A few days ago, I put up a little post on the pleasures of vegetables, the opportunities for creativity they allow, and asked for your favorite unusual ways to use them. (Your favorite ways that involve eating, I meant.) And in between discussions of whether the French have ruined the world for vegetarianism and a comment that suggested that all the bright promise of my culinary school education is being wasted (thanks! I guess?), you came through with scads of interesting ideas. Here are some of our favorites.
1) Tomato tip: Use the stems for flavour too. Don't eat them but allow stems to infuse your sauces/stocks/tomato waters, etc. That's where the lovely tomato smell derives from.
I remember once fondling a friend's tomato plant and being horrified by my hands afterward. They had taken on so much of the incredibly intense smell from the stems that I wanted to gag, and so I've been wary of touching the stems ever since. But I love this idea -- diluted in a sauce or stock, that concentrated aroma can relax and scent the whole lot. In fact, British culinary superstar (that is not an oxymoron) Heston Blumenthal recommends you plop a tomato stem or two in pots of sauce or ketchup and let them sit there for a few hours. (Make sure to do it when the sauce is cool, though; the aromatic compounds tend to disappear when heated.)
And speaking of flavoring:
2) Ditto celery leaves (I also use those in soup). My secret stock ingredient has always been a handful of cheap dried mushrooms you can get in bulk at the Asian grocery stores.
I used to feel about celery leaves (literally, the leaves on the end of stalks of celery) the way I felt about my hands after rubbing them all up and down that tomato plant: straight grody. But used judiciously as an herb garnish, or in a well-dressed salad, the intense celery flavor becomes heady and refreshing. And those dried shiitake mushrooms, of course, are just loaded with depth of flavor; they give meatiness to anything they touch.
3) I'm studying South Asian spices -- to me that's the way to be vegetarian.
4) Cannellini beans and mustard greens, sautéed with garlic and dried sage, is one of my all-time favorite meals, I am not ashamed to say.
OK, so that's a lovely and near-classic combination. But really I had to include this comment because the name of the commenter got me to break out the Bowie on my headphones.
5) Blackeyed peas are about so much more than New Year's Hoppin' John. You can put them in a pot with just about anything and make an awesome flavorful stew.
Word! I'm always amazed by the rich flavor and creamy body well-cooked beans can bring when cooked in salted water. I never throw out the liquid I cook my beans in; it's a broth as delicious as any. (And ignore the old saw about not salting the water you cook your beans in. Just know that it'll probably reduce, so don't salt it too much at the start.)
6) What about asparagus just plucked from the bed, briefly blanched, and eaten in place of a toast soldier with an egg boiled so the white is just set and the yolk is still runny? Vegetables can turn the divine into the miraculous.
Why, yes! Meanwhile, from the green leafy vegetable camp:
7) The advice I had always heard was that kale needed long cooking times because it's so tough. But you know what? I hate mushy, long-cooked vegetables. So I did short braises for a while, which worked OK. Then I looked at Whole Food's kale salad and figured out the trick: cut the kale leaves into teeny, tiny bits -- essentially, using a knife to do the job of your teeth.
Boom! Dress that baby with some good olive oil, some lemon or vinegar, salt, pepper and plenty of good shaved cheese, and you'll be happy to give your chewing muscles a little workout.
8) When in doubt, ROAST. Almost any veggie will be elevated to the next level if you toss it in some good olive oil and good salt and pepper and give it a good roast.
I'm totally with Starmonkey on this one, but since I was already in a Bowie mood, I also had to include this because his/her name also got me to break out another classic:
(And you have to love the dorks in back onstage going, "OMG who are these weirdos?!") Ahem. Right, roasting. Here are a couple of ideas too:
9) Roast some parsnips with olive oil and salt until golden brown. Put them in a bowl with chopped parsley, some minced orange zest, a few chopped dried apricots, and some leftover wild rice. Squeeze a couple of clementines or the juice of an orange over everything. Toss. This is great warm, out of the oven or cold from the fridge.
And back to MizMorton:
10) At Christmas I made a "winter crudite" platter. I roasted carrots, parsnips, beets, cauliflower and these tiny potatoes I found at Trader Joe's. I roasted them according to Francis' article, actually. Served them at room temp with a killer dip -- puréed cannellini beans with lots of olive oil and garlic.
See, people? Fun! And if you have more tips, please share them in the comments below.