Vegetables are one of life’s persistent problems. I wish I ate more of them. You wish you ate more of them. Everybody wishes everybody ate more of them. Because everybody knows that if you eat more veggies you will be so full of vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids, antioxidants, fiber, micronutrients and various wonder-doohickeys that your outsides will sparkle like a flower in a sunbeam!
Similarly, your insides – your various arteries, ventricles and gastrointestinal bits – will be as clean and healthy as if they’d been scrubbed with magical bubbles. And we all know that children who eat plentifully from life’s veggie tray bounce through life so strong, happy and healthy that their very inner organs are liable to rise up and present us with parent-of-the-year awards. Ah, the promise of vegetables!
And then, sadly, there is reality. It’s a Sunday afternoon. You arrive at the grocery store with 42 minutes for the weekly shopping. As you stand in the produce aisle, the cauliflower, carrots and various clumps of green stuff look about as edible as shoes. You push your cart down the aisle, looking for inspiration, but find only questions: What are Jerusalem artichokes, anyway? Napa cabbage sure looks pretty – but is it any good? Kale’s on sale. Well, good for kale, but if it wants to leave the store, it better learn to talk and start telling people what to do with it, or it’s going to live a long and lonely shelf life.
By the time you get home, defeat sets in: Your resolution to eat more veggies and to sparkle like flowers in sunbeams has come to naught.
You’ve brought home the usual suspects: baby carrots, frozen peas, precut salad. If you’re already bored, what are the chances your kids will be, too?
Despair no more! Barbara Kafka, with Christopher Styler, has published a book to connect the dots between your desire to fill your family full of healthy vegetables and your ability to actually do so. Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks (Artisan, 2005) is a cross between a veggie encyclopedia (how to buy, store and cook vegetables from artichokes to zucchini) and an intuitive, easy-to-use cookbook with – counting variations and basics – nearly a thousand recipes for getting veggies on the table.
Yes, I said one thousand. Kafka has developed these recipes over a lifetime of cooking, cookbook writing, mothering and grandmothering. “Don’t listen to people who say children won’t eat vegetables,” she says. “Children will eat vegetable soups without even knowing that they’re vegetables, for one thing. Start them with vegetable purées, or vegetables cut into sticks that fit right into their tiny mitts. Make vegetables a part of normal life, and they won’t even think about it.”
But what if they do think about it? “All kids say ‘yuck’ sometimes,” Barbara tells me, “but if they see you eating well, they will be more likely to do so. And you’ll say ‘yuck’ sometimes, too. You can be honest and say: ‘I don’t really like this either, but I thought we’d try it. You don’t have to eat it, but for the sake of having more experiences in our life, we’ll keep on trying new things.'”
Her new book is designed to be the bridge that creates that experience, that allows you to go from wishing you ate more vegetables and wanting to try something new, to actually doing so. “Keep in mind that vegetables can be more than healthy,” Barbara says. “They can be an exciting experience. People who don’t eat fully and well don’t get as much joy out of life.”
Are joy and know-how the things we need to transform vegetables from something we know we should eat more of, to something we actually do eat more of? I’m putting my copy of Vegetable Love in my car to take to the grocery store, and am fervently hoping so.
Prepare these two recipes from Vegetable Love at the same time, and you can get both vegetable side dishes onto the table with a minimum of fuss. Be sure to position your oven racks correctly – the squash must go on the top rack, tomatoes on the center one. Start the squash, then put the tomatoes in 20 minutes later.
Roasted Yellow Squash in a Mint Bath
- 4 medium yellow summer squash (2 pounds), trimmed, cut across in half, and each half cut lengthwise into four pieces, seeds scooped out.
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves, chopped medium-fine
- 1 tsp. kosher saltPlace a rack in the top of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.Check the slices of squash to see that the pieces are no longer than 5 by 11/4 inches. Any larger, and the squash will not cook evenly; trim as necessary.In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, oil, mint and salt. Pour into a 14-by-12-by-2-inch pan. Arrange the squash in the pan, with the thinner pieces in the center of the pan and the larger pieces around the edges so that the squash fits tightly and doesn’t leave a lot of surface space showing. Roll the squash in the mixture. Roast 30 minutes.
Use a fork or a spatula to turn the squash pieces over. Roast 15 minutes more. Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature.
Serves six to eight as part of a first course or as a side dish.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Basil
- 11/2 pounds medium to large cherry tomatoes, stemmed (about 4 cups)
- 11/2 tbs. olive oil
- Scant 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 tbs. fresh basil leaves, stacked four or five at a time, rolled up and thinly sliced across
- 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled (optional)Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.Place the tomatoes in the smallest pan that will hold them comfortably. Drizzle the oil over them. Rub the oil over the tomatoes and pan. Sprinkle with the salt. Roast 10 minutes. Shake the pan to move the tomatoes around.Roast 15 minutes more.
Add the basil and toss lightly. Serve warm.
Serves three as a side dish.
Recipes from Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks (Artisan, 2005) by Barbara Kafka with Christopher Styler.
Potage of Turnip and Carrot
Makes six and a half servings
- 1 medium floury potato (8 ounces), peeled and cut in 1-inch dice (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium-large turnip (10 ounces) trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
- 3 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and sliced crosswise in 1/2-inch rounds (about 2 cups)
- 1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 medium stalks celery, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 cups roughly chopped parsley
- 1 heaping tbs. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. celery seeds
- 1 tbs. unsalted butter (optional)
Put all the vegetables except the parsley in a 4-quart saucepan. Add 4 cups water. Cover and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the parsley and simmer 10 minutes more.
Pass all the vegetables and liquid through a food mill fitted with a medium disc. (At this point, the soup can be stored, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.)
Return the soup to the pan. Add the celery seeds and heat through. Remove from the heat. If using the butter, stir it in. Serve immediately.