Maybe it's because I've been a vegetarian for about a year now and I've forced myself to adapt my cooking accordingly.
Maybe it's because I've joined a CSA and rather than accept that I've perhaps wasted some money, I've forced myself to like all the weird stuff thrown my way.
Or maybe it's just because they're good.
I'm going to come right out and say it. I LOVE vegetables. I really, really do.
Now, when you read that, you might think to yourself, "Jaysus, I know they're healthy, but can anyone really say they love carrots and spinach?"
But the standard six or seven supermarket, year-round crops aren't the kind of vegetables I'm talking about (nothing against carrots and spinach of course).
I'm talking about the weird, seasonal, fresh and so flavorful vegetables which are being resurrected at farmer's markets and CSAs all around the country. CSAs are a great way to be introduced to unfamiliar seasonable vegetables. I'll admit that it does take a season or two to find the optimum way to cook some of these, but once you do, WOW!
I don't want to sound like a self-righteous vegetarian, but really, anyone living on a purely meat-centric diet is missing out. Don't get me wrong, I still take a bite of sausage now and again, and I do like it. But does it taste more complex or more exciting than perfectly cooked garlic scapes? No way. What I don't understand is how anyone that really loves food can eat a diet that is as meat-centric as most of us do. Why not experiment with all of it in your diet, whether you're a vegetarian or not? Ok, rant over.
So, I thought in this post, I'd cover just a few of my favorite non-supermarket vegetables:
Garlic Scapes - Apparently these shoot out of a bulb of garlic just before it should be harvested. They're long, green stalks that curl like a spring. Slice them in about 1 inch pieces, stopping just before the slight bulge at the top. Discard everything above the bulb as it tastes fibrous. These are great steamed in couscous or gently sauteed in olive oil and thrown into something like an omelet or a risotto. Their subtle aroma of garlic is surprisingly contrasted with a sweet and juicy taste.
Spring Onions/Elephant Garlic/Bunching Onions/Spring Shallots/etc/etc/etc - Basically I'm referring to any of the numerous spring or early summer varieties from the onion family. They are BIG and it took me a while to figure out what to do with them. But don't let their awkwardness discourage you; they can be substituted in any dish calling for their regular counterparts. A few tips:
- They are much milder than the bulb version. For example, if a recipe calls for a medium onion, use a big handful of spring onions. If it calls for a large onion, use even more. It's hard to use too much. The same goes for garlic.
- Slice into three parts. The first third, the white and light green parts, should be substituted into the dish at the beginning as normal, although you probably won't need to sweat/brown/sautee as long. The middle, very green part, should be added in almost at the end, cooking only for a minute or so. The rather tough outer third should be left intact and thrown into the freezer to use for stock at a later time.
Baby Turnips - almost as sweet as an apple. Don't cook or peel them. Just slice and eat raw. In a salad, or ... like an apple.
Pea Shoots - Unfortunately, these have just gone out of season, but they are so weird, I have to mention them. These are the curly, vine-like stems and leaves from pea plants. They look like a spindly green, but actually taste of peas. There are lots of bad ways to eat these, but I've finally discovered the right one (for me!), and it is so simple. Simply sautee in olive oil until just wilted and add salt. They taste great as their own side dish. Which leads me to...
English Peas - This week in our CSA share, I was very excited to see sugar snap peas. Because I like them? They're ok, but I don't really get why they're so popular. No! I was excited because sugar snap peas means ENGLISH PEAS!!! I went to the farmer's market, hopeful, looking, looking, looking, YES!!!! I practically ran up to the booth, breathless with excitement. THERE THEY WERE! I have no idea why these are only grown by one farm in all of Boulder. It is like a secret nobody else has discovered.
I know, you're thinking, "Peas??? Seriously?" Frozen green peas are like a completely different food substance. Sure, fresh ones are expensive at $6/pound ... before shelling. And yes, they take a while to shell by hand. But it's worth it. Last night my son and I shelled a pound of them... how did we cook them? Ummm, yea. We actually didn't have any left to cook. We ate all of them raw as we shelled them.
I think I'm going to be a little heartbroken to say goodbye to my beloved English peas in three or four weeks. Perhaps a chance encounter with a nice Japanese eggplant might help fill the void...