Unloved Veggies: Eggplant

At the market yesterday I spotted a riot of beautiful, colorful, almost chocolate-hued eggplants and brought home…several. My husband took one look at this (artfully arranged) aubergine convention on the counter and said, “I will eat one meal with that.”

A lot of people feel this way about eggplant. In fact, we’ve had more requests for eggplant help than any other veggie. Many vow that this is the one item in the CSA share that will always be left on the “trade” table. Far be it for me to tell people what they should like, but I’ll try to suggest some preparations that might pique your interest in this very versatile vegetable.

Eggplants come in many varieties. At the market you may spot them in shades of the deepest purple or edging closer to lavender; you can find shapes that are akin to that of zucchini squash and also squat, stout ones. (Ask your farmers to tell you about the ones they grow!) You, like me, might buy them for their sheer aesthetic qualities, and then wonder what you could possibly make with it that your family members will actually eat.

Eggplant’s meaty texture adds great volume and depth to a dish. (Having said that, I think one complaint is the eggplant is mushy – solve that problem by cooking it briefly or gently or just not too much.) I like it best with strong flavors – smoky or garlicky and especially anything that includes tomatoes and tomato sauce. (You’ll find endless ideas for eggplant by exploring Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.)

Eggplant easily adapts to any flavor profile – to me it’s one of those “canvas” veggies that you can project anything onto.

A friend who has spent a good deal of time in Spain suggests grilling eggplant whole and unpeeled on top of smoldering coals (not on the grill grates – right on the coals! You need to use hardwood lump charcoal for this – not regular charcoal). I love this because it involves no actual prep work – no slicing or oiling or anything. My kind of prep.

You could also grill-roast the eggplant for baba ganoush.

Where I grew up, lots of Greek families run family-style restaurants (“Coney Islands,”) where you can find homemade moussaka on the menu alongside Coney dogs (“coneys”), Greek salads, burgers and all-day breakfast. Greek cuisine is also known for vegetarian variations like this one.

We had big plans to grill a bunch of things tonight in preparation for weeknight meals, including eggplant – and we plumb ran out of time and energy. (True story: we went out for gyros.) But I wanted to prep this pile o’aubergines on the counter for use later. I like adding roasted eggplant chunks in a quick pasta meal, for instance, and if it’s already cooked that’s a bonus. Also, if I didn’t roast them tonight (remember, my kitchen counter held enough to feed a family of 12) I might not make them at all. Worst case, I can roast and freeze them, because in the middle of January I love being able to pull summer veggies out of the freezer for lasagna.

Before roasting, I like to pull out some of the moisture in the eggplant by sprinkling it with salt (let it sit for 30-60 minutes before roasting – the photo above shows just how much water gets pulled to the surface when you do that). Right now, I have a casserole dish of roasted eggplant slices ready to go into a quick weekday dinner

Eggplant is a fantastic vegetable to layer in lasagna; you could also make a beautiful eggplant terrine with zucchini and feta (that’s late summer in a dish, right there). It is a team player in any kind of casserole.

I tend to get a bit myopic when it comes to eggplant, focusing on the westernized menus. But eggplant actually came from the east, and there are no shortage of options when you look for uses in Asian cuisines. This stir-fry is on my list to try. The food writer Mark Bittman intriguingly suggests that you microwave (quick and easy! Not soggy!) eggplant in this south Indian curry.  Since we are in the quick-and-easy vein, try this 30-minute curry from Rachael Ray.

Let’s hope I managed to make this unloved veggie a little more enticing.

Enjoy!

Summer Fizzy Drinks: Spirited Version

This post was largely inspired by the Briar Patch cocktail, and the blackberry-chile syrup that is responsible for the bulk of its flavor (101 Cookbooks). It is everything good about summer, to my mind: fresh, sweet (but not too sweet), hot (but not too too hot), fruity and fizzy, and as boozy (or not) as you want. The cocktail, which originally called for blackberry simple syrup, features bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters (plus egg white if you like it shaken and foamy — I don’t, so I leave it out). It’s riff on a Maple Leaf, I suppose, with a smoky-hot twist!

