Using Up Many Vegetables at Once

I made this for dinner last night, and it was yummy.  I managed to use up my red cabbage and beets, plus onions, carrots, and garlic from the garden, and thyme and dill from my backyard herb garden.  This is from the newish Cooks Illustrated Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Beet and Wheat Berry Soup with Dill Cream

Serves 6


2/3 cup wheat berries (not the quick cooking or precooked kind), rinsed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped fine

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

8 cups vegetable broth

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage

1 pound beets, trimmed, peeled, and shredded

1 small carrot, peeled and shredded

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Dill Cream

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup minced fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  For the Soup:  Toast wheat berries in dutch oven over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to darken, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

2.  Heat oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Stir in onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomato paste and cayenne and cook until darkened slightly, about 2 minutes.

3.  Stir in broth and water, scraping up any browned bits.  Stir in toasted wheat berries, cabbage, beets, carrot, bay leaf and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until wheat berries are tender but still chewy and vegetables are tender, 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours.

4.  For the Dill Cream:  Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in bowl.

5.  Off heat, discard bay leaf, and stir in vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Top individual portions with dill cream and serve.

Fresh-from-the-garden Chili

If you garden, you know the question: How do I make the most of the seasonal selection of vegetables from the garden tonight? In this case, it was finishing up several small Onions, five random Tomatoes in various states of ripeness, a few green Peppers, a half-dozen Tomatillos and some charming little Hot Peppers.

fresh from the garden chili

The answer was Chili. I chopped the Onions, Peppers (green & hot), Tomatillos and skinned Tomatoes, adding them sequentially to a sauté pot with a small amount of oil. When the veggies were all in, I added a standard can of rinsed beans (in this case, butter beans), whole cashews and some chili seasoning. The result was three very hearty servings of my best chili ever!

My experiments with fermented foods: the cabbage isn't "going bad", it's getting better and better

I was intrigued by a recent Terry Gross interview with Sandor Ellix Katz about his book "The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World".  Katz explains that fermented foods and beverages have been prepared by humans for over 8000 years.  Fermentation is the process whereby cultures of micro-organisms (usually bacteria or yeast), often microbes already naturally present in the food or surrounding environment, are allowed to establish and grow in the food, enhancing flavor and, Katz believes, providing numerous health benefits.  (Our own bodies normally contain vast -- VAST -- numbers of living bacteria and other microorganisms, known as our "microbiome", though this fascinating topic is way beyond the scope of this post.)  As they grow in the fermenting foods, the microorganisms digest carbohydrates and produce byproducts that impart characteristic flavors.  (See "glycolysis" in your biochemistry texts.)  For example, both wine and beer are fermented beverages, with sugars converted by yeast to alcohol (and carbon dioxide).  In the case of some other fermented foods, lactic acid is the product contributing to the characteristic flavor and texture.  Lactic acid gives pickles and sauerkraut their sharp sourness, and the extent of acidity can be controlled, for example, by moving the product to the refrigerator to slow bacterial growth. 


In his book, Katz cites an estimate that up to one third of all foods eaten by people worldwide is fermented!  Some of the most obvious are the foods and beverages mentioned above, and yogurt.  Less obvious are cheese, coffee and bread.  Think of those beautiful, strong-flavored ("tres fort") French cheeses laced with colorful, happily metabolizing molds.  In bread, the yeast also generate ethanol and carbon dioxide, and the carbon dioxide bubbles help the dough to rise.  Katz's interview made me realize that I already use fermentation routinely in some of my cooking, for example, in sourdough bread.  I knew already that the sourdough starter that's been brewing in my refrigerator for well over a year is a living culture  -- one that seems to rebel by giving me misshapen bread loaves if I ignore it for too many weeks.  But, I hadn't quite appreciated its connection to beer, wine or sauerkraut.

Yeast breads are good examples of fermented foods, since the carbon dioxide, produced as the yeast metabolize carbohydrates in the mixture, causes the dough to rise.  Sourdough breads, like this one, rely even more on fermentation, since the sourdough starter itself is a simmering culture.  



