Cabbage steaks

As a fan of cabbage in many forms other than coleslaw, I was delighted to find this recipe on Avocado Pesto for Vegan Cabbage Steaks with Tahini sauce. Try it–you’ll have a very pleasant surprise.

Addendum:  In reviewing my notes I realize I used only 2 teaspoons of mustard rather than 2 tablespoons  called for in the recipe. The dijon mustard that I have is REALLY potent. I think with 2 tablespoons that would have been the only flavor you’d get.

Roasted Okra

I discovered something really neat on the Chef Mimi blog this evening.  I have grilled and roasted fresh okra, but I’d never thought of trying frozen okra.  So glad to know I can do that.

I don’t do okra in any way that is going to produce “slime”–just can’t handle that, but roasted or grilled is good. If you think you don’t like okra, try some done like this.

Roasted Okra.

Cooking beets…

The indexing project for The Polar Times has really taken over my life right now–which is not unexpected–but it does have its problems. I think any work where there is a deadline does that, but I need to get something for quick meals around here, and it has to meet my “hot weather” requirements!

Beets image from Swallowtail Garden seedsLooking over the Durham Farmers’ market this last week I was seeing lots of lovely beets–and with the weather warming up (from my point of view getting hot!) the cold beet soup came to mind as something that would be pretty easy, keep well, and is great in hot weather.

To prepare the beets for cooking, I cut off the tops (greens) a bit above where they attach to the root; some of the greens will go into the soup, but if there are extras, they are good as a vegetable, or an omelette filling.

Cutting the tops and leaving about an inch of the stems will keep the beets from bleeding and losing flavor.  If there is a slender root tip attached, I leave that on too.  Just scrub the beets with a fairly soft vegetable brush so that the skin is not broken–again, prevents bleeding.

No matter how you cook them, you can tell  they are done when they pierce easily with the tip of a small paring knife.   When done, the skins will slip off easily.  You can cook them a number of ways–One of my favorite ways is to roast them: well and good if it is a cool day but if it is not and you don’t want the oven on for an hour or so, then consider steaming (I use my rice cooker) or microwaving them (see below).  Test for doneness as above.

Roasting:  For four medium-large (about 6 ounce) beets, rub them with oil, place them in a covered casserole or wrap in foil and bake at 400° for about 1-1 ½ hours..  Cool them and then trim off the stems, roots and peel.

Steaming: Place the beets over simmering water and steam for about 1 hour, or until done. Cool, trim and peel. Baby beets will take about 20 minutes.  I sometimes do this using my rice cooker.

Microwave:  For the size beets mentioned above, put the unpeeled beets in a microwave-safe dish with a lid or cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Cook on high for 8 minutes and let rest for 5 minutes without uncovering.  Turn the beets microwave for 3 minutes on high and let stand again without removing the cover for 10 minutes.  Test for doneness with a small paring knife.  If they still offer some resistance to the knife, cover them again and microwave for an additional 3 minutes.  Cool, peel and go ahead with the recipe.

Grilling:  After peeling, slice medium raw beets about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, brush with oil and grill until tender. Very intense flavor. (I’ve not used grilled beets in the cold soup; I might if I ever have any “leftover” grilled beets, or manage to cook extras.)

Beet greens: Don’t forget the greens that you trimmed off before you cooked the roots! Some will go into the soup, but there might be more than you need or that.  Stem them like you would spinach–they are edible too.  If the stems are very large, cook them a bit before you put in the leaves.  They are excellent eating too. All they need is a quick braising, boiling, or steaming.  You can substitute beet greens in any recipe calling for chard.

