We love to steam vegetables. Broccoli is one of our favorites: three minutes to bright-green, tender-but-still-satisfyingly-crunchy perfection. Until recently, we always steamed the spears but were never quite sure what to do with the stems. We typically tossed them away, which always felt like a waste, until one auspicious day when Matt suggested, “Why don’t we steam them, too?”
This turned out to be a brilliant idea. Now, we make broccoli-stem salad whenever we have broccoli in the house.
The recipe is simple: peel the stems with a potato peeler (or don’t — peeling isn’t strictly necessary, though it does make the stems more tender), slice them into coins, steam them for three minutes or to desired tenderness, and dress them in a mix of roughly two parts soy sauce, one part sesame oil, and red pepper flakes to taste.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, pickle those broccoli stems! I heard this idea in a podcast of my favorite food radio show, but haven’t had the chance to try it yet. If you whip up a batch, please let us all know what you thought of them!
[8/28/2010 - Update for folks looking for The Splendid Table pickled broccoli stems recipe: the pickle recipe above is from the NY Times. The Splendid Table recipe is from the Vegetable Inspirations segment of this episode featuring Martha Rose Shulman, who says,
"Peel the stems, slice them up into thin rounds, put them in a jar, put a half teaspoon of salt in that jar, shake it, put it in the refrigerator overnight, and then it will draw off the water. Pour that out and toss it with garlic, olive oil, and vinegar, and you've got a marinated broccoli stem or pickle that is so good... Everybody loves it."]
Laurie Colwin is one of my all-time favorite authors. She is a food writer and novelist beloved by almost all who find themselves with her books in their hands. Among her fans, a common sentiment is that reading her work is like spending time cozied around the kitchen table, sharing a pot of coffee and a plate of gingerbread with a warm, insightful, and funny true friend.
I first discovered Colwin through her novel Happy All The Time (a book rich in keen domestic and social detail — I’ve read it once a year for years now, I love it so much!). Other folks find her via her two collections of wonderful food essays: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (the latter published posthumously, after her early death in the 1990s). Even in the 1980s, Colwin was a strong advocate of local, organic foods and heirloom farmer’s market finds (like our eggplant, above). She was ahead of her time!
One of the most well-known pieces in Home Cooking is “Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant,” an account of Colwin’s culinary pursuits in her first Greenwich Village apartment, which was 7 x 20 feet, with only a small counter, mini refrigerator, and two-burner hot plate for a kitchen. It had no kitchen sink — all dishes were done in the bathtub. In this apartment, eggplant became Colwin’s go-to ingredient for whipping up A Dinner for One:
When I was alone, I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally. I fried it and stewed it, and ate it crisp and sludgy, hot and cold. It was cheap and filling and was delicious in all manner of strange combinations. If any was left over, I ate it cold the next day on bread.
Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.
I think of this essay fondly every time I pick up an eggplant. I imagine that, among her readers, this is not uncommon!
Every food subject Colwin chose — from flank steak to potato pancakes to homemade yogurt to chocolate cake — she wrote of with heart and wit and practicality. There is, I think, no better description of the feelings Colwin’s cookbooks evoke in her readers than these words of her own, excerpted from More Home Cooking:
Cookbooks hit you where you live. You want comfort; you want security; you want food; you want to not be hungry, and not only do you want those basic things fixed, you want it done in a really nice, gentle way that makes you feel loved. That’s a big desire, and cookbooks say to the person who’s reading them, “If you will read me, you will be able to do this for yourself and for others. You will make everybody feel better.”
All these things, her cookbooks do. So, go ahead. Find yourself a copy, and welcome Colwin into your cooking life. With her excellent company, you will never feel alone in the kitchen (with or without eggplant). Guaranteed.
For as long as I can remember, Sundays were my least favorite day of the week. For both me and Matt, they seemed to bring a particular restless ennui.
This year, we started a new weekly routine that revolutionized how we feel about Sundays. We decided to try mixing two things we love (NPR podcasts and Comedy Central talk shows) with two things we don’t (Sundays and cooking prep-work) to see if we could retrain our brains to associate “Sunday” with “goodness” — and it worked!
Here’s the routine:
We slice carrots and celery and radishes and cauliflower. We steam broccoli or brussels sprouts or kale or Swiss Chard. Sometimes we make rice. And then we’ve got snacks for the week!
We make homemade chicken stock, which is much easier than you’d think, and far more delicious. We take the meat off the cooked chicken. And then we’re set to make soup and chicken salad or enchiladas later on!
When that’s done, we make lunch. Today we made these, which are easy and quick and good. (We always add salsa, though, and often use broccoli slaw instead of cabbage.)
Sometimes, at that point, we’ll start a soup cooking, to eat up all week for lunch.
And then we take turns doing all the dishes and tidying up.
The routine takes the morning and into the early afternoon. All the while, we listen and listen. When our radio shows have wrapped, we bring in the laptop and stream our favorite late-night talk shows (this one, this one, and this one) as we work.
When all that’s finished, we’ve laughed a lot and have a clean kitchen full of good things to eat (and ready to cook) all week! And, for the first time in our lives, we are happy with Sundays.
For two people, this routine is great. Folks in other family configurations — with little ones, for example — might not find it a good fit, though I bet a variation would work!
If I could choose only one food to take with me to a desert island, that food would be red lentils. They are sweet and nutty and perfectly delicious! As a bonus, they are full of protein, fiber, and micronutrients; do not need to be soaked; and cook in 10-20 minutes. Red lentils sometimes hide out in the Mexican (Goya) or Indian sections of the grocery store, mysteriously sequestered from the other legumes — a best-kept secret for devotees, perhaps?
This recipe from Bon Appétit is our top, go-to red lentil dish. It comes together in a flash and is wonderfully flavorful. It’s a very thick stew — almost all the liquid is absorbed during cooking. We like to use Greek yogurt — also readily available in grocery stores these days — at the end to make the meal creamy and extra delightful.
Whip yourself up a batch — you will be happy you did!
Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew with Garbanzo Beans
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 14-ounce cans chicken or vegetable broth
1 large bunch or 2 small bunches Swiss chard, tough stalks removed, coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound red lentils (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
Plain or Greek yogurt
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 13 minutes. Mix in curry and cayenne. Add broth and chard. Increase heat; bring to boil. Add lentils and garbanzos; reduce heat to medium.
Cover; simmer until lentils are tender, stirring twice, about 10-15 minutes. Divide stew among bowls. Top with yogurt.