So, I decided to try making other fermented foods, inspired by vegetables growing in our Robbins Farm garden.  Katz told Terry Gross that sauerkraut is the simplest fermented food for the beginner.  Plus, beautiful fresh cabbage is available in our garden and in local farms right now.  I followed the basic procedure suggested by Katz in the radio piece.  Essentially, veggies of choice are salted to extract their juices, these juices are squeezed from the vegetables and they are allowed to ferment in their own juices in a sealed jar.  Katz advises not adding more water unless it is needed to cover the vegetables, because this will dilute the flavor.  I did need to add a little water (he said the vegetables should be covered with liquid) but it did taste pretty good, seasoned only with salt and black pepper.  I used fresh green cabbage, scallions and carrots.  (Because of availability, only the scallions were from our Garden, while the other vegetables were from Busa Farm.)  As Katz had promised, it was a simple dish to make.


My first (only, so far) attempt at sauerkraut, using locally grown green cabbage, scallions, and carrots, and the guidelines described by Katz in his radio interview.  


Emboldened by my relative success, I decided to next try making kimchee (or kimchi), the Korean staple that happens to be one of my favorite foods.  There are probably as many different kimchee recipes as there are for wines and cheeses.  Katz didn't offer a kimchee recipe in his book but I found a recipe online for "Basic Nappa Cabbage Kimchi (Kimchee)" that looked about right.  This time, I was able to use nappa cabbage from our Garden.  I followed the recipe closely, but used half of all ingredients since it was written for 2 lbs of nappa cabbage.  Consult the recipe for further details, but essentially, I began by washing and cutting the cabbage and soaking it in salted water for about 24 hrs, then rinsing and draining it, squeezing out the excess liquid.  This leaves it somewhat wilted in appearance.  Regarding the other ingredients, I first searched a few Asian markets in the Chinatown area (near where I work) but was concerned that the ingredients, especially the fish sauce and red pepper powder, were not necessarily the Korean style.  So, I headed to the amazing, though somewhat overwhelming, H. Mart in Burlington.  Here the selection is great, with separate sections for Korean sauces and other items.  (And, as it happens, H. Mart carries many types of prepared kimchee, sold in jars in the refrigeration cases, or in bulk by the pound.)  To my surprise, even the daikon radish was available in both Chinese and Korean variations, so I took the Korean one.  Both are plump and white, but the Korean had a greenish color at the base.  Again, the red pepper powder selection was huge, with coarse and fine options and many different brands.  I took the one that said "For Kimchi" on it, a coarse grind.  While it was produced in China, it was packaged in Korea and, of course, the "For Kimchi" label gave me comfort that it was the right kind. 



Shown here are several of the ingredients I used for kimchee.  Clockwise from front:  Daikon radish ("Korean" according to H. Mart), wild salted shrimp, Korean style fish sauce, Napa cabbage from the Garden (after soaking in salt, draining and squeezing out excess liquid), Coarse ground red pepper powder (marked "For Kimchi"), ginger root.  Not shown:  scallions


Preparation in progress, prior to adding cabbage and fish sauce to pack into jars.




As I write this, my 1 qt jar of kimchee, after brewing in the basement (a cool, dark place) for a little over 24 hrs, is now fermenting in the refrigerator. Before transferring it to the refrigerator, I opened the lid to release the gases; and, there were gases so we're on the right track!.  To be continued......







Additional tips from my friends who have experience making kimchee: Val Hays has used, and recommends, another Kimchee recipe by David Lebovitz. While similar to the one I used, it does not have the salted shrimp, making it a good vegetarian option. MJ Keeler suggests letting the kimchee ferment in the refrigerator for at least a week, rather than the three days (minimum) suggested by the recipe. As I post this, it's been in the refrigerator for three days and we haven't tasted it yet.


Update:  We have eaten some of this.  It is okay, but I am not thrilled with it.  The cabbage is a little tough, and the taste a little bitter.  Today (August 11) I got another half cabbage, shared with Dick.  I am going to try the other kimchee recipe in this post (David Lebovitz).  However, I am slightly concerned that it is our nappa cabbage that is bitter or tough.  We will see.....

p.s. Gardeners:  I have plenty of the red pepper powder and salted shrimp, as well as extra 1 qt canning jars.  Let me know if you want some to try this on your own.

Kale Chips -- crispy, salty, good for you, and easy to make!

 As of a few days ago, we still had some greens in the garden, particularly kale.  Recently, I -- a bit of a "gourmet" potato chip fiend -- learned of kale chips as a healthy way to satisfy our cravings for crispy, salty snacks!  There are many, many recipes to be found online, most calling for oven baking, with a few instead calling for a food dehydrator.  I experimented a bit with the oven methods, since many people don't have a dehydrator and, also, I figured that baking was likely to give more flavor.  