Under-appreciated veggies: Brussels sprouts

bagged Brussels sprouts at Harris Teeter supermarket

Brussels sprouts

Obviously I’m writing this because I have Brussels sprouts in hand now!  They are a favorite winter veggie in my kitchen but I think they are sometimes under-appreciated and under-used by those of us doing single-serving cooking, possibly because the come in packages that contain too many.  Some of these may be underused because we’ve had them prepared in ways that did not really let them make their best impression.  I thought I’d address some of these, especially the cool weather crops–starting with one that seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it vegetable: Brussels sprouts.  Until I started cooking for myself, I was in the hate-it camp.  Most of the Brussels sprouts that I had were over-cooked, mushy, and bitter; in a word, nasty!

Fortunately, I’ve discovered ways to make Brussels sprouts a desirable vegetable because they have some excellent qualities: they are  inexpensive and readily available in the wintertime.  They are nutritious–I’ll not give you all the details here, but you can find all that sort of information from the Nutrient Database Laboratory.  They are versatile–you can use them as a substitute for cabbage in some recipes, and (a concern if you’re cooking for one), they store well in the fridge.

First, storage:  Brussels sprouts often come prepackaged in a mesh bag that’s about a pound or so.  That’s a lot of Brussels sprouts if you’re cooking for one and had to use them all at one time.  Fortunately that’s not the case–they’re small, separate units so you are not trying to preserve a cut vegetable (always more difficult)–big bonus for those cooking for one.  I store mine with a paper towel that has been dampened and then squeezed mostly dry, in a partly open zipper-lock bag in the vegetable drawer.   I’ve seen suggestions (The Victory Garden Cookbook–see bibliography) that the flavor gets stronger with storage.  I’ve not found that to be a problem, but that may be because I do keep my fridge really cold, and the damp paper towel helps even out moisture. However, if you do find that you don’t like the taste after they’ve been stored for a few days, the other option of something to do with the rest of the bag would be to blanch and freeze part of them.  Blanching is simple:  bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it heavily (after it’s come to a boil), and put in the Brussels sprouts for about 2 minutes; then “shock” in an ice bath, drain, and freeze.  (The purpose of the blanching is to stop enzyme action, and it keeps the color bright and green.)

Now for cooking them. Personally I’m not a fan of boiling veggies as a method of cooking them (other than blanching before freezing)–there are so many nutrients that are water soluble!  So my preference is for some cooking method that does not involve putting them into huge quantities of water to cook completely.  So that leaves steaming, stir-frying, roasting, and  microwaving.  The best way to avoid having “nasty” sprouts is NOT to overcook them.

I’ve added them to soups, used them instead of cabbage with braised pork, and added them to one-dish meals like roasted potatoes with sausages, and lots of other things.  They lend themselves well to improvisation and substitution.

Recipes for steaming, blanching, roasting and microwaving can be found in a number of cookbooks so I’ll not post here, except for the recipe that I just made to go along with my baked sweet potato.

For more information on how to cook and specific recipes, I suggest you might want to check The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (see bibliography).  As I was sitting here at the computer writing this, my e-mail notification popped up and said it had received a notification of a new post from domestic diva M.D., a blog that I think is worth following for anyone who cooks.  I was surprised to see that the subject was  roasted Brussels sprouts.  

Since it was about lunch time, I was preheating the oven to bake a sweet potato (a very large sweet potato so that I’ll have some for another use as well).  I read the recipe and grabbed the last of the Brussels sprouts from the fridge.  I didn’t have the full amount, but this is a recipe that does not depend on the quantity–which is great for us solo cooks.  Since I was baking my potato in a 350 ° F oven, I did alter the cooking time just a bit–I popped the Brussels sprouts prepared as in the recipe into the oven for about 45 minutes right along side my sweet plate with half  a baked sweet potato and roasted Brussels sproutspotato, and there was my colorful, nutritious lunch!  This is the kind of improvisation that can make cooking for one easy–many recipes aren’t dependent on how many you have or how many you want to cook and eat right now.

You should check out this recipe.  I’d not used garlic powder with them before, but it was yummy and much easier to use than minced garlic.  One of the comments on this post suggested adding Parmesan cheese–I did not try that because I’m out of Parmigano-Reggiano (horrors!), but it sounds  like something that would taste great!