Meet Your Veggies!

64 Arts

Farmers Market BountyAll ten of them!

According to the list-maker, their definition of vegetable is the broader one: as in, if it’s not animal or mineral, it must be vegetable!

Now, the key to cooking well is not so much in being able to follow a recipe–that’s a great place to start, of course–it’s in the cook’s comfort with their ingredients. The more you cook, the more you learn how ingredients work in various situations. After a while you will find that you’ve gained enough proficiency to save a failing recipe or improve a sub-par one.

So let’s see about these 10 types of vegetables!


Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Radishes and Turnips

Split ’em, Peel ’em and Roast ’em up crispy. Any of these veggies (yes, even the radishes) are wonderful after some time in the oven. Turnips, sliced like steak fries and drizzled with olive oil and spices, make a great French fry alternative. Wrap each beet in foil before roasting, the skins just rub off–no knife required! And if you’ve never had a parsnip (they look like a white carrot), they’re slightly sweet with a hint of pepper and can be whipped and mashed in addition to roasted.


Ah, those leafy greens. Everything from Arugula to Watercress can make for wonderful salad bases. The heartier greens (like turnip, mustard and kale) make amazing side dishes that cook up quickly in a hot pan with a little bit of garlic and some olive oil. Don’t be deceived by their volume, though: there’s a lot of water in those leaves and they cook down to next to nothing in seconds. Start with way more than you think you’ll need and you’ll have a nice side dish in no time.

Seeds (and Nuts)

When I took Latin in high school a common phrase we learned translated to “from soup to nuts” meaning the whole kit and caboodle since formal Roman meals began with soup and ended with nuts. While a nut course isn’t part of today’s usual line-up, they make a great snack because of their B vitamins and relatively healthy fats (though the latter is why it’s a good idea not to eat too many).

Cooking with nuts is fairly straightforward: they’re great as fillings and toppings and can be ground, in the case of almonds, as a sauce thickener. Mostly you have to be careful that the nuts haven’t gone bad–those fats they are so rich in? Can easily turn rancid, which is why it’s not a bad idea to store leftover nuts and seeds in the freezer–they’re one of the few foods that isn’t harmed by the freezing process.

Seeds also encompass beans and peas and even lentils. Those are best soaked and cooked long and slow in order to tenderize them but they are serious power-houses when it comes to protein and fiber. Always good things. That, and they are so malleable and will take so many different flavor profiles they can be used over and over without feeling like you’re eating the same thing.


This category is full of the unexpecteds. Buds aren’t something we think about eating but the most common one are the little tiny buds that make broccoli florets look like little trees. Blanch them in boiling water to bring up their color and then use them however you want. We like to just steam them and toss them with a little olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.

Other buds in hiding are cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Cabbage is another one of those foods that deflates as it cooks and looses all that water in the leaves. Steam it in a big pot with a ham hock for your New Year’s Day meal or shred it for an awesome cole slaw. Brussels sprouts are usually boiled or steamed, but split them and roast them with a little curry powder and you will be in for a wonderful surprise!


Easy mark, right? Fruits are sweet, juicy, lots of natural sugars and perfect for desserts. All true. But don’t annex them to that final course so soon.

Mangoes and pineapples have enzymes that make them wonderful natural meat tenderizers. They also pair wonderfully as a topping (like a chutney) for grilled meats. Apples and pears are each great matches to pork. And tart cherries or cranberries with chicken? Perfection.

Fruits are pretty delicate, though, so you want to be careful not to cook them too long or they’ll be mush and mush isn’t always great.


Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and water chestnuts. The first three? Boil them, roast them, bake them or mash them and they’ll be great. Now, for white potatoes you might need to pile on the flavor agents–salt, herbs, garlic out the wazoo. One of the best things about white potatoes is that they are so malleable but if they’re under seasoned? It’s blech.

Sweet potatoes and yams, though, they have a wonderful natural sweetness but you don’t have to stick with the cinnamon and brown sugar. Experiment with a little bit of chili powder or cumin along with the “sweet” spices and edge out of those tuber-ruts!

Now water chestnuts are great in an entirely different way. I have two main uses for them: stir fries (where they soak up that wonderful sauce) and spinach dip. Something about the crunch among the creamy is just heavenly.


Celery, anyone? Not just for dieters, some diced celery livens up a chicken salad, helps round out your basic stock-making veggies (along with onions and carrots) and really is good when filled with peanut butter or pimento cheese. So what if it’s a carrier some days, every veggie has its purpose!