The first step is to cut the heavy stem out from the kale leaves.  While some recipes I found suggested using a sharp knife, it turns out that you can tear the kale away from the stem readily.   Tear the kale into pieces that will be "bite size" once they're dehydrated.  About a 3 to 4 inch dimension seems to work fine. 

I washed the kale pieces thoroughly in water, and dried them as well as possible.  I used a salad spinner and then blotted them with a towel. 

Then, I placed the kale pieces in a bowl, and added some extra virgin olive oil (at least I hope it was EVOO -- mine was from Trader Joes). I massaged the olive oil into the leaves, so that all were as evenly coated as possible.  Then, I seasoned them generously with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  The coated kale looks like this:

I then spread the kale in a single-thickness layer on a baking sheet.  Some of the videos stressed that the layer must be only one leaf thick, warning that if the kale is piled up, it won't become crispy.  (I chose not to test this theory, so have only tried the single layer.)  Before baking, it will look like the photo below, and will shrivel up considerably and darken in color, as described below, as it bakes. 

I baked the kale in an oven set for 350 degrees F.  Some of the recipes said that only 10 min was needed to get them fully dehydrated and crispy.  I tried the recipe in two ovens, and one took at least 15 min and the other took 20.  (Both ovens were set on convection, which automatically sets the temperature to 325 degrees.  This may have been the issue.)  It's a good idea to just watch them and make sure that they do not burn.  They should reach a fairly uniform dark green color, and appear curled up and considerably smaller than the original pieces. 

After they're fully crisped up as described above, the kale chips can be very gently blotted on paper towels to remove excess oil. 

These are incredibly delicious and crispy straight from the oven!  Whatever you do, do not store the uneaten chips in a sealed container. This makes them lose their crispiness.  If there are any leftover, I would suggest storing them in an open bowl.  The finished kale chips, with their dark green color, are shown in the third photo, below.  The moistness you see on the chips is residual olive oil.  These are definitely finger food, but you will want some napkins handy.  

While of course this is best with local, fresh-from-the-garden kale, if you crave this snack "off season", I found that a Trader Joe's bag of precut and washed kale works great.  One bag will fill two large baking trays.

By the way, this is by no means the "perfect recipe" for kale chips.  If anybody has variations to suggest based on their own kale chips experiences, please add them in the comments section.  I'm also curious about other seasonings, as well as other greens that might also be used to make chips.  

What to do with arugula? A simple, flavorful vegetarian pasta recipe.


Right now, the arugula is beautiful in the garden.  There is plenty of it, and it’s still tender, as well as spicy.  Last week, I used my arugula in a salad.  But, tonight, John used our share of  Saturday’s harvest in one of our favorite pasta recipes, “Pesto of Sundried Tomatoes with Arugula”.  The book Pasta Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman features very simple, delicious pasta recipes and this is one great example, from their section on “Pasta with Raw Sauces”.  Note that, in the printed recipe, John changed the “3/4 cup” sundried tomatoes to “entire jar (8 oz)”.  We use sundried tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, though the cookbook authors urge readers to make their own.  I’ve not done that yet, though I understand that tomatoes can be readily oven-dried. 

As you can see, this dish is very colorful and, with the spicy arugula, sweet sundried tomatoes, dried hot pepper, and garlic, it has a lot of flavor!  It’s also vegetarian, as are many, though not all, of the Pasta Fresca recipes. 



Kabocha squash and tomatillos take me back

Today my colleagues at the Garden were kind enough to let me take home one of the two kabocha squash that we harvested. I regret that I didn't photograph it, but my colleague Elisabeth provided this photo of another of our beautiful kabochas (surrounded by tomatillos). Wikepedia informed me, with its usual degree of authority, that Kabocha squash is also called "Japanese pumpkin". Indeed, as you see, it is very pumpkin-like. We also harvested two sugar pumpkins from our "Three Sisters" plot today, and our kabocha looked like they could easily have been their unripe cousins.

