I just had a note from my sister commenting on the burden of having all those leftovers in the fridge after Thanksgiving. We were brought up by a mother who would never let any food go to waste so guilt is definitely in our DNA.
And we’re coming up again on the Christmas holidays with their overabundance of food and myriad leftovers. Mind you I love leftovers, but I, like so many, am tired of trying to put them into edible dishes that are different but tasty. So, the turkey’s in the freezer for soup in three months, guiltily I ate some of the last of the mashed potatoes instead of putting them in potato cakes. And, yes, I composted the rest.
I am ready for clean eating again. Like a palate cleanse after a heavy meal. I want salad. Not fresh tomato salad from the garden because that’s only a disappointment with grocery store tomatoes. But a salad of massaged kale (sorry, Robin Lester), bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
A friend brought a brussels sprout salad for our Friendsgiving, and it was simply refreshing. I absconded with the leftover salad, had it for breakfast the next morning, and have done my best to duplicate it here. I will give a nod to Vivian Howard of A Chef’s Life, because I think this is where the original recipe came from. But I’ve duplicated it from memory and added a few riffs to it.
Feel free to add whatever you have in the fridge – massaged kale, chopped broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, beets or even roasted sweet potatoes. Don’t leave out the apples, though, because they add a delightful sweet burst. My friend’s salad was dressed with a bleu cheese vinaigrette, but you can dress it however it suits you.
2 cups slivered Brussels sprouts
1 cup chopped apples (finely chopped)
½ c. toasted walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
½ c. slivered sweet onion
¼ c. crumbled feta cheese
Mix and chill. Dress with your favorite vinaigrette.
We all have to eat. And the higher the quality of food we put in our bodies, the better we will feel. In response to our very busy lives, meal subscription services have taken off in popularity. Despite the criticisms that they are expensive, have too much packaging, and don’t quite give you the choices you’d like, they are still a great way to get reasonably healthy meals without the planning. Grocery stores are beginning to carry instant, complete meals as well, both cooked and ready to cook.
Make your own instant meals
But, instead of paying high prices for ready-to-cook meals, how about making your own. They will be fresher and certainly taste better. It just takes planning, and even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. Cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore.
Planning is key but keep it simple
Planning is always the hardest part, but if you get in the habit of going to the market once or even twice a week, whether farmers market or grocery, it’s not so hard. Simply purchase whatever vegetables look freshest for the week. Or grow your own. Maybe you take a day on the weekend and prep everything. And most of all, keep it simple. Save the elaborate meals for when you have time on the weekend to spend more time in the kitchen.
First, make sure to stock your pantry with basics so you don’t have to purchase herbs, spices and seasonings every week. Here are some staples to start with:
Good quality olive oil
Balsamic and cider vinegar, rice vinegar and mirin if you like to cook Asian
Black pepper for grinding
Maple syrup – try to find grade B. Deeper flavor, less expensive
Grains: rice, quinoa, other grains you love
Pastas: couscous, orzo
Broth – chicken, vegetable, beef, bone
Canned beans of your choice – garbanzos, pintos, black, navy
Seasonings on hand
Seasonings: chili powder, cumin, dried basil, smoked paprika, garlic powder
For perishables, keep basics on hand such as ricotta, plain yogurt, cheeses of your choice.
Let’s get started with this chopped salad. Shop and prepare it on the weekend, and use it through the week for a quick healthy lunch or dinner side.
The key to this salad is to make the base of any vegetables that will hold up for a few days after being chopped.
1 c. finely chopped broccoli
1 c. finely chopped cauliflower
½ c. slivered brussels sprouts
½ c. chopped sweet peppers
½ c. grated carrot
Mix and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
When ready to eat
Take out a half cup of the chopped salad and add onion, cucumber, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, cheese or any other ingredient that you have in the fridge. You can add cooked chicken, rice or even leftover pasta. Different ingredients can make it a totally new salad every day.
Dress with your favorite vinaigrette or creamy dressing. Or, simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice.
Or, make a stir-fry
Even though the recipe is for a fresh salad, you can also stir-fry the mixture. Add protein of choice to make a complete meal.
Summertime is my time for slaw. It is cool, crisp and can be creamy or citrusy-tart, depending on the recipe. The best part is that is easy to make and keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.
Use just about any vegetable
It’s easy to change up the slaw to pair with different kinds of food, not to mention making use of whatever is being harvested from the garden. You can use any combination of crisp, firm vegetables such as kohlrabi, radish, turnip, rutabaga, carrot, cabbage, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower. Add some cucumber for juiciness at the last minute.
Dressings can be creamy or tart
Dressings are also only limited by your imagination. For a creamy dressing, use Greek yogurt or mayonnaise as a base and add lemon juice, salt and pepper and a hint of honey or sugar. For a dressing to cool the palate to accompany spicy Asian food, use lime juice, sesame oil and honey. For a Mexican riff, add cilantro, chili powder and cumin.
And feel free to add onions, sesame seeds or roasted flax seeds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or raisins.