 

This is just one of many cocktails that you can make using local berries and herbs; if you haven’t thought to make your own syrups or infusions before, we have some suggestions for getting started!

Some recent posts I’ve been admiring on this subject:

by Stacey Spensley (via Flickr)

From Food and Wine, the Garden Elixir features cilantro and celery in variation of the gin martini. They also add green Chartreuse, apple juice, and lime juice to bump up the green. Don’t worry if you don’t keep Chartreuse on hand; it’s very distinctive and certainly adds to this cocktail, but it’ll be delicious without it as well. I’d definitely go with a little fizz on this one, maybe using lime soda instead of the lime juice, but it’s up to you.

 

Pepino’s Revenge, also from Food and Wine (via Wolfgang Puck) uses cucumber and basil in a margarita-like tequila cocktail — SO refreshing on a hot day!

 

via Pexels.com

From The Spruce, try a blueberry martini!! Making the juice is as simple as blending the berries (no need to strain, unless you want the juice to be clear).

Or try their Garden Patch Smash, which combines tequila, blueberries, raspberry-lavender syrup, lime, and lavender soda.

And, we couldn’t leave out the tomatoes… and neither could Serious Eats. They have a wonderful fresh tomato martini that absolutely wouldn’t be the same without that perfect local tomato. The recipe calls for tomato and vodka blended together, and then strained gently but thoroughly to yield clear tomato-flavored vodka. To 3 oz of this, you add 1/2 t. dry vermouth, and 1/4 t. white wine vinegar. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. It’s a bit unusual, but so summery and delicious.

Why not experiment with your cocktail recipes, and include some local ingredients? Let us know if you have a favorite!

 

 

 

Market Menu: July 22!

What’s available this week at the Bloomington market?

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.

Tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers, beans, onions, potatoes…

This is the point in the year where the cooler-weather crops like greens begin to drop out for a while, the hens might stop laying for a bit, and the turnips get a nice spicy bite to them. HEAT!

I don’t know why, but I’ve started stir-frying everything I can get my hands on. Even kohlrabi, which I’ve only recently started enjoying. It’s fast and flexible, and if you add potatoes you can even skip the rice (and the second burner). So this week’s menu includes some easy stir-fry sauces and veg combos, along with a selection of cold salads and sandwich spreads. Enjoy all that local produce, and remember your farmers! Their workplace isn’t air-conditioned, and the rain has been hard to come by (though sweat is plentiful, in this weather!).

Sweet and Sour stir-fry sauce:

This is one I grew up with, and it’s so simple I’ve never forgotten.  1 part red or white wine vinegar, 1 part sugar. Mix and add to stir-fry when everything is just a little bit under-done. Stir to mix (and make sure that the sugar is dissolved). Separately, mix about 1 Tbs of cornstarch with about 1/2 c. COLD water. Bring your stir-fry up in temp so that the liquid is boiling (if it isn’t already), and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir and keep the heat on, until it thickens. Reduce heat to low and let stand (covered or uncovered) for about 10 minutes.

Thai Green Curry sauce:

This one makes use of green curry paste, which can be found at asian supermarkets and Meijers, and maybe soon at local groceries? I’ll keep an eye out, but let me know if you see it! This is the stuff in the small short can or small jar, not the large jars meant for simmering as-is. Again, once your mix of vegetables and protein are just under-done, mix about 2 Tbs curry paste and a can of coconut milk or about 1 c. yogurt, and add to the pan. If you’re using yogurt, it will break — but keep stirring, and it will start looking better (and it doesn’t affect the taste at all). Let simmer for 5-10 minutes on medium.

And, from Sweet Peas and Saffron, recipes for 7 sauces that you can make ahead, and even FREEZE!!

Pesky Veg?

Here are a few ideas for what to do with some of the less obvious seasonal vegetables:

Kohlrabi – you can eat them raw! Peel and cube, and keep in the fridge for snacks. Or blanch and freeze for later. I also hear you can sub or add them into any dish that calls for carrots or potatoes.

