Thursday, August 25, 2011

When It's Too Hot to Cook, Cook This.

GMO soybeans, feed corn, and sunflowers do not make a great meal...
Photo by Julie Traichel.

Living here in the middle of rural Northeast Missouri we don’t have access to the abundance of farmer’s markets like those of you who live in real live cities (my oh my, if you ever have the chance to visit the market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, do it – check out the photos here). If we were to eat truly local we'd be chewing on GMO soybeans and feed corn. But I digress...

The good news is that we do have a lot of great produce being grown here in the "Tri-communities" of Dancing Rabbit, Red Earth Farms and Sandhill Farm. We've gotten beets, carrots and potatoes from Sandhill, tomatoes from Nani here at DR and Jacob at Red Earth, gorgeous cucumbers and beets from Dan D., who also makes feta and mozzarella cheese. Garlic is available from the Ironweed Garden, we've scrounged hot peppers from Tom & Tereza, and are growing tons of our own basil and other herbs. Each year there are more gardens and gardeners producing more and more great vegetables. It is very exciting.

A few weeks ago we had a streak of record-setting almost-too-hot-to-live days (soaring into the high 90’s, with humidity to match). That kind of weather doesn’t exactly make one want to rush into the kitchen and turn on the oven. So I looked at the gorgeous produce we had waiting for us in our kitchen and went searching for recipies that didn’t involve a lot of cooking. Some ideas came from Mark Bittman, some ideas came from Lorna Sass, some I made up in my own little head.

Kurt and Alline dining at the Mercantile.

Here’s what we ate a lot of during the heat wave:

Roast beets whole (or boil them or buy them precooked), then slice or cube. Toss with a little chopped garlic (or a lot of roasted garlic), toasted walnuts, orange juice and olive oil.

Fast, grown-up potato salad: Boil bite-size red potatoes. While still warm, dress them with olive oil, lemon juice, whole grain mustard, capers and parsley.
boil bite-size potatoes (or new potatoes cut into bite-size pieces). In a separate skillet, sautee a couple cloves of garlic, chopped until it is fragrant. Toss potatoes with garlic and oil, a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Creamier Hummus
Instead of using garbonzo beans, cook some navy beans (or get a couple of cans of navy beans). Rinse and drain. Put the beans with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. If needed, add a bit more oil or lemon juice. Serve with pita bread or pita chips and raw veggies, with a handful of kalamata olives on the side. Speak with an unidentifiable accent and pretend you are somewhere exotic.

Nothing says summer like a plate of sliced tomatoes. Branch out from those plain old red ones – try the green, the yellow, the purple. You’ll be so glad you did!

Arrange sliced ripe tomatoes on a platter. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese. You can add some cukes and some fresh basil if you have some in your garden (I hope you do). Instead of feta, fresh mozzarella is great, too. Drizzle with a balsamic reduction*. You are going to be so darned impressed with yourself.

Grate about a pound of (peeled, organic) carrots. In a blender mix approximately 3 Tb. Sweet Mango Chutney, 3 Tb. lime juice, 2 Tb. peanut butter, 2-3 Tb. water, 1 teaspoon salt. In a large bowl toss the grated carrots with the dressing. Top with chopped cilantro and chopped roasted, salted peanuts. Recipe from The New Vegan Cookbook by Lorna Sass. **

Cold not-sesame noodles: Cook and cool noodles - udon, soba or even good old fettucine. In a blender or food processor combine about a half-cup peanut butter with a tablespoon soy sauce and enough coconut milk to make the mixture creamy (about a half cup), along with garlic and chili flakes. Toss sauce with cooked and cooled noodles, a load of mint, Thai basil, and/or cilantro, and lime juice. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Shredded cucumber and carrots optional.

Happy eating.

* How to make a balsamic reduction:
  1. Pour the balsamic vinegar into the pan. Use enough so that you allow for it to reduce by half--I like to reduce a whole liter of vinegar and keep it on hand.
  2. Heat the pan to high.
  3. Whisk briskly, even prior to boiling. Once it starts boiling, keep whisking constantly to prevent burning.
  4. Sprinkle in a tablespoon of sugar.
  5. Reduce by half, or until the vinegar takes on a syrupy quality.
  6. Allow to cool. You are gonna love this stuff.
** I love Lorna Sass. I first heard about her from a fabulous woman named Cathy who did recipe testing for Lorna. Cathy and her husband Neil came on a Sierra Club trip (hiking in Northern England). Conversation turned, as it often does, to books and food. One thing led to another and because of Cathy I found these innovative, easy-to-follow cookbooks. Do NOT be dissuaded by the word "vegan" on the cover. This only means that there is no cheese or eggs or pork chops. Step away from the dogma and check it out. You can always serve these vegan dishes on the side of a big juicy steak if you choose. Just sayin'.