|In which I command you to eat your vegetables
||[Sep. 17th, 2016|10:57 am]
Let's talk about how you treat your vegetables. Side dishes in general, but vegetable side dishes in particular.
Go ahead, take me to a restaurant that serves up giant horsecarrots and zucchini slices, cut on the bias like that's going to help, barely blanched or practically raw with a random grill mark on them, with a little bit of salt and pepper. I won't make a scene because I'm genetically predisposed to not making scenes in restaurants, but there will be heated muttering and moues of disgust.
Note: I'm fine with raw vegetables. Really. I will just eat a bowlful of cherry tomatoes, or snap peas and be happy as a clam. But a lot of people are confusing "al dente" with "not bothering to cook" and it's pissing me off.
I will be less disappointed with a restaurant that does something lovely with the veg, but then buries it underneath the protein treating it as just another flavor note to complement the protein. Then again, composed dishes always irritate me. I like to taste each component on its own and then in different combinations. I will allow that that's a personal quirk, but still...
Show the vegetable some love! Let it shine! Elevate it!
If I were enough of a masochist to start my own restaurant, the menu would be composed of vegetables and sides. I'd suggest some combos, but you could mix and match as you please, or have them all as small plates. There would be a couple of protein choices, but they'd all just be high quality, very simply prepared, so that they could complement all of the sides. Because seriously, it's not that hard to cook a good steak if you start with a good piece of beef and then don't fuck it up. But to make people swoon over broccoli or zucchini? That's what I'm proud of.
Do these things:
Learn to roast vegetables. It brings out a nutty depth to them, plus the browning triples the flavor, and in root veg brings out...not so much sweetness as tones down the bitter. You will love vegetables you didn't think you liked - beets, radishes, broccoli. And it's crazy easy. Oven at 350, cut the veg in approximately the same size/thickness, bite size, toss them in more olive or vegetable oil than you think you need (there should be a little puddle/slick in the bottom of the bowl when you've taken them out) toss in salt, pepper, whatever other seasonings, toss them on a baking sheet, bake them 20-30 minutes until browned. Don't crowd them, they'll just steam. If you had put a newspaper underneath them you should be able to see that it's a newspaper, but not quite be able to catch more than a word or two of the article -- that's the best spacing. If you can tell what the article's about, watch carefully for burning. If you can barely tell it's newspaper, that's too crowded. Use two sheets. (Don't actually use newspaper -- you understand metaphor, right possum? Use parchment paper if you want but not actual newspaper.)
Learn to saute vegetables. Personally, this is my favorite. Start with an alium (onion, shallot) and your fat (hey, olive, peanut, sunflower oil is fine, but also consider an animal fat, let it get a little soft, add your veg (you want it to cook fairly quickly, so think thin slices or small chop/dice/chunk), turn the heat up a little to brown, get things cooking, then turn down the heat and cook until silky and al dente.
Cook more than one vegetable at a time. Seriously, this country is either "only one veg" or that abominable corn carrots peas thing. Think: at least one allium (onion, garlic, shallot, scallions), or seasoning veg (peppers, celery, fennel, etc.) and then at least one other veg. Mix it up. Different things -- broccoli and cauliflower together? Kill me. Broccoli and red peppers, corn and zucchini, wilt some greens -- spinach, baby greens, arugula -- or halved cherry tomatoes/chopped regulat tomatoes into it at the end. You want to make it really sexy? Thinly slice (if they're cherry or grape or small) or dice tomatoes and put them in with the veg at the beginning. They're going to cook down to liquid, but oh what a liquid! A lovely silky glaze that adds depth a just the right amount of acid to perk things up.
Season them with something other than salt and pepper. Get some good quality spice mixes (https://www.penzeys.com/) and make them Cajun, Bavarian, Pasta Sprinkle, Garam Masala - those are all really good Penzey's blends, or whatever.
Blanch or steam them and then just gild them with an animal fat or seasoned butter. Or interesting oil like pumpkin seed, walnut or hazelnut oil. Zest a little citrus on them. Grind a small handful of nuts and toss them in with lightly heated butter/oil. (Pro-tip. We blanch the veg, then chill them and heat them up in that flavored/nutted/seasoned fat right before serving. Makes dinner parties that much easier.)
Hey, i don't have that kind of time, you're muttering. Oh, yeah, like I do! Make a batch and freeze the veg in small portions so you can just pull out what you need when you need it. I have a freezer full of roasted vegetables and sauteed onions and mushrooms that I can just thaw out and toss into a sauce, over a starch or protein, or plop on the side of the plate.
Pro tip: one night make a big batch of the veg, the next night make extra protein. Use one night's leftovers in the other night's freshmade. (Don't you EVEN DARE say "I don't eat leftovers." That's bullshit right there. If you've ever eaten at Applebees, Fridays or most chains, not to mention frozen or prepared foods, that's all bloody leftovers that're just heated up...sorry, re-thermalized...for you to eat. Even in restaurants components are prepared in advance. You don't like eating the same thing over and over again, then just skip a couple of nights...or maybe the food wasn't good in the first place? Shut up and eat this stuff I'm telling you to eat. It's delicious and you're being stupid.)
Because of all of the diet/healthy eating advice that's been given, retracted and then given again...the one thing that hasn't changed is the value of eating lots of vegetables. So, do that!