Elisabeth reminded me about an amazing soup that uses kabocha, along with tomatillos.  I recalled the recipe, too, the minute she mentioned it yet, inexplicably, it's been over 10 years since I last prepared it.  It's "Tomatillo and Squash Soup" from Anna Thomas' "The New Vegetarian Epicure".  It is probably the best soup I've ever made, or eaten.  How on earth have I lived without it, let alone forgotten about it, for all these years?! I'm quite sure that the last time I made it was in the late 90's.  Kabocha squash and tomatillos were relatively hard to come by back then.  As we reminisced in the Garden today, you had to search for tomatillos at "Bread and Checkbook", and they cost a lot, and even the 12 required by the recipe were not necessarily in stock when you needed them.  Kabocha squash, with its firm very deep orange flesh and unique flavor (and tough'd better have a good knife!), was not particularly easy to find either.

In our Garden, a tomatillo shortage is NOT an issue.  Our two tomatillo plants are thriving, and we have more tomatillos than we know what to do with!  (Until today, I've just been skewering and grilling them...delicious, yes, but so is anything that's skewered and grilled, no?). 

So, arriving home with my tomatillos (about twice as many as specified in the recipe;  this is my standard practice...I double up on the components I love the most) and my kabocha (deceptively small in appearance, as it turns weighed in at just about the 2 lbs suggested by the recipe), I dug out my copy of Anna Thomas' classic book and got to it. This soup is somewhat labor intensive, and heats up your kitchen, but it is so, so worth it!  I roasted the tomatillos, along with our own Garden tomatoes and about a dozen garlic cloves* until lightly charred in the oven, cooled them a bit, and then blasted them in the food processor.  Meanwhile, I simmered the peeled and diced squash to extreme tenderness in Trader Joe's organic vegetable broth, skipping the additional water the recipe suggests.  Once these components were all cooked, I left them sitting and ran out to buy onions.  (Unfortunately, onions from our Garden are not large enough; they're mainly bunching onions -- yummy in their own right, but not for this recipe).  I was able to find organic sweet onions at Trader Joes.  I then carmelized the onions, along with one mashed garlic clove and a bit of salt, in EVOO.  At this point, it was time to toast, according to the book, "2 dried red serrano or other hot peppers" on the stovetop, chop them, and add them to the soup.  Instead of dried peppers, I first selected two fresh hot red peppers from the Garden. But, when I charred them and processed them (in my mini-food prep Cuisinart), they, despite my having removed the seeds, gave off such strong hot pepper fumes that, honestly, I was afraid to put them in the soup -- in fact I could barely breathe without coughing (guys, what ARE those peppers we're growing??).  I love this soup so much and, while I appreciate hot peppers, they can so easily overwhelm.  So, I discarded most of the hot pepper into my compost pile (sorry!).  I then went to the cupboard and selected a half dried Guajillo pepper from Penzey's, which describes it as as "not hot but rich, smoky and complex".  If I'd planned enough in advance I would have soaked it a bit but, instead, I just ground it up in the mini-prep (along with a small bit of the juice and pulp from our Garden hot peppers).  This is what went into the soup, along with some of our Garden cilantro and sea salt.  That's all.  Heated it through and, yes, it was still, after all these years, wonderful!  Still is, in fact..we have enough for lunch tomorrow. Elisabeth, thank-you for reminding me about this soup that I used to love so much! It's extraordinary!


Along with our Tomatillo and Squash soup for dinner tonight, John and I had a little cole slaw that I made, also inspired by a suggestion of Elisabeth's. I prepared the cole slaw with a tiny little cabbage, the result of a Garden experiment (see Lisa's post "The Great Cabbage Experiment", 08/01/2011).  I sliced it and combined it with one of our yellow carrots (coarse grated), our bunching onions (sliced thin) and a dressing of:  mayonnaise (Trader Joe's organic), cider vinegar, sea salt, black pepper and celery salt.  After mixing it all together, I decided to also add a bit of minced pineapple to temper the vinegar taste a bit.  Came out pretty good, if I say so myself.  Elisabeth, thanks for suggesting the cole slaw and, also, especially, for suggesting the original experiment that led to these sweet baby "2nd gen" cabbages!

Well that was our dinner tonight, along with some fresh, still sweet corn from Busa's, our beloved neighborhood farm.  The ingredients were mostly from the Garden, with some help from Busa's and TJ's.  Oh, yeah, and the perfect wine to accompany this feast was something crispy and cold from Enzed.  We bought it from either:  Menotomy Beer and Wine, TJs in Cambridge or Busa's Liquor..we don't quite recall where we got this one, but it was just right tonight.



* Garlic cloves are not yet available from the Garden, but stay tuned!  Now that we have been granted permission to keep the garden open through the winter, we will be planting some.  In the meantime, I used organic garlic from Trader Joe's.

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