Bok choi or pac choi slaw
2-3 heads baby pac choi, sliced thinly 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced 1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced 4 scallions, sliced thinly on an angle ½ cucumber halved, seeded and thinly sliced
2 limes, juiced ¼ c. honey 3 T. vegetable oil salt and pepper
Toss with dressing and serve immediately.
Broccoli stem slaw
About 2 cups of broccoli stems, peeled and grated (save the florets for another meal) 1 large carrot grated ½ c. red onion sliced thinly
¼ c. mayonnaise or Greek yogurt 1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice 1 t. sugar ½ t. Salt
Toss with dressing and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.
Cabbages are plentiful at the markets right now. Who can resist the sharp crack as you slice into a crisp cabbage head? This is the time to get plants started for fall crops.
Brassicas all have sulfur compounds
What is it about the scent and flavor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale? We all recognize it, whether coming from steaming broccoli in the kitchen or from rotting cabbage leaves left in the fields to overwinter. But that sulfurous odor is what makes them so extraordinarily good for us. All plants in this family are full of sulfur compounds called sulphoraphanes, anticarcinogenic compounds that make the vegetables so heart-healthy.
Vitamins and antioxidants are plentiful
All Brassicas (comes from the scientific name for this family of vegetables – Brassicaceae) are high in fiber, low calorie and low fat. They are sources of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. The more color the plant has, the more antioxidants it provides. Purple cabbage, orange and purple cauliflowers, red mustard and kale, purple broccoli and brussels sprouts all have more benefits than their green counterparts.
Grow these crops in all seasons
In the garden, brassicas bridge all seasons. You can time planting kale and Chinese cabbage in very early spring when no other vegetables are producing. Their flavors add a pungent freshness to the sweet mellowness of winter stored potatoes, carrots and winter squash. And most of them will last well into fall to provide leafy greens and sweet small cabbage heads for colcannon or “kalecannon” for the Thanksgiving table. Put them under a cold frame and you can often coax them through most of the winter. One of the best traits of almost all brassicas is the chemistry that sweetens them after a frost.
If you plan to start brassicas for the spring garden, they should be seeded in late winter under lights, or in early spring outdoors. The greens are easily grown from seed in the garden, but the larger brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts should be started indoors for transplanting into the garden.
In the warmer summer climates such as North Carolina, they tend to go to flower quickly since summer comes on fast. So, plant broccoli rabe or broccoli Calabrese for spring and save the heading broccoli and cauliflower for fall crops. Start plants in early to mid-July for transplanting into the fall garden.
Easy to grow
Growing all of the brassicas is fairly simple. They grow best in full sun in rich organic soil that is well-drained. They are moderate feeders so benefit from a top-dressing of compost or composted manure when planting. Mulch with organic mulch such as straw once they are growing. Once you harvest the central heads of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, you will often be provided with side shoots through the summer.
The two items that should be in your arsenal for pest control are Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic bacterial pesticide that goes after pesky cabbage moth larvae, and floating row covers which can keep the moths away and help avoid aphid infestation. Since we are not looking for any pollination of the brassicas, the floating row covers can stay on all season.
Red cabbages seem to be less prone to cabbage moth damage. Plant a green cabbage among the reds for beauty and also as a trap crop.
Let’s cook some cabbage
Cabbage is perhaps the best brassica to stand up to most types of cooking. My family doesn’t generally look favorably upon cooked cabbage, mostly because they remember the traditional corned beef and cabbage in which the cabbage is boiled to a soggy mass.
So, let’s try for something totally different – grilled cabbage steaks. These are tender-crunchy with the smokiness of the grill and a hint of caramelization. Delicious!
Roasted or Grilled Cabbage steaks
Preheat oven to 375 or grill to medium
1 head of cabbage, green or red, sliced into 1/2″ steaks
salt and pepper
Tahini Lemon Sauce
1/2 c. tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup water (or more if necessary)
Place cabbage steaks on pan filmed with olive oil. Roast in oven about 15-20 minutes until crisp tender. You can put them under the broiler for a minute or so if they haven’t browned. Don’t overcook or it will be soggy. Dress with tahini lemon sauce. And you can also spice things up a bit with crisp crumbled bacon or feta cheese.
Alternatively, grill, turning over once for about fifteen minutes.
Place tahini, lemon juice and garlic in blender. Turn blender on and add water gradually as needed to reach the consistency you desire. Blend until smooth.
The sauce is a wonderful sauce or dip for any type of vegetable. You can thin it a bit more to use as a salad dressing.
The summer is heating up and with the holiday weekend upon us, barbecuing is on everyone’s mind. This is a prime time to heat up the grill instead of the kitchen.
I used to think of the grill as the place where you cooked ribs, chops and chicken breasts. However, I now use it for all types of vegetables, mushrooms and bread and I’m hooked.
Gas or charcoal
You can use a gas or charcoal grill but it just takes a little more planning to get the coals ready. I’ve managed to pick up a few grilling baskets and trays at second-hand stores although you also buy new ones from garden and hardware stores. Whatever utensils or cookware you use, make sure it’s not your best because it will show wear from the grill. I have set aside a couple of older cast iron pans for use on the grill and I love how they cook outside almost as much as inside.
