BY ELIZABETH FIEND LIVING EDITOR Upon returning from my vacation I was greeted by my two charming 20-something house sitters. They did a great job holding down the fort and loving my big orange cat, Hurricane. They bashfully asked me if it would be OK if they left the remainder of their CSA Farm Share in my fridge. Like many people, seems they?re trying hard to eat right but are at a loss as to how to actually pull it off. Can you image asking ME if it would be OK to unload a bunch of organic fruit and vegetables? I made them squirm a bit, then hastily accepted. In my book, there?s only one thing better than a fridge full of organic produce, and that’s a fridge fill of free organic produce.
I quickly went through the bonanza. In the crisper, tomatoes tightly wrapped in a plastic bag were immediately removed to a plate and set on the counter.
Fresh corn was out on the counter, seemingly left there for days. What were they thinking, popcorn? That had to go to the composting heap. But everything else was salvageable.
The two pints of blackberries were on the verge of extinction. To save them, I popped them in the microwave for three minutes. I added a touch of maple syrup to remove the tartness, which I’m assuming is why the house sitters didn’t eat them. I drained some of the dark purple, almost black actually, juice off and drank it right then. The blackberry compote would be perfect for weekend pancakes.
Giant bags of beets and carrots did seem a bit daunting as they were still covered in farm dirt. But not to worry, I have a vegetable scrubber.
There was also a bag of Swiss chard as big as a house, eggplants, tomatoes, tomatillos and the obligatory oodles of end-of-summer-zucchini.
First night home I didn’t want to do much work but I was craving a good home-cooked meal so I ordered up some Won Ton soup. To enhance, it I cook some matchstick strips of carrots, a diced red pepper, some ginger and garlic in enough water to cover. After the carrots were tender, I added a few cups of chopped Swiss chard. When the chard was tender, I added the Won Ton soup to the pot. The capper, a tablespoon of lime juice, this adds a Vietnamese edge to soup. Almost-instant Nirvana.
Next day, now I had more energy and was finally recovering from being on vacation. I could clearly see some roasting was in order. Too hot for the oven, so I went to the grill.
I sliced the eggplant into half moons and a few tomatoes into wedges and put them on an edged baking tray sprayed with olive oil. I added in a tablespoon of garam masala spice mix AND a tablespoon of tandoori spice mix. I know, crazy. But I’m like that.
I had the grill on medium heat. I put the baking tray on the bottom rack. I closed the cover and went back into the house to clean some carrots.
I cut the carrots the long way in half, then each half into three pieces. I added these to another edged baking sheet along with a half cup of water. I put these on the grill and stirred the Indian spiced eggplant / tomato mix.
Finally I cut some onions into wedges, put them on a lightly oiled tray and squeezed them onto the barbie. I cooked these separately because I know I would use them in a multitude of dishes.
Need tips for roasting on the grill? Keep your eye on everything. Turn and rotate food frequently. Add small increments of water to things like onions and carrots as needed. These should be moist only — not drowning in liquid. The eggplant and tomatoes require more water. These should be ?saucy.?
Carrots are done when you can easily poke them with a fork. Onions glazed. Eggplant is done when the skin is soft.
Wow, I now had a ton of roasted veggies.
In a food processor I lightly pulsed the Indian spiced eggplant and tomatoes with some of the glazed onions. You can buy a relish called biagan bharta, which is quite like what I had just made, in a jar at gourmet food stores and pay through the nose.
I ate a heap of this pungent relish for lunch as a topping on my veggie burger. It was so good, the next day I ditched the burger and ate the relish straight up on some crusty bread along with some fruit and one of those carrots (raw).
That night for dinner I cut into bite size the roasted carrots and onions, diced the tomatillos, some tomatoes, a zucchini and a medium-sized hot pepper and threw them all into a soup pot along with a few cups of vegetable broth and a tablespoon of lime juice. I seasoned this with sage, fresh mint and the Mexican spice epazote — all from my garden — and some salt, then simmered until all the vegetables were tender. At this point I added Quorn Chicken Tenders (a vegetarian meat analog), a can of kidney beans and adjusted the flavor by stirring in some nutritional yeast, cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder.
