I took a brief vacation from my blog but I’m back! And I’m in the thick of summer harvest, one of the most amazing times of the year. Every morning’s walk in the garden yields beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Garlic will be next and peppers are on the cusp of ripening.
I spend much of my time in the kitchen simply grazing rather than planning and executing meals, but when I do actually plan a whole meal it tends to be as simple as possible. Blistered green beans, bruschetta with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil, sauteed greens.
I’ve written about keeping things as simple as possible many times before but it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. A simple recipe avoids the tyranny of a long list of ingredients and a long prep time. Nothing is more discouraging than looking at a tasty recipe and realizing it has 23 ingredients, many of which you’ll need to go out and buy.
And this time of year, there’s certainly no lack of fresh, delicious ingredients. I do love to cook and am grateful to share that love with you. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat good food, not too much, mostly plants.” And don’t be afraid to play with your food.
Although the kale is finished for now in my garden, Swiss chard and mustard greens are coming into their own. Check out my blog post from April of last year for a primer on growing greens.
Here’s a fresh, simple way to prepare all types of greens
1 small bunch of Swiss chard or other greens
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. onion, sliced
1 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 t. Sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
½ c. chopped tomatoes
2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
1 T. sriracha sauce if desired
2 large eggs if desired
Rinse the greens liberally and remove tough stems. Stack the leaves and roll them into a “cigar” and slice thinly. Add garlic and onion to olive oil in a heavy pan and saute until tender. Add greens, vinegar and sugar and saute about 5 minutes until greens are tender. Turn off the heat and stir in tomatoes and sour cream or yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in individual bowls and drizzle with sriracha sauce. Top with a fried egg if desired.
I’ll admit it – when I get really bored I head for the chips and dips. And I seem to be doing that a lot lately. It’s not a particularly healthy habit but it gives me a satisfyingly crunchy and creamy diversion. Of course, french onion dip and potato chips are probably the worst offenders. But oh, so good.
In order to get rid of some of the guilt, I’m trying to reduce fat and salt with healthier choices. I’ll share with you some substitutes that are easy to make and fulfill all of the requirements of a good chip-dip combination. Salty, savory, creamy, and of course crunch from chips.
So many salsas and vegetable combinations make great dips. It means moving away from thinking about dips as only creamy. One of my favorites is pico de gallo, a chunky salsa that is just as good on chips as it is on fajitas.
I tend to rely on vegetables I froze last summer, but you can also buy them fresh. Even supermarket tomatoes are suitable for jazzing up in a salsa. The peppers and onions give them flavor. You can also use frozen corn, canned artichoke hearts, canned beans and even frozen mango if you want to make a fruity salsa.
Feta or goat cheese blended with artichoke hearts and roasted peppers
Corn and black bean salsa
Pico de gallo
Classic bruschetta (tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil)
Hummus – make from chickpeas or white beans, use as a dip or a spread on sandwiches or toast.
Pita chips (easy to make your own by cutting fresh pita into quarters and toasting them)
Check out the myriad of commercial chips available – beets, sweet potato, taro, carrot, turnip
I grow eggplants in every summer, and although we do eat some of them fresh, I roast and freeze lots so I have them available for this rich dip. It’s a riff on baba ganouj, a classic middle eastern dish. And infinitely adaptable to whatever you want to add.
Eggplant dip (Baba ganoush)
1 medium eggplant, roasted and peeled
1 medium red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
½ medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, diced
½ c. toasted bread crumbs or panko
¼ c. tahini
¼ t. cumin
1 large tomato, diced
1 T. vinegar
Salt to taste
Saute onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil until soft. Process in a food processor with the pepper and eggplant until you reach the consistency you like, smooth or chunky.
Stir in rest of ingredients, salt to taste and serve at room temperature with pita chips.
Pico de gallo
This Mexican favorite has a fresh, tangy flavor and just longs for crisp tortilla chips.
1 chile, chopped (with or without seeds depending on your taste)
3-4 tomatoes, chopped finely
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. vinegar or lime juice
1 T. fresh cilantro
1 t. salt
Mix and chill. Serve as dip with tortilla chips, on black bean tacos or as topping for a baked potato. Feel free to add other ingredients such as black beans or corn.
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 2 cups freshly cooked
1/2 c. tahini
1 T. lime juice
1 t. cumin (tip from my brother – roast whole cumin seeds and grind for unbelievable flavor)
1 clove garlic
1/4 t. cayenne
Olive oil (you can use some of the juice from the beans to reduce fat)
Salt to taste
Blend all but the olive oil. Gradually add enough olive oil or bean juice to make it creamy but not runny. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for the flavors to blend.
So what do you do when you have too many vegetables? Whether you have a CSA membership that provides a box every week with more than you can possibly eat. Or your garden is providing a plethora of tasty produce that is inundating your fridge. Or friends offer extras from their own gardens. How do you avoid wasting?
