Aromatherapy

Sauteeing onions in butter

You can certainly have your lavender (I love it too) and your patchouli. But when I need scent to make me feel better, I turn to the kitchen. There is nothing as uplifting as the aroma of sauteeing onions in butter. It smells delicious and reminds me of happy times in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. It is the great beginning for just about anything savory and tongue pleasing.

Spinach with onions

Minced onion and garlic sauteed in a little olive oil and a touch of butter brings a simple green like spinach to something sublime. This is a wonderful dish all by itself, but can also be added to soups, stews, risotto, eggs………only limited by imagination.

One of my favorite breakfasts:

Spinach and Avocado Toast

(called tartine if you want to be fancy – a tartine is a slice of bread with a sweet or savory topping.

1 medium bunch spinach, coarsely chopped

¼ onion, chopped finely

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices whole grain bread

Grainy brown mustard

2 oz. your choice of cheese

½ avocado (optional)

spinach toast with avocado and sriracha sauce

Sriracha (optional)

Saute onion and spinach in olive oil until the spinach wilts. Salt and pepper to taste.  Toast bread, spread with mustard and pile on spinach and avocado if using. Top with cheese. Broil until cheese melts.

Bean Dip (and traditional Hummus)

Have you ever been to a potluck or party where bean dip or hummus was not standard fare? Kick these healthful dips up a notch by adding all manner of vegetables and seasonings – a great chance to use your imagination. 

Serve traditional hummus in non-traditional ways

Traditional hummus is made with chickpeas and tahini, but you can make a delectable spread or dip with absolutely any type of bean and just about anything added to it. Vary your recipe with seasonings as well as what you serve it on. Try it spread on toasted baguette slices, topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil as a riff on bruschetta. Or simply try it on a sandwich in place of mayonnaise. Delectable!

If you’re willing to experiment: 

If you’re willing to experiment!

Puree 2 cups cooked garbanzos, cannelini beans, even black-eyed peas. You can use tahini or any other type of butter such as almond, walnut or pecan butter. Peanut butter makes it a bit strong, but still good. Add roasted peppers, cooked pumpkin, spinach, chard and season with garlic, cilantro, parsley or thyme. Season with sriracha, chipotle tabasco or other pepper for a kick. Leave it somewhat chunky or puree until smooth, according to your taste.

The basic recipe for hummus (substitute at will!):

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 2 cups freshly cooked

1/2 c. tahini

1 T. lime juice

1 t. cumin

1 clove garlic

1/4 t. cayenne

Olive oil

Salt to taste

Blend all but the olive oil. Gradually add enough olive oil to make it creamy but not runny. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature with toasted pita chips, pretzels or sliced cucumbers, peppers aand carrot sticks. 

Other combinations:

Black beans with sour cream, cumin, garlic and chopped chipotle chiles in adobo. Serve with tortilla chips or toasted corn tortilla wedges

White beans with almond butter, roasted peppers, roasted garlic. Serve with pita chips or toasted baguette slices.

Black-eyed peas with crumbled crisp bacon, sweet onion and sweet peppers. Serve with cornbread squares

To traditional hummus, add chopped roasted red peppers, a couple of tablespoons of cooked pumpkin or butternut squash or sun dried tomatoes.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Vegetable trimmings for stock

Almost every recipe you see needs broth or stock of one sort or another. And, before you decide to just add water, think first – stock adds a nuance of flavor that you might not even know you’ll miss. 

Vegetable stock makes a big difference in flavor

Of course, when making hearty soups, stews and chili with vegetables, beans and other ingredients that give their own rich flavor, it may not be necessary to use stock for extra flavor. But when cooking rice or grains, the addition of flavored liquid can make the difference between bland and dynamite.

Use carrot tops and tips

There are all sorts of broth and stock available commercially these days, from standard chicken to organic vegetable to the richest bone broths (many are even flavored with garlic, peppers, onions and paprika).

Make your own stock

Although they certainly do in a pinch and I always try to have some in my pantry, homemade stocks are far and away better. Not only because you know what’s in them, but because the flavor is superior and you can control the salt. 