Eggplant – my favorite way to enjoy them is grilled or baked with lots of garlic. Slice them in half lengthwise, cut several slits in the skin and stuff a clove of garlic in, and roast at around 400F. When they’re soft inside (maybe 30 minutes?), remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the middle (including that garlic!) and puree in the blender or food processor with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Delicious. Or use this recipe from Smitten Kitchen 🙂

By the way, Smitten Kitchen,  101 Cookbooks and Food52 are pretty much my first go-to sites for recipe ideas. Especially the first two, when dealing w/ seasonal vegetables.  Check them out if you’re ever in a pinch!

Market Menu: July 15!

Can you believe it’s mid-July already? So many weeks of the market, it’s hard to keep track without having a calendar handy. So we’re switching to dates in the title instead of week numbers.

I visited the farmer’s market in the adorable town of Port Townsend, WA last weekend, and there were some noticeable differences in available produce: cooler-weather crops like fava beans and radishes (since it’s still in the 50s-70s there!), and a large variety of currants. Market day was a “hot” one, which meant upper 70s, possibly low 80s in the sun. Dry as can be, though, which was a nice contrast to our current weather of 90+ F and 90+ humidity! The currants were lovely, and I might have been tempted to grab some and make a quick pot of jam, except that I knew there were currants waiting in the Refuge Food Forest here in Normal!

 

Back in Bloomington-Normal, our extended heat through July-August means several things for your weekly local farm and garden haul:

  • chickens may slow down or stop laying for a bit when it’s this hot, so you may have to ration those eggs!
  • cilantro and basil in your gardens will likely bolt, sending out seed heads that you can save and replant, or let nature do its thing and replant them for you.
  • lettuces are going to bolt as well; without a hoop house to keep the temperatures low, farmers can’t grow lettuce in this kind of heat. Give it some time, and you can replant in the fall.
  • provided they get sufficient water, your tomatoes are going to be happy and ripe!
  • chile peppers of all varieties are going to start coming with a fury! they love the heat, and give it right back to you in flavor 🙂

In addition to the Saturday morning market, you can also find local produce at Common Ground in downtown Bloomington, and Green Top Grocery just east of downtown on Washington Street. And just this week, Browns’ Produce opened their farmstand on Brown Street just off of West Market — be sure to stop by!

This Week’s Menu:

I’m feeling like salads day and night right now, and other things that are FAST and require little tending on the stove. Here are a few of my favorites:

Slightly Savory Granola – an unusual granola recipe from the NY Times, made with olive oil! It’s a tad addictive, especially with yogurt. I used to buy Traderspoint Creamery yogurt in Indianapolis, but haven’t found a new local favorite yet — recommendations always welcome!

Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza – From Smitten Kitchen, and a perfect way to use those ever-growing zucchini, and the amazing chevre from Prairie Fruits Farm

Beet Salad w/ Plums and Goat Cheese – From Bon Appetit. Peaches would be just as delicious, of course.

Summer Pasta with Olives, Roasted Peppers and Capers – Also from Bon Appetit. It’s a warm dish, but it honestly is just as good served cold as a pasta salad.

Eggy Polenta w/ Mushrooms – From The Kitchn, and a great way to incorporate local grain (corn — I know, not technically a grain) and mushrooms AND eggs! I’d be inclined to use those gorgeous duck eggs I’ve been seeing lately at the market… they’d be delicious!

Chicken Meatballs and Polenta – There are a number of different variations on this recipe; I like chicken instead of turkey, and kale makes a nice addition at the end to plate with the dish.

Spicy Coleslaw w/ Cumin-Lime Dressing – Bobby Flay’s NOT-creamy coleslaw is hot and delicious!

Cumin-Scented Black Rice and Quinoa – This recipe from Bon Appetit takes a little time to cook (the grains cook separately), but once made, it’s easy to reheat and enjoy through the week. You can add chunks of sweet potato, some greens and a little tahini dressing, and you’ve got a quick meal.

Is it gazpacho season yet? Are you drowning in tomatoes? If not yet, I’ll put this here for later. I generally make Mollie Katzen’s version, which is full of veg and herbs, but I’ve also posted the NY Times version above. Regardless of which recipe you use, make sure to let it rest in the fridge for a few hours before serving; the flavors take a little time to develop.

