What We Had For Lunch Today
Every now and then, I make something so simple and so satisfying that I am blown away. Lately, the best things I’ve tasted have all been vegetarian, and more to the point, vegan. Perhaps because so many vegetables are at their peak of perfection right now, I want to really taste them. When pure vegetable flavors are masked by cheese or cream or even fish, they immediately take second place.
To let vegetables speak for themselves, I try to strip away the extraneous flavors and let the veggies shine. As I’ve been playing with food this week, I’m noticing that I can use all sorts of herbs and spices without losing the essential vegetable. That clean, fresh flavor only fades when the eggs or meat or dairy enters the picture.
Start With The Best Broth
It’s amazing how much of what’s headed for the compost can be put to use in the kitchen first. When I’m on a cooking spree, I use every bit of scraps from prepping vegetables for broth, and include some fruit waste as well. OK, I never have used a banana peel in broth, but I often toss peach skins, apple peels, and even melon rind into my broth. After all, if you’d eat pickled melon rind, why not let it add its sweet note to a sturdy broth?
I start with a full pan of toss-aways, nothing rotten, of course, but mostly what is not usually considered good eating. Yesterday’s broth included garlic and onion skins and root-ends, all of which help make a rich tasting and darkly colorful broth. I added some carrot ends and peelings, sweet and hot pepper stems and seeds, celery ends and leaves, potato peelings, bits of bok choy and napa cabbage, broccoli and mushrooms stems, ginger peelings, and some green tomatoes. There were also a lot of kale stems as well as leftover broccoli and a few bits of roasted vegetables.
An Amazing Vegan Lunch
A friend dropped by in time to share a bountiful meal with me. We ate slowly, playing with our food in an adult way that included spritzing fresh lime juice on everything from brown rice to spicy vegan dal to perfectly ripe pear slices. We ended up nibbling on dry roasted unsalted organic almonds that tasted perfectly rich and satisfying. My lunch companion was pleasantly surprised to find herself feeling happily full and fully nourished even though we just ate soup and shared a small pear.
After some thought, she announced that my food is respectful. “It tastes like you are really honoring the ingredients,” she said. I was happy to hear that, because indeed, I try to create combinations that work like a good party, each ingredient companion complementing and bringing out the best in the others. When a lot of spices are used, as in Indian food, the desired effect is a crafted and mellow blend that sets off the vegetables, not a series of bright flavors vying for attention.
Here’s our menu:
Robust Vegetable Broth
This tastes lovely all by itself, as I discovered when I poured a glass and took a big swig. That’s what happens when you store barley tea and broth in identical jars…
6-8 cups vegetable scraps (see above)
8-10 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Add water to cover scraps, bring to a slow simmer over low heat and cook for 2-4 hours. Keep tasting until the broth has the flavor you want, then strain it, adding the now-spent scraps to the compost bucket. Makes about half a gallon of delicious broth that’s better than anything you can buy.
Brown Jasmine Rice
1 cup raw brown jasmine rice
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
few flakes dried hot peppers
In a rice cooker, combine all ingredients and cook until done. In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil, add remaining ingredients, return to boil, reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer over low heat until done (35-40 minutes). Remove from heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve. Makes about 2 cups.
Spicy Dal With Brown Jasmine Rice
I added an unripe peach (chopped) that introduced a lovely tangy sweetness, but golden raisins or dried sour cherries would work well too.
2 cups split peas
6 cups water
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each of celery seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, ground coriander, garam masala, and turmeric
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1 bunch curly red kale, chopped
1 chopped peach or apple or 1/4 cup raisins
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 lime, cut in wedges.
In a saucepan, combine split peas and water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender (40-45 minutes). While peas cook, heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add seeds and spices and cook for 1 minute. Stir in celery, carrot, kale, and fruit, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer and cook, covered. When peas are done, pour them into the vegetables with their cooking water, add season to taste with lemon juice, paprika, and salt. Serve with a scoop of brown rice and a squeeze of fresh lime. Makes about 3 quarts. This tastes even better the next day, and freezes well.