Another favorite stem or stalk is the asparagus. Always look for tightly closed tips (those are actually flower buds!) and snap off the bottoms before cooking (if you hold each end and bend they’ll snap where they need to–discard the bottoms, they’ll be too tough to eat). Steam them and add a little lemon juice and pepper. You can go the hollandaise-route, but only if you’re feeling really ambitious.


Two quick(?) thoughts here: citrus peels are fabulous for flavoring all sorts of dishes without adding extra liquid because the zest is chock full of wonderful oils. All you want is the colored part, the white spongy bits are the pith and they are very bitter.

The other peel worth noting is cinnamon. It’s actually the inner bark of certain trees (cinnamon and cassia)–which is why the whole sticks look so woody. Try adding some to your meatballs the next time you make them–it’s great with red meat.


Edible flowers are so much fun! They have the most impact when added as a salad accent but they can also be folded into tarts and cakes, dried and used as teas or–in the case of larger ones like squash blossoms–filled, battered and deep fried!

Always be sure of the source of your edible flowers, you want to make sure there were no harmful pesticides (which is why you don’t just swoop into someone’s garden and dig in!). Edible varieties include nasturtium, carnation, honeysuckle, chickory, cornflower, sunflowers and roses.


Bamboo is generally an acquired taste, but if you eat enough Chinese take-out you might just acquire it. Hundreds of pandas can’t be wrong, right? But don’t go making like a panda and just gnaw on a stalk–they must be fully cooked before eating to prevent unpleasant side effects.

So, are you inspired to try a different vegetable this week?

Farmer’s Market Etiquette


Now that the dust has settled from the holidays, it’s time to get back to routines–both old and a few new.

We moved just before Christmas and, among other things, our new location puts us within 5 minutes of a local Farmer’s Market–possibly the best in town–so one of my new habits, this year, is to start shopping there for produce before heading to the grocery store for the rest.

Starting next weekend.

But as I think about it more, some questions come to mind. Being a researcher by habit and knowing that some of the best sources may be just outside the blog’s door, I thought I’d muse here and get what feedback I could before my first foray.

Bags: Bring your own, sure, but what kind?

I’ve been out to the farmer’s market location later in the day as folks were packing up and I’ve noticed some leaving with plastic bags, but most seem to favor canvas or some other reusable type. What I wonder, though, is if sellers get perturbed (think less of you or even charge more) if you’re reusable shopping bag screams the name of a grocery chain?

Q1: Have you ever been up-sold or treated differently based on the bag you carried?

Cash: How much and what denominations?

Obviously, cash is the norm for a farmer’s market. Thing is, I almost never carry cash (this is yet another reason why I’ve not made any serious in-roads into this sort of shopping), so I’ve got to really plan ahead. In addition to knowing what amount of cash to carry, is having a set of twenties crisp from the ATM going to cause issues for the vendor’s making change? If so, I’ll need to plan a trip to the bank counter to get some smaller bills.

Q2: How much cash (and in what form) do you usually take to the Farmer’s Market for a week’s worth of veggie shopping?

Vendors: Do you shop around or pick a stall and stick to it?

At this farmer’s market (again, I’ve done a little visual reconnaissance on the odd weekend) there seem to be fewer single-produce stalls and more multi-product farms represented. In that case, when a lot of the sellers carry a similar variety, is it best to shop a single seller for the bulk of your buying or spread around your dollars? To that end, will buying a variety of items froma single source help your bottom line?

Q3: What’s your buying strategy, facing a lot of the same just at different tables?

Price: If it’s not listed, is it cool to ask?

Growing up strapped for cash (in a pocket or the bank), we joked a lot that ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.’ While that may not necessarily apply at the farmer’s market (or most of my current shopping), I’m not used to having to ask the price and, yes, might be a little uncomfortable doing so. As what I’ve seen, so far, leans away from sellers putting up signs or tags, what’s the best way to inquire about price–especially if you’re shopping for the best value as well as the best produce?

Q4: How do you compare prices without being a heel?

Farmer’s market veterans, help a newbie out and save me the embarrassment of a blunder this coming weekend!

Almost Meatless Experiment


It was my turn to cook this week and, as the cookbook testing is mostly done, it was time to find some new inspiration. In a stack of books under my bedside table was Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. I’d picked it up as part of a book club last year, given it a cursory glance and set it aside to be completely forgotten until a week or so ago when it surfaced as I was looking for a different reference.