Putting Up, Putting Away, Saving for Later: Freezer Edition

Now that summer is REALLY here, you might start to feel a bit overwhelmed by all this fresh produce, and concerned about your ability to use it right away?

This post is all about freezing some of that harvest for later — whether that’s next week, next month, or mid-winter. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to save fresh produce, and requires the least amount of equipment.

I use my Food Saver vacuum/sealing machine quite often in late summer and fall, but you can effectively pack produce for the freezer without a machine. Simply buy the bags intended for sealing machines, use a tea towel and an iron to seal the bags (cotton setting), carefully pressing the extra air out first with your hand or a small pillow. Be sure to put the towel between the bag and your iron, or risk having the plastic stick to your iron!

 

What to Freeze?
Some things freeze well, others less so. In general, you have to plan for a loss of texture: vegetables will be less crisp (if at all), fruit will get a bit soft. But if you’re going to cook your items after freezing, you’ll hardly notice the difference. So consider freezing things that you’ll use later to make jam, pie, soup, or stir-fries.

How to Freeze?
Vegetables require blanching first, to slow breakdown. This chart provides a great overview of techniques and times. Make sure to get your fruit or veg dry before freezing, and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet or plate (once frozen, seal in bags or other containers). I’ve skimped on this single-layer step before, when I plan on making jam with berries within a few weeks — to no ill effect.

Fruits:

  • Berries freeze very well. Trim off stems, wash and sort through, picking out any that aren’t ripe or are rotted or otherwise not great. You can spread them on a tray in the freezer and bag later, or just bag. When ready to use, just put out on the counter for a few hours. If you’re making jam or pies, top the berries with the sugar you’ll be using in the recipe. It’ll soak in while the berries are thawing.
  • Peaches and Plums do well, but be sure to wash and trim off any bruised spots first, and cut in half and remove the pit.
  • Similarly with apples, clean and trim as necessary first. If you have one of those old-fashioned looking hand-crank peeler/corer/slicers, they’re excellent for getting apples ready for applesauce or pies later.

Vegetables:

  • If you like to make stock for soup, you can freeze the trimmings from your vegetables until you’re ready to make the stock. Just add to a plastic bag over time.
  • Onions, celery and peppers don’t freeze particularly well, but I’ve washed and chopped them up and frozen for use within a month or two. Drying is better for preserving their flavor, though.
  • Broccoli, green beans, and brussels sprouts can all be frozen after washing and trimming, and cutting to whatever size you’ll want to cook them in.

Fresh Herbs:

  • hardier/woodier herbs:  freeze in ice cubes (rosemary, thyme, tarragon)
  • more delicate herbs: freeze in olive oil as a paste (basil, cilantro, also garlic scapes!) Put in food processor with olive oil and garlic, salt & pepper — no cheese or nuts, though; add those after thawing, if desired. Put the paste into silicone ice cube trays and freeze, then remove and seal in freezer bag.

Prepping meals:

  • burritos – super-easy! Get all your ingredients together, make individual burritos, wrap with parchment and store in plastic bags.
  • breakfast burrito bowls – similar to above; scrambled eggs, cooked sausage, salsa, cheese, etc. all work well!
  • bread (sliced) – thaw on the counter or in the fridge for several hours before trying to use, unless toasting right away
  • quickbreads & muffins – thaw on the counter or in the fridge for several hours, or thaw and warm in the oven at low temp
  • soups (keep it EASY — saute or roast your favorite veggie, add aromatics, add broth, stick blend, freeze in freezer bags

Prepping Ingredients for Easier Meals Later:

  • Mirepoix (chopped carrots, celery, and onions) – you’ll lose the crunch, but it’s very handy for a stormy day when you don’t want to leave the house to stock up.
  • Eggs – did you know that you could freeze eggs, either whole or separately as whites and yolks?!  If you find yourself with extra whites after making a custard, or extra yolks after making macarons, follow the instructions from the American Egg Board for freezing. Just be sure to label the whites, if you’re freezing them individually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled a small jar out of the freezer, thinking it was egg whites, and it turned out to be lemon juice!
  • Grains like wheat berries, farro and rice freeze quite well after cooking. They can be really useful to have on hand for cooking during a busy work week, if you cook and freeze in portions before hand.
  • Marinara – this is one of my favorite things about fall; make up a giant batch of marinara, freeze in 2 c. portions in freezer bags, and stock that freezer! You’ll never buy jarred marinara again!

