K.I.S.

Lettuces and chard

Keep It Simple (the implied other S is for stupid which I don’t think is nice or appropriate).

I’ve been overwhelmed recently with the intensity of some recipes, mostly because they complicate cooking. The other day a recipe crossed my desk from one of the blog sites I visit. It sounded like a delicious dish. But it had twenty-three ingredients! I immediately dismissed it, but then went back to it and realized that it was mostly a list of seasonings. The actual food ingredients were only three.

I understand that when publishing a recipe it’s important to list everything that will be used. But so often a huge list is discouraging. And I want you to cook! So, I like to keep my recipes as simple as possible, with whatever fresh ingredients you can manage to get or grow. 

Grilled asparagus

Fall and winter chilis and stews certainly call for a more extensive list of ingredients, but summer is a time to simply roast or grill a zucchini and sprinkle with parmesan, slice garden tomatoes and douse with balsamic, grated garlic and torn basil leaves, or toss fresh roasted asparagus and eggplant cubes over hot pasta. 

Butter lettuce getting ready to bolt

In my garden, lettuce is bolting so I harvested all that was left, and after offering some to neighbors, made a saute of lettuce and onion served over rice. Yes, you can cook lettuce. 

Sauteed lettuce over rice

4 cups of torn or chopped lettuce (or any green – kale, chard, turnip) – This sounds like a lot but it cooks way, way down

1 T. sesame oil or olive oil

2 T. chopped onions

1 c. cooked rice (or any cooked grain – bulgur, quinoa, farro)

Seasonings of choice:

I like spicy so I use sambal olek (garlic-chili paste), maybe some hoisin sauce, soy sauce. I also like to finish off with a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt or sour cream to make it creamy.

Start with a large pan because of the bulk of the lettuce. Saute the lettuce in the sesame oil, stirring frequently until it is wilted. Stir in the rice and seasonings and heat gently. Stir in seasonings and sour cream if using. 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb flowers – you don’t have to remove them

Rhubarb buds actually begin appearing at 40 degrees, so it’s exploding into growth right now. I planted it last year and it’s taking off in the garden now. The best part is that it takes little care to grow as long as you give it plenty of room, and the stems can be harvested sometimes until mid-summer. Some rhubarbs have red stems, but the most common type has green stems. Both have the same taste. You can purchase roots at garden centers, or you can beg a division from someone who has a healthy plant. I’ve been known to haunt abandoned farms to dig divisions.

Rhubarb at the farmers market

Harvest while the plants have robust stems and put the excess in the freezer. Simply chop and put in a freezer bag for use in rhubarb bread and cakes. When stems become slender, stop harvesting and wait until fall. It’s not necessary to remove flower stalks from plants.

Packed with Vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium, the stems are absolutely delicious simply stewed with a little sugar and spooned on top of oatmeal or ice cream. Just remember that the leaves are not edible and can give you a pretty good tummy ache.

Rhubarb bread is a favorite in my house, and I like to combine it with apples for an extra burst of flavor.

Rhubarb streusel bread (can be made into muffins as well)

1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 ½ c. fresh or frozen sliced rhubarb or a combination of rhubarb and grated apples

Note: if rhubarb is frozen, thaw and let drain, discarding the liquid

TOPPING:
½ c. sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
1 T. cold butter

In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar and oil. Add egg, mix well. Beat in buttermilk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into brown sugar mixture just until combined. Fold in rhubarb. Pour into two greased 8 x 4 loaf pans or greased muffin tins.

For topping, combine sugar, cinnamon and butter until crumbly; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Cut with serrated knife.

Cooking for two

I’m trying hard to remember to cut recipes in half. There are only two of us, and I hate throwing food away. Making potato salad for only two people with no leftovers may seem counterproductive, but just how often can you eat from that big bowl of potato salad before you don’t want to see potato salad again for a long time?

Tossing food is not only a waste of the food, but a waste of the time it took to prepare it. It’s nice to have leftovers but sometimes leftovers just make me tired. 

I admit to borrowing recipes that sound good, and I have a hard time remembering to halve everything while cooking. So whenever I use someone else’s recipe, I immediately change the ingredients to half of what is called for and make a note that I did it. It’s really easy to ruin an entire dish by forgetting to cut something in half. Like the salt. And it’s a simple thing to convert a recipe back to feed four people. 

Easiest pasta ever

Pasta with roasted tomatoes

Easiest pasta ever!

When all you can get in the grocery at this time of year are winter tomatoes that look pretty pathetic, don’t give up on tomatoes. 

Quarter two tomatoes and toss with a few slices of onion, a smashed garlic clove, and a solid drizzle of olive oil. Roast in a 375 oven in a sided broiler pan or jelly roll pan for about 3-35 minutes. When cooled somewhat, roughly chop, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss with hot pasta. Top with fresh parmesan and serve with crusty Italian bread and a fresh salad for a tasty, easy meal.  

A riff on the recipe: roast any other vegetables that sound good such as eggplant or summer squash.

Creamy vegetable soup

Asparagus soup drizzled with sriracha

Now that spring vegetables are beginning to appear on grocery shelves and at farmers’ markets, it’s a great time to resurrect a recipe for a light cream soup. Add a fresh salad of spring mix with a homemade vinaigrette and a slice of crusty Italian toast and you have a winning, quick spring-infused meal. 

We seem to have an abundance of fresh asparagus available in North Carolina, so besides simply roasting it in olive oil, this week I made pasta primavera with the tips and then used the stalks in a creamy asparagus soup. 

It’s so easy, quick and light, and remarkably satisfying. Don’t be put off by the word “cream” if you are counting calories, because there are many ways to make a creamy soup without cream. I made mine with richly flavored homemade vegetable stock and thickened it with a bit of flour. Of course, the richness of cream is sometimes worth the indulgence. 

Once you make the easy base, the choice is yours as to what vegetables to add. The key is to cook the vegetables until soft then puree. Many don’t need further seasoning than salt and pepper but use your creative hand to make the soup Italian flavored with oregano and basil, curry-flavored by adding a tablespoon of red curry paste, or Tex-Mex with chipotle and cumin. Give it a middle eastern flair with chopped mint and feta as garnishes. 

  • 2 T. butter or olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. flour
  • 4 c. broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 cups vegetables of choice (see note below)
  • ½ c. half-and-half, rice cream, coconut milk or pureed cannellini beans (completely optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter or oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender. Sprinkle with flour and stir briefly. Add broth, whisking as you pour it in. If it’s too thick, add a bit more broth or water. Add the vegetables and saute until tender. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender. You can puree until smooth or leave it somewhat chunky. Stir in half-and-half or another cream if you wish and season to taste. Pour into bowls and garnish with garlic croutons, scallions, feta or goat cheese, parmesan. I like to add a spoonful of harissa for spice. 

Note: suggestions for vegetables are endless. Raid the crisper drawers or freezer and come up with your own combinations. Frozen vegetables can make a really quick soup. Add mushrooms, spinach, carrots and skip the puree step for a delicious chunky soup.

  • Fresh or frozen peas and chopped carrots
  • Tomatoes and basil
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Edamame
  • Peppers and carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Beets
  • Pumpkin or winter squash

Here’s a secret – make a creamy base from rice: 

1/3 c. medium or long-grained white rice

3 c. broth, chicken or vegetable

Film a deep saucepan with olive oil, add the rice and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add the broth, reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is soft with most of the liquid, about 25 minutes. 

Transfer to a blender or use a stick blender and process until the sauce is smooth. Use as a substitute for cream or milk in any cream-based recipe.