What I’m cooking: August 2019

What I’m cooking

It is absolutely peak vegetable season in the northeast, friends. Day after day of fresh fruit and glorious lunches that practically make themselves. Here are a few favorites.

When I get my hands on an eggplant, I usually cube it, salt and drain it, and then plunk it into either a tomato sauce (for a ratatouille-style dish) or a garlicky soy sauce for a stirfry-style dish). It never occurred to me that eggplant on its own would make a beautiful pasta sauce. I can’t stop making this very easy stovetop eggplant pasta.

If you want stirfry-style eggplant dish and don’t mind popping the oven on, Smitten Kitchen’s take on black pepper tofu eggplant turned out great. (If you don’t want to the turn the oven on, you can do it all stovetop–but I like being able to walk away and do something else.)

Earlier in the spring, after a few good rounds of slow cooker red beans and rice, I started relearning to love white rice. I’d been avoiding it for years for no reason other than a vague “eat this not that” idea that brown rice contains more nutrients. As it turns out, that’s not the full story–but I’m not here to make a nutritional case for white rice. I am here to tell you that a fluffy base of white rice is delicious and makes a superior vehicle for saucy vegetable braises, like kale or collards in peanut sauce, or cauliflower vindaloo, or the tex-mex thing.

I made the tex-mex thing for my cousins when they were in town, and they raved and wanted a recipe. There isn’t one, per se, but this is what I sent my neighbor when she asked the same thing years ago. It’s a kitchen sink kind of meal–pretty much anything that grows in July and August can go into it, in any amount that pleases you.

Ingredients: rice; onions (or shallots or scallions); seasoning (any combination of paprika, cumin, cayenne, or chipotle); tomatoes (chopped, cherry, or tinned); medium cook-time vegetables (chopped carrots, broccoli, green beans, or zucchini); quick cook-time vegetables (corn off the cob, canned black beans, tender greens like spinach or sprouts). Optional: diced potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Start a pot of rice.
Heat oil in the skillet. Sautee minced onions until translucent.
If using diced potatoes, coat potatoes with seasoning and add to onions. Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes start to brown.
If using fresh tomatoes, add them (and add seasoning, if you haven’t already). Stir and cover. Cook on high heat until tomatoes start to break down.
Add medium-cook-time veg. Stir, cover, and cook until they start to get soft.
Add quick cook-time veg. Add tinned tomatoes if using tinned instead of fresh. Add additional seasoning if necessary. Add a splash of water or stock if your tomatoes aren’t making enough juice to keep the veg from sticking to the pan. Stir and cover.
After quick cook time veg has been in the pan for a minute, and all the other veg is soft enough to poke with a fork, turn the heat off.
Serve with rice when rice is done. Top with cheese, sour cream, or avocado if desired.

What I’m looking forward to cooking

The other day I dropped by A. C. Moore to look for supplies for my Halloween costume. (Yes, I am already planning one.) I was wearing a tank top and sandals, my skin was sticky–and since I had no place particular to be, I reveled in the late summer sultriness. But I shivered with glee as I walked among aisles of craft store pumpkins and dried twig arrangements and multicolored leaves. Halloween is coming. Summer is not yet over. Who says we can’t have it all?

So even though I can and will enjoy summer produce throughout September, even though I am not really ready for the apples and pears that are already coming into the markets, I’m also thinking about squash and cider. Before that happens, though, I have a few summer last-hurrahs to plan for. I’ll be joining my pickling pals for a canstravaganza with green beans, cucumbers, and carrots on the menu. I’ll also be having some friends over for games, and while I’m not sure what lazy slow-cooker or stove-top meal I will make for them, I anticipate a pitcher of stone fruit sangria spiked with the brandy I infused with July’s cherries.

What I’m writing

It has been a gorgeous summer of drinks with friends, walking home in thunderstorms, and escaping to the shore on weekends–and thus it was a real challenge to keep up with my summer writing course. I muddled through, though, and somehow it’s almost time for my fall writing courses to begin. I’m feeling very back-to-school about it, as though one week from now I’ll be an entirely different person, eager and dedicated instead of indolent and indulgent.

At my book blog–because it is related to my literary studies–I wrote about my artichoke tattoo, which stirred up all kinds of nostalgic and melancholy feelings. I’ve previously posted about my artichoke-cooking adventures on this blog, capturing the moment in time when I was finishing my dissertation while scraping together a living in part-time work–including a job at the Reading Terminal Market, where I could buy a bag of artichokes for a dollar at certain times of year. In those days, I cooked mainly to stretch my dollars (and food supplies); that meant I spent more time on kitchen labor, and I did depend on such routines to keep me grounded during a period of financial hardship and depression. Even so, it did feel unbelievably decadent to make myself a fleet of stuffed artichokes that could be reheated individually and enjoyed alone when I got home from work or writing. I made them for my gentleman friend once too; he observed the labor-intensive cooking process and called them “vegetarian lobster.”

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