The ingredients might seem haphazard or even bizarre to you. But most all have a basis in Mexican cuisine: the lime, tomatillos, tomatoes, epazote, yes even the cinnamon and the cocoa powder, which are used in the classic Mexican mole sauce.
The stew was slightly sour, just a tiny bit, from the lime juice and tomatillos, rich and smooth from the nutritional yeast and seductively smoky from the cinnamon and cocoa. It was really complex, as flavorful as any meat stew could be.
This is the inventiveness that separates great food from the ordinary. It takes practice. Cook often. TASTE as you cook. I’m constantly dumbfounded at how many people never taste what they?re cooking.
I served the stew along with some strips of oven-toasted corn tortillas. For an impressive presentation you can stand-up the tortilla strips in the stew.
If this is really just too unfamiliar, or if there are just too many vegetables for your family, serve over pasta. One serving of pasta per person — look at the box!!! But add two or three servings of vegetables per person if you can.
This was a lot of stew. I was happy to have leftovers to freeze (sans pasta, add that when you defrost).
That deluxe Won Ton soup I had made a few days before barely made a dent in the gargantuan bag of Swiss chard. I decided now was a great time to try out my idea of Swiss chard pesto.
I had discussed this concept previously with some culinary pals, and they were skeptical. But the pesto came off without a hitch.
Use raw Swiss chard, discarding stems. Instead of walnuts (too bitter) or pine nuts (too bland) I used pecans. Their sweetness is a perfect foil to the tartness of the chard. Pesto already has fat in the form of nuts, so to make mine healthier I cut WAY, WAY down on the traditional olive oil and instead add some water and a teaspoon of lemon juice. If you want, add some grated locatelli or parm. But you don’t need to if you want to keep the fat down. You can use a lot of garlic but don’t use salt, as Swiss chard is already naturally high in sodium and I knew I’d be pairing this pesto with other salty ingredients.
But then it gets better, oh, so much better. I invented a true culinary delight — The Green Pizza. Oh, my-lack-of-god this pizza was the best pizza I ever had and quite beautiful to behold. (I had to be sure and made it twice, it was that good.)
Start out with a whole wheat pizza shell, or make your own. Spread the Swiss chard pesto over the crust. Yes, a green sauce on pizza! Top with diced raw tomatoes. Avoid a cardinal sin in pizza-making and drain the tomatoes well on a paper towel first. Nothing is more disgusting or amateurish than a mushy pizza. Sprinkle on some chopped black olives and some crumbled feta cheese. Bake or better yet cook on the grill (low heat, keep your eye on it).
Turkish delight for real, my friends.
Any leftover pesto can be thinned slightly with water and stirred into a pasta like rigatoni or shells and served hot or cold.
If you’re trying to incorporate more vegetables in to your diet, email me with your cooking or ingredient questions.
Keep at it!
I love you.
About the Ingredients:
Grows wild in the gutter of South Philly. Don?t eat that! Instead pick some seeds or a tiny plant and grow in your garden to be sure that it doesn?t have dog piss on it. Or buy online.
Available in the bulk section at any good health food store. Don?t confuse with brewers yeast.
The number one meat substitute in Europe for years was only recently been introduced to America. It’s a naturally occurring fungus, more specifically a mold that’s vat grown. Yep, Soylent Green for real (I debated not telling you….). Can be purchased in the freezer section of Whole Foods.
Extremely low in calories, high in dietary fiber. A great source of the vitamins A (214% of your recommended daily intake!), C, E, K (716% of RDI!!). Plus the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, and zinc. A powerhouse of nutrients!
ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge ? and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that ?some dispute these findings.? There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford ? better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight ? scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn?t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.