What else have you frozen (and thawed) successfully? We’d love to hear from you!

 

For the Love of a Local Tomato

I’ve been known to slice up a tomato from my garden or the market, sprinkle with sugar, and eat them like the fruit they are (botanically speaking). Or, I might splash them with a little olive oil and balsamic, tear up a gob of mozzarella cheese, and maybe some basil if the garden is cooperating (that is, not sending the basil bolting into spikes of seed heads). Or if I have quite a quantity and fear that they’ll break down before we can finish them, I’ll toss them in the blender with a little vinegar and seasonings, and call it gazpacho. However you slice it, though, the local tomato is revered around my house.

Why is it that these tomatoes taste so completely different from the tomatoes at the grocery store? Even the ones sold as “vine-ripened” still don’t taste anything like these “real” tomatoes that come from a nearby garden or farm.

Well, you might be surprised to learn that they’re not really the same tomatoes at all. The dozens upon dozens of varieties of tomato plants grown in the U.S. commercially (commercially for eating fresh, that is, as opposed to processing) are all hybrids, selected and bred for the qualities that the commercial growers prize, such as yield and size and hardiness for transport, and meant to grow in that particular zone and soil. The varieties you have in your garden and at your farmer’s market may include some hybrids, but their proximity to the point of sale (you!) means they can also include heirloom (non-hybrid) varieties that have been handed down generation after generation, bred and maintained for flavor, rather than transport.

Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa is a non-profit dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. You can order seeds from their website or catalog, just like from other seed companies, but it’s a small portion of all that they have saved and have available to their members. They have a charitable mission: to preserve, research, and share heirloom vegetable and plant seeds.

Did you know that you can save seeds from heirloom varieties of tomatoes (and many other vegetables), and plant those seeds in the spring? Starting plants from seed adds a fair bit of work to your garden planting process, but when you find a variety you treasure, you’ll appreciate being able to replant each year without buying more seed. Look for a post later this summer on how to harvest and save tomato and other seeds!

Back to those tomatoes.
Depending on where in the U.S. that you live, you could theoretically find “local” tomatoes any month of the year. Tomatoes are grown in California and Florida nearly year-round (taking a break only when the upper half of the country can grow their own). If you add in the hydroponic/greenhouse/factory production, you could literally find a “local” tomato anywhere, at any time. But this kind of “local” isn’t quite what we’re talking about here at Legit Local.

These are NOT aunt stephie’s tomatoes.

The small town in Michigan where I grew up is now producing tomatoes year-round in greenhouse complexes that are stunningly futuristic-looking.  But, to quote my young nephew, “these are NOT aunt stephie’s tomatoes.”

Why not?
(count the number of times they say “local” in that article above, by the way).

For starters, the company is not local to Michigan, or even the U.S.: they’re based in Canada, with greenhouses all over North America. While they’re providing local jobs and adding to the property tax base, they’re not a local business. The profits go to Canada, not back to the community. Corporate has no relationship with the land (since they’re not actually farming on it), and no reason to make their operation sustainable. If things don’t work out — if the labor force dries up, the taxes increase, the cost of treating the water increases — they simply pick up and move to another small town eager for a large employer to take on land that’s sitting idle.

 

More than that, the varieties are still being selected and grown for optimal transport and presentation in the supermarket, and flavor is sacrificed. I’ve tried these tomatoes, and honestly I don’t taste any difference between them and the other supermarket varieties of cherry tomato.

Farmscape, an LA-area urban farm group, recently measured the sugar content of various local (to them) and commercially-grown tomatoes. Using a refractometer, a small kaleidoscope-looking device (if you’re a beer brewer, you may have one of these in your kit; give it a try!), they found sugar content in the farmer’s market and garden tomatoes much higher than those in the grocery store: 5.0 – 9.0 Brix units, as opposed to 4.0, respectively. See this video for more info on sugar content. Or this piece from Scientific American on the science of delicious tomatoes.

