Learning to Love Vegetables All Over Again…

In an effort to eat healthier without “dieting” my husband and I have been talking a lot about vegetables. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t like vegetables. Well, here’s the funny thing, I have learned and I continue to learn it’s not that I don’t like them it’s that I don’t like how they are prepared most of the time. That’s actually true about most food. I love food. I love variety. I love marveling at the produce department imagining all the things I can make. That said I don’t cook many stand alone or vegetable focused main dishes. I don’t even make a ton of vegetable side dishes. There’s nothing I despise more than a pile of steamed veggies. This left me feeling frustrated and lost. Until now…

I am always digging through Amazon’s cookbooks and recently came across Joshua Mcfadden’s Six Seasons: A new way with vegetables. As if the title alone didn’t sell me on this cookbook learning more about Joshua made this a book I had to own. Having grown up in Wisconsin, then went to Le Cordon Blue in Portland, later landing jobs at prestigious places like Momofuku and Blue Hill, and now he runs his own restaurant in Portland. The description that most resinated with me though was “a chef with the soul of a farmer and the palate of a visionary…”

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Being that I live in farm country the seasonality of when vegetables grow has been eye opening. Sure if you only stick with the basic four seasons that’s a great understanding of when various things are in season. However, adding in Early Summer and Late Summer takes it to a more intimate understanding of the growing season. If I told you summer is great for Melons, Tomatoes, and Strawberries that would be true. What isn’t said is that Strawberries tend to be early summer and tomatoes are late summer all the way till fall hits. Knowing this will help you hone in on when produce is going to taste it’s absolute best. Great testing and vine ripened are essential to making vegetable dishes taste amazing.

I could easily tell you what to do with all your tomatoes. Heck I could point you in the right direction of a few things in the garden but there’s so much I just look at and am at a loss. For instance when I went to the farmers market last weekend there were snap peas everywhere but I didn’t buy any. It wasn’t that I started working with this cookbook that I developed a new approach. Now, I take this cookbook with me to the farmers markets and grocery stores every time I go shopping.

This last weekend I took it to the grocery store and looked for what there seemed to be an abundance of. I looked for anything that looked particularly “in season”. I happened to notice a large set up for Sugar Snap Peas. This didn’t seem very interesting to me but I was determined to try my strategy. I cracked open the cookbook and looked up Sugar Snap peas. This lead me to a recipe for Sugar Snap Pea and New Potato Salad with Crumbled Egg and Sardines. The picture had my mouth practically watering. The recipe was 6 ingredients and a couple herbs and spices. The instructions were 4 small paragraphs. This seemed too good to be true. I put my doubt aside and got everything I would need.

  • ½ pound Sugar Snap Peas
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 Lemons
  • ½ pound New Potatoes, quartered
  • 1 bunch Green Onions, trimmed and slice on an angle
  • 1 can Smoke Sardines (drained about 5 ounces)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes
  • 4 fl ounces Olive Oil
  • 4 soft cooked Eggs
  • 1 handful Mint Leaves, chopped

I thought about writing out the instructions as laid out in the cookbook but since I didn’t cook anything the way he had instructed I don’t want to speak to cooking techniques I have not tried.

Instead I am going to give you the gist and I am going to share what I did to achieve the result I got.

So the idea is simple. You’re making a potato salad. It can be slightly cold when serving but room temperature is even better. That being said you simply want to cook the potatoes any why you like them done but don’t over cook them. You don’t want them falling apart. In his recipe he doesn’t even cook the snap pea but instead pulls off the string and cuts them on a diagonal.

You throw the cooked potatoes and the snap peas in a large bowl. To that you add the zest and juice of the lemons,  some salt and pepper to taste, the green onions, sardines, and red pepper flakes, and toss. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to allow all the flavors to come together. Add the oil and toss well again. Finally add the eggs and mint and give it a good stir.

He does note that it may look too wet at first but the eggs and the potatoes will turn it tins a yummy sauce as you mash the potatoes as you eat the salad.

So why didn’t I cook it this way? Well, I was working on a lot other components to a different dish and didn’t want to add to the crazy. I needed this to be something easy and out of the way. My solution? Sous Vide! I recently purchased a Joule from Chesteps and LOVE IT! I used it to poach some eggs and to cook some squid for a salad. I thought this would be a great chance to try another idea; cook everything in the same water bath but simply add various parts at different times.

I set up my sous vide and made a vacuum sealed bag of the potatoes and one of the peas. I set the temperature to 185ºF. Once the water had come to temperature I added the potatoes and set a timer for 1 hour. When there was 20 minutes left I added the bag of peas (at this point they were left whole and I sliced them when they were done cooking). When it was down to 15 minutes I added the eggs. When the potatoes were done so were the peas and the eggs.

I divided my potatoes amongst the containers, sliced the peas and divided them as well, peeled  and sliced the eggs (which where were more hardboiled but I knew that would be the case and I was OK with that) dividing them into the containers, and then drained the sardines and divided them up as well. In a large bowl I added the lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, mint, and oil. I whisked it into a emulsification and dressed the individual salads. I then seasoned them with salt and pepper.

Every day at lunch time I set two containers on the counter to come to temperature and at dinner I shake them aggressively to help re-emusify the dressing and break up the egg, sardine, and potatoes. Then we simply eat it right out of the container. The peas are bright and have a great snap to them. They are cooked enough to not have the “raw” taste but instead just taste like really great crunchy snap peas. The potatoes have a really nice bite and chew to them. They don’t fall apart but they also don’t have any hard spots. The egg and sardine offer a nice contrast in flavor and the dressing is bright with a little zing to it.

(I should also mention that we made this into 10 small servings. To do so we upped the potatoes and the peas to 1 pound each. I also added an extra lemon.)

I enjoyed this dish so much so that when my husband is out of town this week I am going to make it again and have it as one of my meals for the week. Now, I will look forward to the time of year when Snap Peas are in season!

This recipe has me so jazzed about the balance of flavor with an emphasis on vegetables but not completely forgoing meat protein that I can’t wait to see what the next discovery will be! It’s also kind of fun that I have no idea what dinner will be for the coming week until I am walking the aisles of the produce department or the farmers market.

So if you have struggled to find a love affair with vegetables and are tired of the mundane this is a cookbook that I would say needs to work it’s way into your kitchen!

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