are good pickled as well. :D

I can't wait for okra this year!

Comment by Laurel Wed Jun 9 19:05:25 2010

Ingredients:

* 3 1/2 pounds frying chicken
* 1 onion, cut in chunks
* celery leaves
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 5 cups reserved broth
* 6 slices bacon, diced
* 1 pound smoked andouille or smoked sausage, sliced 1/4" thick
* 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
* 2 green bell peppers, chopped
* 2 celery ribs, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes
* 1 can (approx. 15 ounces) tomato puree
* 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels, thawed
* 1 package (10 ounces) frozen sliced okra, thawed
* 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme or 1 teaspoon dried leaf thyme

Preparation: Combine chicken, the onion chunks, celery leaves, and salt in a Dutch oven or large kettle; add water to cover. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 45 minutes. or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken, reserving 5 cups of the chicken broth; discard onion and celery leaves. Remove chicken from bones; cut into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Cook bacon and sausage in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon and sausage, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in Dutch oven. Crumble bacon; set bacon and sausage aside. Add onion, pepper, celery, and garlic to Dutch oven; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender. Add chicken, bacon, sausage, reserved broth (should be approximately 5 cups), tomatoes, and remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours.

Comment by Shannon Wed Jun 9 21:00:09 2010
I forgot about pickled okra... I love pickled okra with a salad. I never thought about cooking it with indian spices! Sounds delicious.
Comment by Shannon Wed Jun 9 21:02:26 2010
Shannon and Laurel --- Great ideas! I'm going to have to try both of those.
Comment by anna Thu Jun 10 07:30:06 2010

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime