Repairing Relationships…with Vegetables

In my previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t always gotten along with mushrooms. Things have gotten much better between us, but that doesn’t mean I reach for new fungi every time I’m in the store. In fact, during my last weekly grocery run, I realized that mushrooms aren’t the only vegetable this vegetarian had avoided until recently, “recently” meaning within the past five or so years. (This revelation kind of made me think that I’ve been subsisting on iceberg lettuce, baby carrots, green beans for the past twenty years – bland, boring, and American, by golly!) And I’m not talking about utterly fantastical veggies like kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads. I’m talking about fairly run-of-the-mill produce that I spent a long time skipping over simply because I didn’t know any better. Thankfully, vegetables tend to be quite forgiving after being long ignored, and here are five veggies with which I’m currently making, or trying to make decent inroads.

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Brussel sprouts

brussel-sprouts

Long the butt of jokes concerning their taste and general odiferousness, the first time I ever had brussel sprouts was three years ago. And I’m really not kidding about that. My parents never made brussel sprouts (that I can recall), and I never sought them out on my own. But then, a few years back I was looking expand my traditional holiday dinner fare and found a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts that couldn’t have been simpler. Sprouts, olive oil, salt pepper. Clean the sprouts, cut them in half, toss them in the oil and seasoning, roast a 400 degrees from 15 or so minutes. I was amazed at the tender, nutty, and flavorful results! I’ve since tried to make brussel sprouts more regularly. Granted, the smell from cooking them does linger, but the immediate deliciousness of eating them is worth the price of a few air fresheners.

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Olives

olives

Unlike my childhood that resided with the lack of with brussel sprouts, I did grow up with olives, LOTS of olives because my Dad really, really likes them. If there was one thing that was always, without fail, in our fridge, it was olives. And particularly the green Spanish olives with the pimento centers. (Perish the memories!) And because of that, olives ended up in so many recipes…so many recipes that I avoided because I hated olives! Oh my, how I couldn’t stand them as a kid! To me, they smelled bad and tasted worse, all sour and salty and yucky! Since becoming an adult, I have tried very hard to rectify this hatred, but it’s tough. Though I now don’t mind the way olives taste, their texture just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve managed to accept sliced black olives, and only sliced black olives, on pizza and in pasta salad. But that’s as far as it goes…for now.

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Asparagus

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Asparagus is another vegetable that simple wasn’t around in my house growing up. As an adult, it was never on  my grocery radar – green beans, peas, broccoli – those were my “green” staples. But asparagus? Don’t you have to prepare it in some complicated manner? Doesn’t it smell funny? Isn’t it hard to cook? No, no, and no were the answers I discovered when I made my first batch of roasted asparagus about five years ago. Since then, it’s become my first “green” staple, when it’s in season, that is. (And even when it isn’t, the imported stuff isn’t that bad.) I’ll admit that I haven’t strayed too far in terms of asparagus recipes as I just like it roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper, but there’s plenty of time to get more esoteric.  Asparagus Lemon Gelato, anyone?

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Avocados

o-FREEZING-AVOCADOS-facebook

In my early years of vegetarianism, I discovered that avocados were good for more than just guacamole. They were just as excellent in their naked form cut to top a salad or mashed and spread on a sandwich. Helping the situation tremendously was that, at the time, I lived in a place where avocados were local produce and were always guaranteed to be ripe and ready to use. When I moved to a place where that wasn’t the case, I remained spoiled, and it didn’t help that the avocados in the big ol’ chain grocery store were hard as rocks and never seemed to ripen properly. Eventually, I stopped buying them altogether. What’s brought me back to them in the past couple years is hope…and maybe a few health concerns – fiber, vitamins, triglycerides, all that adult stuff.  And this tip about finding ripe avocados from Lifehacker has saved me from bringing home bad ones.

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Okra

fresh-okra

Like brussel sprouts, I couldn’t haven’t identified okra in a vegetable line-up until I was in my twenties. My husband, being the good southerner that he is, took great delight in introducing his Yankee wife to okra. The results? Um…ewwww, and that was with the fried variety! Worse yet was having it in soup or stew when the okra turned gooey.  Over the years I have gotten okra (usually frozen, sometimes breaded) at my husband’s request, but you couldn’t have gotten me to eat it, no way, no how. But considering how my palette has calmed down and matured (I guess), it seemed only natural that someday, eventually, I have to try okra whether I wanted to or not. And that time came last year when I reluctantly agreed to make a vegetarian version of a gumbo recipe that was already in our arsenal. Substitute veggie stock as needed, omit the seafood and chicken, and voila! I’ll be honest, it wasn’t half bad. Really, it wasn’t, and that was despite the gooey okra (which was nearly as gooey as I remembered it.)  Though I don’t feel ready to fully accept okra into my life, we’re going to try growing it in the garden this year. If we get a decent crop then I won’t have a choice. Okra or bust!

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What foods (vegetables or otherwise) have you gotten to know better, and for the better in recent years? Any suggestions as to other oft-overlooked vegetables that should undoubtedly be in my kitchen?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

Vegetable stir-fry (with tofu and/or meat)

With gardening now officially done at our house, the time has come when we must deal once again with store-bought vegetables. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but you know what they say: “Once you go black, you can never go back!”

Um…that’s not… …right? …

Anyway, making stir-fries is one of my favorite ways to manage our vegetable intake during the winter. They’re quick, savory, and a little goes a very long way, especially with the addition of a protein such as tofu or chicken or whatever you like.  The recipe below heartily serves 3-4 people. And loners need not fret, because it re-heats very well as a leftover! (It also bears mentioning that you can use just about any combination of vegetables here.)

Vegetable stir-fry (with tofu and/or meat)

Ingredients

vegetable oil
1 small onion, shopped
1 chili, seeded and diced
1/2 of a red, green, yellow pepper, chopped
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 small can bamboo shoots, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped if large
1 cup snow peas, chopped, or left whole if small
4-6 scallions, sliced into rounds
1 package of extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cubed and/or 1 chicken breast, chopped, or 1 small sirloin steak cut into strips, or other meat/fish

For sauce:
1/4-1/2 cup soy sauce (use more if you like a thinner sauce)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Splash of cooking sherry (optional)

Cooked white or brown rice

Instructions
  1. Prepare 1-2 cups of white or brown rice in a style of your choosing.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together all sauce ingredients. Set aside.
  3. If using tofu, heat oven to 425 degrees and bake tofu for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. (Turn once if you remember. I never do. This process dehydrates the tofu a little, making it less mushy.)
  4. If using meat, in a hot wok or large frying pan pour in about a tablespoon of oil. Let it heat up over medium-high heat for a minute and then add the beef/chicken/whatever.  Sauté for about 5 minutes in just the oil, then add in a tablespoon or so of the sauce and cook for a minute more. Remove meat from pan keeping any remaining oil/sauce in the pan.
  5. Back in the wok, over medium-high heat, add in the onion, chili, pepper, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute.
  6. Add in the broccoli and snow peas. Stir the mixture and sauté for a few minutes until the broccoli turns bright green. Add in the tofu and/or meat saute for about another 5 minutes until the snow peas and broccoli become tender.
  7. Pour remaining sauce over everything in the pan and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes. (Any longer and the sauce will turn very dark and sticky.)

Top with fresh scallions and serve immediately over rice.


Let’s see just how many blogs Cary can put on her roster before going mad! While you’ll find her here on occasion, you’ll more likely to catch her over on United We Game or Geek Force Network; or better yet, working on her own blog about gaming and nostalgia and such, Recollections of Play.