My answer is to roast! Whenever I have loads of extra chard, mushrooms, leeks, onions, zucchini and eggplant, instead of succumbing to feeling overwhelmed, I toss them all into a roasting pan.
Make delicious soup
It is amazing how combining roasted vegetables of all types with plenty of onions and garlic turns them into savory creations. I like to roast until everything is quite soft and then purée with a little stock if necessary. Freeze the pureed vegetables to use later as a soup base or pasta sauce. Or, to make a hearty one-dish meal immediately, add some evaporated or coconut milk, chopped sauteed vegetables of choice, cooked beans and/or cooked grains or pasta. A great result of this process is that the sauce never quite tastes the same.
A sauce made of mostly tomatoes is great for traditional pasta sauce. Sauce with spicy chiles added makes a good base for chili.
It’s easy to adjust seasonings according to your tastes. Add basil and oregano for an Italian twist; add cumin and chili powder for Mexican; add marjoram, a hint of cayenne and basil for Mediterranean.
Here’s a recipe, but be prepared to change and adapt according to whatever vegetables you have on hand.
Tomato Glut Sauce
Film a large roasting pan with olive oil and cut up about six pounds of tomatoes – this is a great time to use those that have blemishes or splits because you can simply cut that part away. Chop and add one or two cups of whatever vegetables are coming in at the time such as onions, carrots, zucchini and Swiss chard.
If you plan to use a food mill, you don’t have to take out tomato cores. If you plan to use a food processor, core the tomatoes before cooking. You can also blanch and peel and/or seed the tomatoes if that’s your taste. Throw in several cloves of garlic, some sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley. Splash with balsamic vinegar and roast for about an hour. The sauce will cook down and lose a good bit of moisture, and the vegetables will start to caramelize. Run through a food mill, salt and pepper to taste, and use immediately or freeze.
Or to be more specific:
6 lbs. tomatoes, cored and quartered (if you don’t have tomatoes, you can use canned pureed tomatoes) 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped carrots 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped celery 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped onion 9 cloves garlic, chopped 6 T balsamic vinegar 1 bay leaf 1 ½ T fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley 1 ½ t. salt 1 T. pepper
Roast 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Process briefly to leave slightly chunky, freeze. Makes 2 quarts. You can use any combination of vegetables and herbs – each batch of sauce comes out a little different.
I always keep canned beans in my pantry. And, now that I have an instant pot, I’m gaining confidence in cooking them from scratch as well. Before the instant pot, my favorite thing to do was put on a pot of beans and promptly burn them since they have to cook so long. Lost a lot of good pots that way.
Another dirty little secret is that I have dribs and drabs of leftover vegetables, meats and grains in bags in the freezer. I cannot stand to waste food, so if there’s a little bit left, I’ll freeze it for use in soup later. Labeled of course.
The great thing about soup is that you can add simply anything to it and have unique flavors. Leftover bits of chicken or turkey with white beans and noodles make a great soup. Add some swiss chard or spinach, a can of chopped tomatoes and it turns into something different. As vegetables start coming in from the markets and our gardens, change up your soup accordingly. If hot soup isn’t appealing in the summer, remember that adding chiles will make you sweat, cooling you off. And, try bean soups cold!
Start with broth
The basic recipe for a soup is to start with good vegetable, chicken or beef broth. You can make an even richer soup with bone broth. Use store- bought if you don’t have time to make your own – you’ll still get a wonderful pot of soup (no guilt!). Saute some onion and garlic in a bit of broth or olive oil to get your flavor started.
Add protein and grain
Then add a protein like black beans, garbanzos, canellini or kidney beans. Use leftovers from a roasted chicken (again, store bought roasted chicken is good), leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you know you have some, somewhere in the freezer), tempeh or tofu. If you want to use cheese, add it at the very end.
Next, add a cooked grain like brown or white rice, farro, quinoa, or a pasta such as egg noodles, farfalle, linguini or orzo. Whole wheat pastas which may not be as palatable for spaghetti are hearty and delicious in soup.
The best part – vegetables
Then comes the best part – the vegetables. Add whatever you have in the fridge or freezer – cabbage, corn, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, cauliflower or zucchini. The vegetable combinations can vary depending on the flavor you want.
Season according to the flavor you desire. For Mediterranean, use thyme, oregano, a pinch of sage and basil. For Mexican, cumin and chili powder give it a kick. For Italian, use oregano, basil and smoked paprika.
Although you really don’t need a recipe to make a great bean soup, here’s a start on a Mexican bean soup:
Recipe for Bean soup
2 cups broth
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ spanish onion, chopped
1-2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained if using canned
½ bag frozen corn
½ cup chopped sweet peppers
¼ chopped chili peppers
½ c. diced carrots
½ t. smoked or regular cumin
½ t. chili powder
Saute garlic and onion in two tablespoons of broth for about a minute. Add peppers, carrots and corn and saute for another minute. Add beans and seasonings and simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a splash of sriracha if you like more heat.