Grill almost any vegetable
A visit to the farmers market or my garden brings in tomatoes, summer squash, spring onions, early carrots, fresh garlic, maybe some late asparagus, bok choi, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and a myriad of other good eats.
All of which can be simply grilled. The essence of grilling is to use high-quality oil to help the vegetables caramelize. My go-to is fruity olive oil, but you can use grapeseed, walnut or even toasted sesame oil for a slightly Asian taste.
Garnish with herbs after grilling
Fresh herbs lose their flavor quickly when grilled, so if using them, chop and add them after the vegetables come off the grill. I also wait to salt vegetables until they come off the grill, while they are still warm so the salt dissolves, but not while on the grill which tends to make it necessary to use more salt.
Marinate or not
You can marinate the vegetables before cooking if you choose, but since vegetables don’t soak up oil and vinegar as meats do, it really isn’t necessary. You can toss them with whatever you like after they come off the grill for delicious flavors.
Vegetables don’t take long to cook, so cook any meats or other main courses first.
How to grill
Heat the grill to high and then turn it back to medium. Oil your pan (cooking spray works fine), and then add the vegetables. Some that are tougher, like carrots or beets, should be steamed or blanched briefly in boiling water to start the cooking process. Don’t cook until they are soft, though or they won’t hold up on the grill. Toss the vegetables frequently while they cook so all sides get equally caramelized.
Trim off tough ends, roll in olive oil and grill on a flat grill pan for around ten minutes, shaking the pan part-way through or using tongs to roll them around. Serve with a yogurt or mustard sauce.
Steam or blanch about 2 minutes and then dress with olive oil. Grill in a basket about ten minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Toss with fresh mint and maple syrup if desired or simply dressed with salt.
Cabbage and cauliflower
Cut into “steaks”, drizzle with oil and cook on a grill tray until it is just crisp-tender. Sprinkle with garlic powder and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve.
Cut into small florets, toss with oil and toss in a grill basket about ten minutes. Toss with fresh parmesan, a fresh squeeze of lemon and lots of fresh ground pepper to serve.
Summer squash, zucchini, pattypans
Cut into ½” thick coins and toss with garlic powder and oil. Toss in a grill basket about 10-15 minutes until crisp-tender. A sauce made with Dijon mustard and yogurt is delicious drizzled over the top.
Blanch new potatoes (red or gold) until slightly tender. Slice in half, toss with a bit of olive oil and grill for about 10 minutes. Toss with a warm vinaigrette for grilled potato salad.
Grilling mixes, rubs and marinades
Use these as a dry rub on meat, fish or vegetables: brush with olive oil and sprinkle with grilling mix.
Or, add a tablespoon to ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar of choice for a marinade. Brush vegetables or meats with leftover marinade as you grill. If you marinate meat, be sure to discard any extra marinade that you don’t use in cooking. It can harbor bacteria.
Basic Grilling Mix
1 T. oregano
1 T. basil
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. thyme
For specialty mixes – start with the basic grilling mix and add the ingredients listed:
Mint Herb Mix – use on potatoes, lamb or fish
1 T. mint
1 T. marjoram
1 T. tarragon
1 t. lemon balm
Italian Herb Mix – Use for pizza on the grill, on grilled potatoes for potato salad, on chicken breasts
1 t. rosemary
1 t. chili flakes
Herbed Ranch Mix – Use on salmon or white fish, grilled potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash
1 T. dill
1 T. ground black pepper
Traditional barbecue – delicious on vegetables and potatoes
Nothing is happening in the garden today because of the cold. So, I get to cook – my favorite recreation. I love looking in the crisper to see just what’s there, and then pulling out vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and even one of the last eggplants of the season. I’m going to roast vegetables!
Roasting brings out the flavor
Roasting vegetables makes them sublime, giving them that rich “umami” flavor everyone is talking about. All you need are fresh-picked vegetables, good quality olive oil, salt, a sharp knife and a roasting pan. Depending on the vegetable, most will roast to caramelized goodness in about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Drizzle them with olive oil first, roll around, and then salt when they come out of the oven. Then slice into chunks and add to rice, pasta or simply enjoy plain – a perfect side or main dish. A sprinkling of feta or Parmesan cheese and maybe a drizzle of sriracha sauce complete the dish.
Roasted Broccoli and Carrots with Farro
1 c. broccoli florets
½ pkg. baby carrots
3 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ small onion, sliced
½ c. cooked farro, quinoa, rice, bulgur or millet (cook according to package instructions)
1 t. balsamic vinegar
¼ c. Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. toasted pecans, pepitas or sunflower seeds
Preheat oven to 375. In a sided roasting pan (broiler pan
works well), add the carrots and drizzle with 1 t. olive oil. Roast until a
fork inserts with ease, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, salt generously and
put aside in a bowl. Add broccoli to pan, drizzle with 1 T. olive oil and roast
until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Salt and add to carrots.
Add the last tablespoon olive oil to a saute pan and saute
the onion and garlic until soft. Add the farro and heat through. Coarsely chop
the vegetables and return to the bowl. Add the farro mixture to the vegetables,
sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and parmesan. Top with nuts or seeds and
serve warm or at room temperature.