Onions are essential to a good broth

Keep a bag of vegetable trimmings in the freezer

It may seem a bit miserly but I’ve gotten in the habit of saving all my vegetable trimmings. I keep a bag in the freezer and toss in, after washing well, the leftovers from onions, shallots, celery, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, etc. It’s important that you wash the peelings before freezing them so you can simply put them in the pot when the time comes. 

Add cheese rind and mushrooms for more flavor

When I have a full bag and a day when I’ll be home for at least half a day, I toss them in a large stock pot and add garlic, bay leaf and other herbs I happen to have. The pièce d ‘resistance is to toss in a Parmesan rind to boost the umami flavor. Mushrooms also provide this flavor. You can adjust the flavors however you like with herbs and the vegetables you choose. 

Fill the pot, covering the vegetables and turn on low. There’s no need to salt the stock – you can get a better feel for salt levels when you actually use it in a dish. Let the pot simmer and fill your kitchen with a delightful aroma for the day. After four or five hours, strain the stock and refrigerate or freeze. I find it easiest to freeze it in one cup measures since I don’t always need more than that. 

Dilled rice with homemade vegetable stock

Dilled Rice

1 c. brown rice

2 c. vegetable stock

1 large clove garlic

1 t. dill seeds or 1 T. dried dill or 3 T. finely chopped fresh dill

1 t. salt

Crush the garlic clove along with the dill and salt until you have a paste. A mortar and pestle is great for this but you can also just use the flat side of a knife. Add the paste to the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to very low and cover. Cook about 45-55 minutes. When the liquid is all absorbed, fluff the rice and serve by itself as a side dish or under stir-fried vegetables. 

Garlic!

Pump, juicy garlic cloves ready to be planted

Garlic goes with anything! In fall, sauteeing a minced clove with sweetened kale, chard or Brussels sprouts makes the ordinary sublime. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what happens to the last of the tomatoes when garlic is introduced into luscious sauces. Home-grown garlic is wonderfully intense, unlike the garlic you find in the grocery store.

Plant garlic now

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet, it’s time to get it in the ground for next year. It’s important to plant early enough in fall to give the bulbs plenty of time to develop a sturdy root system yet not so early that they put out leaves in fall. If they get a good start, they will send out healthy foliage the following spring and you will be harvesting garlic in mid to late summer.

Garlic and terroir

Garlic is known for its affinity to the soil (called terroir), meaning that if you can purchase garlic bulbs from a local source, you will usually have larger cloves right away. Ordering it from another region of the country means it may take two or three years of repeated planting before you begin to get large bulbs.

If you don’t have a local source, garlic bulbs are available at most garden centers and nurseries. Supermarket garlic is often treated with a sprouting inhibitor, which takes a long time to wear off and can slow growth.

Hardneck and softneck garlic

Hardneck garlic

I’ve always had the best production from hard neck types of garlic and, although this type doesn’t keep quite as well as soft neck, the flavor is more intense. Hard neck garlic sends up a tall stalk in the middle of the leaves in early June. The stalks are topped with curly seed heads called scapes, which should be pinched out to allow the plants to put more energy back into the bulbs. The scapes are edible and can be used in any way you normally use garlic cloves. Soft neck garlic has no central stalk and will keep for six to nine months if properly cured.

Spanish Roja garlic, one of the tastiest

How to plant

It’s hard to give them up to the garden, but I save the biggest cloves from this year’s crop for planting next year’s garlic. Prepare the garden bed with a fresh covering of compost and dig a trench about two to three inches deep. Soybean meal is a good slow-release fertilizer that can be sprinkled in the trench (make sure it’s from non-GMO soybeans if you are growing organically). If you have rich soil, this is not necessary. Put the blunt end down, about three to four inches apart in rows about a foot apart. Water in well and cover with three to four inches of straw or leaf mulch to keep the weeds away and the ground moist. If your garlic sprouts in fall, don’t worry. It will go dormant and then start up again in spring.