True, farmer’s market tomatoes look like they’re more expensive than those in the grocery store. Around here, grocery store prices for tomatoes are around $1.50-$2.00/lb, where you’re likely to pay $3-4/lb from a local grower. But first, consider whether those grocery store tomatoes are certified organic. My local grocery is selling organic campari tomatoes for $2.69-$4/lb, so right away the gap between those prices shrinks to very little. Then, if you’re planning on doing any canning or sauce-making with your tomatoes, farmers will often sell you a box of “seconds,” the ones that don’t look quite as nice, or might have a bruise or other spot that you need to cut out, for a lower price per pound. On balance, it’s not that much of a difference in price — but a world of difference in flavor and in the value of knowing who’s growing your food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research on tomato varieties

Seed Savers’ Exchange – keeping heirloom varieties going for generations

Heirloom vs. (not) – what’s it all about?

Growing your own

Saving your own seed – heirloom-only

But what about the TASTE?

Types of tomatoes: Slicing or paste; determinate or indeterminate

 

 

Growing your own.

I don’t think I’d ever grown a vegetable until I got an apartment in Hamden, CT in 2003. Growing up, my grandmother kept a garden (my Gram, of Gram’s Freezer full of Strawberry Freezer Jam), and I think we kept a garden at home sometimes, but I don’t really remember growing anything. I’d tried to grow sunflowers outside the window of my courtyard apartment in Columbus, OH, but the squirrels dug ‘em all up, and that was utterly deflating. I moved to New Haven, CT in 2000, and got myself on the waiting list for a community garden plot. The gardeners there mostly planted flowers, I think, but I wanted to grow vegetables. I waited, and waited to get off the wait list. When I moved up the road to Hamden, my apartment had the cutest little corner balcony, and I got this idea in my head that I could grow some tomatoes out there. So I bought a big plastic pot, some potting soil, and a couple of cherry tomato plants. And waited. And they GREW! And made TOMATOES! The first time I tasted one right off the plant, I think my mouth puckered, it was so sweet and tart and fresh. Had I had fresh tomatoes right off the plant before? I don’t know, but this one I was going to remember. I moved to Urbana, Illinois just a couple of years later (right about the time my name came off the wait list for a plot in Connecticut!), and it only took a year to run into someone who was looking for another person to share her community garden plot. It was a huge plot, about 30’ square, and she was growing everything from arugula to zucchini. (see what I did there?). I had no idea then, but that meeting and the experience of growing food in that plot, caring for it and tasting it, getting sweaty bringing in compost and hauling out weeds, getting bitten by noseeums and stung by nettles, but knowing that you grew it?  All that is exactly what led me to where I am today.

 

 

Saving your own seed – heirloom-only

One of the best things about heirloom varieties of tomatoes (and most anything) is that you can save the seeds from the plants you like, and plant them again next year. Some types of vegetables are harder to save seeds from than others; carrots are a biennial, for instance, and it takes a whole year of letting greens grow and flowers form, to get seeds. You have to sacrifice the carrot to the earth, to get the seeds. But tomatoes! Tomatoes are so eager to get planted again that they’ll pop up in our garden plots completely of their own volition each spring. Those rogue tomatoes that fall off the vine (or get pulled off by squirrels) end up “donating” their seeds to the earth, and many of those end up germinating in the spring. But saving the seeds from your favorite heirloom tomatoes and keeping them indoors over the winter, to start the following spring, is pretty easy too, albeit somewhat messy.