The premise of the book is cooking with a more mindful attitude towards ingredients and less of a dependence on animal products without going strictly vegetarian–a nice compromise for us omnivores. The inside flap touts the benefits of the book as “health-, budget- and eco-conscious” eating without sacrificing flavor. Sounds good to me!

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup

We took one recipe from each chapter and worked our way through the book, beginning with Thai Coconut-Curry Soup. It’s a very light soup and I was a little concerned about the lack of body as it relied on chicken stock with just a little bit of coconut milk as a finish. In fact, this was a downside to the recipe as it did not use a full can of coconut milk and it’s a bit of a pain to store leftovers–I’d much prefer a recipe to use items in their whole units.

It was the same with the chicken–she called for a single bone-in breast which then got shredded. For economy, we purchase our boneless, skinless chicken breasts in large packs, break each over-large breast in half and repackage them 4 to a pouch before freezing them. Since we’d just purchased chicken the week before it was simpler (and less wasteful) to use a package of our own in total (since defrosting and refreezing is ill-advised), about a pound, which we used cut into chunks instead of cooked and then shredded.

Smoked Turkey Nachos

Smoked Turkey Nachos

Minor quibbles aside, the soup was perfect for a summer supper–nice and light with plenty of flavor from the basil, mint and lemongrass. Rice noodles do a good job of bulking out the soup into a satisfactory meal (though I suggest you break them up quite a bit before adding them to the broth so that you only need a spoon and not also a fork to try to manage the over-long noodles). The soup was even better the next day, for lunch, as the flavors had developed even more overnight.

The second recipe we tested was the Smoked Turkey Nachos. In a bit of culinary synchronicity we’d just had a smoked turkey breast the previous weekend and there was MORE than enough leftover to shred for this application (even if the recipe called for smoked turkey legs). I’d originally thought this better for a weekend supper but it was certainly substantial enough for dinner during the week. Layers of tortilla chips, sauced turkey, black beans and cheddar cheese baked in a casserole were easily eaten with the fingers, fresh out of the oven, but better with a fork the next day when the chips softened a bit and it became more of a taco salad idea.

Pineapple Fried Rice

Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

Next was the Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice. A fair amount of prep goes into this dish–making the rice ahead, chopping the vegetables and cleaning the whole pineapple into two bowls. Now, even though it’s supposed to serve 4 (and it does, quite generously) the directions call for splitting the pineapple in half, lengthwise, and carving out two bowls. Only 2 bowls? Unless they are supposed to be large enough to act as serving dishes (mine were not) it seems a bit unfortunate that only 2 of the diners get the benefit of this presentation. As we were only two, it wasn’t much of an issue. And we had a delightful time demolishing the remaining pineapple in the hull of the bowl for dessert.

The rest was held for the next day’s lunch. Here’s where we run into a bit of a bump: the leftover rice became quite mushy–to the point I couldn’t stomach it–because of the enzymes in the fresh pineapple. This was very disappointing. In the future we’ll do either 1 of 2 things: hold out the pineapple destined for the lunch portions and mix it in just before re-heating or use canned pineapple which, I suspect, would not do as much damage. Just as canned pineapple can be used in gelatin whereas fresh cannot (the heating in the canning process destroys the enzyme, allowing the gelatin to gell), it might hold up better in this preparation as well.

Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole

Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole

Finally, Sunday night’s supper was Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole. Another casserole with just a touch of meat (in this case, chorizo) but fist-fulls of flavor! Again, we’d had chorizo in something else during Todd’s menu so already had enough in the fridge for this recipe. We also still had some Mexican chocolate with chilies leftover from our cruise the previous year. Sweet potatoes are always a favorite at our house, along with corn and black beans. It takes over an hour in the oven to cook the slices of sweet potato through, but the wait is worth it. Served with lime wedges and creamy slices of avocado, it really doesn’t need anything else.

Another way to do it, if you’re in more of a hurry, would be to prepare the mole sauce as directed but cube the potatoes, boil them as the mole simmers and combine them into a stew. Top with cheddar cheese once in the bowls and the time for this recipe could go from 1.5 hours to, maybe, 30 minutes.

We’ve still got 3 more recipes to try this week: Shabu Shabu Soup, Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara and Albondigas.