Veggin' Out
January 4, 2004

The morning after I posted my last entry it hailed in San Francisco. Not quite the stuff, Ma Nature, but I appreciate the effort.

After I did a whole piece on meat -- leaving beef out, my mother duly noted -- I thought a follow-up on vegetables was in good order. Also, since I unfairly enticed Sars with Bakula's ribs, I thought I could mention a bunch of the veggie-only dishes I've been making lately. AND, there's a challenge at the end!

Children of the Corn

Throughout my Picky Years, only two vegetables would pass my lips: artichokes and corn. To this day I am so in love with corn that if I ever went on a veg-clusive diet, I'd eat only corn and more corn. I'd call it "The Corn Diet."

Whether the ears are in season or out, niblets are frozen or fresh, I make this corn dish that I'll eat for days on end. Let's work with fresh corn since that's what I've been using recently.

I slice up some shallots and let them macerate in sherry vinegar or a mixture of champagne and zinfandel vinegar -- plain old white and red wine vinegar will do just fine -- while I prepare the corn. Holding the husked corn ear at an angle on a board (or in a shallow bowl, if you like), I start in the middle of the cob and scrape down in one stroke. I repeat the process all around so half the cob is naked. Next, I turn the cob around and go the other way. If you start halfway up the cob, instead of trying to slice all the way down from top to bottom, you get less corn bouncing around your kitchen and cats chasing them thinking they are tartar-control treats and getting under your feet making you fall down with a big, sharp knife.

At least that's how I view it.

I throw the corn into a skillet and start to warm it very gently over medium heat. When the corn is warm, I add chopped garlic and toss it around a bit. If you want, you can sauté the garlic in some olive oil -- one or two tablespoons -- and then add the corn. While the corn is still in the skillet over gentle heat, I add the shallots and the vinegar and stir until everything comes to the same temperature. At this point, you can go crazy with other additions. In the past, I've added cherry and grape tomatoes, a few previously roasted potatoes, crumbled goat cheese, squirts of lime as well as the zest, chopped thyme or rosemary, and, most recently, cubes of avocado and hearts of artichokes. It's all good.

All I Can Do Is Leave Them On My Plate Like Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest

I've been trying and trying and TRYING to like brussels sprouts, but it's been a bitter battle. I once held the belief that any recipe that had bacon in it couldn't be anything but good...well, not quite. Case in point, I sampled some brussels sprouts that I oven-roasted with ham, parmesan cheese, garlic, and lemon juice. Mathra liked them but they were still far too strong for me. Finally, after a few other failed attempts (I don't think drowning the little marbles in Velveeta-ish cheese is quite the answer), I consulted Alice Waters. Via her Vegetables book, of course. She didn't let me down. In a spare paragraph that assumes the cook knows exactly what she's doing in the kitchen and therefore doesn't really need measurements, Waters talks about separating the leaves from the brussels sprouts, sautéeing them briefly over high heat in a bit of olive oil (I used one tablespoon) with pinches of salt and pepper, adding thinly sliced red onion and a pinch of hot pepper flakes (we have homemade stuff, straight from Springfield, VA), sautéeing until the leaves are slightly browned and tender, and then adding minced garlic off heat. During the preparation of the sprouts, you have naturally been boiling pasta. Waters suggests farfalle, orrechiette, or penne because they are "sturdy dry" pastas. Orrechiette she specifically likes because "it has the same size and shape as the brussels sprouts leaves." We used Campanelle, which is very cute mini trumpet-like pasta. Once the pasta is done, a squirt of lemon juice finishes the sprouts and the cooked pasta is put into the pan and tossed with the contents. You can add a drizzle of very good extra virgin olive oil to finish the dish (we use a Provençal oil from Maussane-les-Alpilles in les Baux) and then just serve. It was incredible! Just the simple (although slightly time-consuming) act of separating the leaves made the sprouts so much sweeter and tastier. Waters notes that toasted bread crumbs can be added to the dish, but I found that unnecessary since the sprouts I got are in prime season and full of their true and ultimate flavor.

That Little Bit of je ne sais quinoa

Pronounced keen-wah, this grain has been popping up in my reading for over a year now and I JUST got around to making it. The Food Network calls it the "supergrain of the future," and while I looked for the Hall of Justice grain in my local Albertsons, I managed to find it at the Trader Joe's on Geary and Masonic. And it sat in my cupboard for a few more months. But then the excesses of Christmas -- mussels, Dungeness crab, and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses for the Eve; apple and shiitake mushroom stuffed pork loin with cider sauce, braised endive, roasted cipollini onions, baby artichokes, and trumpet mushrooms for the Day -- and New Year's Eve -- Clam Dip, brie with champignons, and pâté -- made me realize that maybe, just maybe, our livers, kidneys and hearts (not to mention waistlines) could use a little help.

Entereth quinoa.

I followed a recipe that called for leeks and tomatoes, and I had the leeks but not so much with the tomatoes. First, I made the quinoa the night before, covered it with plastic wrap, and chilled it in the fridge. The next day, I softened finely diced leeks in a dab of butter, added 1/4 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock can be used instead), covered the saucepan, and let the leeks soften a bit more. Once most of the stock had simmered away, the pre-made quinoa was added to the leeks. The recipe called for three more tablespoons of olive oil to be added along with sliced scallions and tomatoes at this point as well, however, I decided that the scallions seemed sort of Asian so I substituted sesame oil for olive and added a few dashes of soy sauce. The effect was like fried rice without the fried or the rice. In other words, it was amazing. The quinoa cooks up faster than rice and after a night in the fridge, it's nice and firm. The Non-Fried Rice Quinoa spent yet another night in the fridge as leftovers and all the flavors melded and made for a completely delicious lunch the next day. I didn't even miss the pork, chicken, shrimp, or egg normally in Chinese fried rice.

Dudes, you gotta try this. I'm superserious.

And for those of you not eating meat and needing other sources for protein, quinoa is amazing for that as well. It's a complete protein, which means it has all eight essential amino acids that you normally get from eating animal flesh -- I can say that because I like animal flesh -- as well as being an excellent source of fiber. Specifically, 1/2 cup of quinoa contains 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

So, I'm contemplating the bluish-green water I throw out after steaming artichokes and I remember that they make an artichoke liqueur called Cynar. It's based on Vermouth but it's infused with artichokes. That's really interesting considering how acidic artichokes are. In fact, when serving wine with artichokes you can totally get away with serving an almost undrinkable dry white because anything after artichokes will definitely taste sweeter. Odd when you think how buttery and decadent the hearts taste. And I mean the actual hearts harvested when you steam a whole globe artichoke not those overly preserved things you can buy in cans or jars or even the frozen bags. Those really aren't the hearts I like.

Ah, corns and artichokes, that's truly the vegetable me.

Challenge: As I already mentioned, I really, really, REALLY want to like brussels sprouts but so far, I've found just the one dish (the Alice Waters recipe) that convinces me the sprouts aren't noxious little stink-bombs. Send me recipes to and in this, the brussels sprouts season, I will taste-test as many as I can and tell you if I'm in love with the sprout from Belgium yet. Unlike Sars, I can't offer you all any swag (because I don't think this site is really THAT popular) but I can offer you relative fame here on The Grub Report.

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