Vegetables that come back year after year? I can’t think of anything more enticing to a gardener than the reward of delicious food with little effort. As I keep trying to ease my gardening load, I’m captivated with the virtues of perennial vegetables.
I have a good start on some, but I’m going to add more this year. There’s something so appealing about not having to replant every year. I’ll never give up my annual peppers, tomatoes and green beans, but why not add some other less intense plantings?
Although some vegetables function like perennials, reseeding themselves or being first up in spring after having been planted in fall, there are a few true perennial vegetables that are delicious and exceptionally easy to grow. One of the best rewards is that these vegetables are often the earliest in the garden.
One of my favorite aromas in early spring is the combination of moist soil and a freshly pulled spring onion. Also called Egyptian onions or walking onions, they start as small bulbs that send up green scallion-like leaves in early spring, much like any other onion.
The underground bulb becomes tough and woody through the summer, but you can harvest the greens until about midsummer when they become tough. In midsummer the onions send up a flower stalk, and once the flowers bloom, they turn into small bulblets sitting at the top of the plant. If left alone, this flower stalk bends over and “plants” these bulblets.
The small bulblets then send up green scallions in late summer and into fall. They go dormant in winter and begin again the following spring. By bending over to plant the bulblets, the onions spread, thus “walking” to other parts of the garden.
If you’ve never tasted freshly ground horseradish, you are in for a palate teaser. Traditionally it is an accompaniment to robust meats, but try a dollop in a glass of tomato juice or as a side dressing for roasted vegetables.
Horseradish is a beautiful adornment for the garden, although it loves to spread and thrives on neglect. So site it carefully. If you don’t want it to spread, plant the horseradish in a large pot. It will reward you with handsome tropical foliage followed by clouds of airy white flowers. Any time you are ready for a dash of heat and pungency, pull up a crown, break off a piece of root and stick the remaining root back in the ground. You can harvest any time, but the roots do sweeten a bit in the fall after the first frost. Grate the root into vinegar and keep it in the refrigerator for many months.
Sorrel greens have the tangy flavor of lemon and can be used fresh in salads or cooked in soups. You can harvest all season although spring and fall are traditionally the best times. The tang comes from oxalic acid in leaves; and the leaves are packed with vitamin C and minerals.
Once established, the only cultural requirements are to keep it watered during drought and divide the plant every three or four years to keep its vigor. Don’t be tempted to fertilize or the leaves tend to lose their flavor.
There is nothing quite like the ephemeral delicacy on your tongue of roasted asparagus. Dress with a sorrel sauce for the epitome of a fresh spring treat. Asparagus is best planted in early spring. The old adage of planting the crowns a foot deep and then filling in soil as they grow has been replaced with some sound research showing that planting about six inches below ground is all they need. The bed needs to be prepared well by loosening the soil and adding compost since an asparagus bed will be in place for twenty to thirty years. Spread the roots on a small mound of soil and cover.
It’s a labor of love because you should not harvest for the first two years because the crowns need time to establish themselves. It’s hard, but you will be rewarded with beautiful thick spears in their third year. As they come up in that third spring, you can harvest until the new spears become smaller and smaller. Stop when they are about pencil-sized and let them go to leaf. The ferny leaves are quite attractive as a backdrop to other flowers, and they turn a brilliant yellow in fall.
It’s hard to talk about asparagus without mentioning rhubarb, the other perennial vegetable that is so prominent in early spring. Rhubarb buds actually begin appearing at 40 degrees, and the enormous leaves explode into growth at the first hint of warmth. Rhubarb also takes little care, and the stems can be harvested until mid-summer when new emerging stems become considerably smaller.
Rhubarb bread and strawberry rhubarb pie are traditional favorites, but think about stewing it in maple syrup for a topping for yogurt or ice cream. It makes a great chutney or relish, a refreshing drink or a tangy barbecue sauce.
Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes are a striking addition to the garden. They take a good-sized bed as they grow to about six feet, with golden sunflower blossoms. The chokes are underground tubers that can be harvested in fall and early winter. You’ll never get them all, and the ones that stay in the ground will sprout the following year. So you plant only one time.
Roasted sunchokes taste nutty and earthy and are a wonderful substitute for potatoes, especially for those whose diet requires fewer simple carbs.
Creamy Sorrel Sauce
(adapted from More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd)
This lovely light green sauce can be modified in a lot of interesting ways, adding herbs like basil and dill, changing the carriers from mayonnaise to all yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, etc. You will love it on salmon, vegetables, potatoes and especially on freshly roasted asparagus.
1 c. any combination of plain Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream
1 c. fresh sorrel with stems removed and leaves chopped
1 T. soy sauce or 1 t. salt (soy sauce gives it more flavor but you can pump up the flavor with herbs also)
1 clove garlic, minced
Blend (a blender works best to make a velvety sauce) and serve cold.
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.
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)
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.