 

First, find yourself a delicious tomato. A delicious HEIRLOOM tomato. It’s not that hybrid seeds won’t germinate; it’s that they don’t “breed true”. The tomato fruit may be like its parent (the seed), or it may be nothing like it. That’s one downside of hybrids. So find yourself that heirloom tomato. Now smoosh it. Seriously, smoosh it in a cup or a bowl. Probably smoosh a few of them. Now leave that cup or bowl of smooshed tomato somewhere outside for a while. Let it get super funky. It’ll get a sort of slimy skin on the top – that’s good. What you’re doing is letting the tomato break down the coating on the seed. If you don’t, it’ll never germinate in the spring. And from what I read, this is the best way, to just let the tomato and time do all the work. After about a week, the really messy part comes in: you need to get those seeds out, but only the seeds. A colander works pretty well for washing the seeds off, picking out the bits of tomato skin and gunk that remain. Once you just have the relatively clean seeds, spread them out on a screen or paper towel to dry. Once they’re completely dry, you can package them in a plastic baggie or (ideally) a wax/glassine envelope. It’s not that the plastic is bad, but if there’s any moisture in there, it’ll get sealed in, and your seeds will probably rot. If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, you’ll want to get them started indoors, and early. About 6(?) weeks before your last frost date (check the site). You can start them in little peat pots, or newspaper pots, or anything with rich, well-draining soil. You’ll need to keep the seeds and especially the little seedlings warm, and provide them with plenty of light. If you have a south-facing window where it isn’t too cold, that will be ideal. If not, you may need to invest in some lights. You’ll want the lights close to the seedlings when they’re small; if the light is too far away, the little seedling will stretch like crazy to reach the light, and you’ll end up with a leggy plant that can’t sustain itself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had gorgeous little seedlings fail just as they get a few inches tall. If you’re going to plant the seeds in the ground (which you could do, if your summer is long enough), you’ll want to test the seeds first. Get a little piece of paper towel and wet it, place a few seeds on it, and put it in a small plastic baggie. Put it in a warm place (I like to put all the test baggies in a cake pan and put it on top of the cable box, but you do you. Wait a few weeks, and then open them up and see if there’s any growth. For what it’s worth, the tomato seeds I’ve saved by merely smooshing and smearing them on a paper towel have never germinated well for me. Letting them get slimy and then separating them is much more reliable.

I Can Grill That?

Last week I found out that one could grill green beans. My first thought was, “don’t they fall between the grates?” (HAHAHA.) (No, really, that really was my first thought.) It turns out that beans do very nicely with a bit of char – you can use a grill basket or heavy duty aluminum foil. But it made me wonder: what other vegetables can I grill? Here is a short list of recipes with veggies that you’re sure to see at the market this week.

Corn. (Corn!) Everyone’s favorite. If you make this, you can also make this. And this. (Trust me, elote is going to be your new obsession.) Grilled corn is beautiful with grilled sweet peppers, too.

So…PEPPERS. Are you a fan of jalapeño poppers? Well, here you go. (No need to go out for this anymore – make it at home with truly excellent, local peppers.) And if you’re a fan of spicy dishes, try a grilled jalapeño potato salad. 

Squashes and zucchini are a popular choice, and you can add any range of flavor profiles – even just a bit of sea salt. Here is one with basil (definitely in season!), and it’s also great with mint. Oh heck – here’s one more. It’s just all so good.

Eggplant is another veggie that loves the heat. This recipe might just make an eggplant lover out of a skeptic (I know you’re out there!). I love that this dish has an easy, flavorful yogurt sauce. Looks fancy; very easy.

Panzanella (bread and vegetable salad): another summer classic.

Fruit! Grilled peaches can pair with a main course as a side, shine in a salad, or as a super-easy dessert.

Lettuce! (Yes, lettuce!) Romaine lettuce, in particular, holds up just fine to a hot grill.  (At the market, you might try another variety – ask a farmer which varieties are sturdy like Romaine.) Lots of flavor options with this, too.

And while we are on the subject of lettuce, we should consider how salads don’t just come in the cold and raw variety (or even include lettuce, of course). Great salads often combine both hot and cold elements, cooked (or grilled) and raw ingredients, salty/sweet/crunchy, etc. It’s all about having a combination of flavors and textures – and using local, fresh veggies means that the flavor is going to be just that much better (and will need very little dressing up!). Check out this grilled corn and nectarine salad (you could easily sub peaches).

Lastly…BEER CAN CABBAGE. (Seriously!) Why let the chickens have all the fun? (And you can grill cabbage without a beer can, too.)

We are in the heyday of summer vegetables. I can’t stop smiling. You, too?

Happy summer, and enjoy.