Today's recipe comes from Foxessa, who publishes the Fox Home blog. She is originally a country person from East Dakota, who moved to New York City. Her blog combines political analysis, with a big nod towards cultural history. Readers of her blog, know of her more than passing interest in a certain performer and music historian she calls Vaquero, who also wrote an incredible book about New Orleans.
Now the Main Event
Country Girl - Winter City - Baked Vegetables
This is a side dish that evolved in my kitchen, provoked by years of eating
Mediterranean meals. The base then, is olive oil (and wine, if you choose /
Turn on your oven to high heat, at least 375 degrees.
Prepare the most shallow baking dish or pan you have with whatever left-over
chicken stock you've got in the refrigerator to cover at least a quarter of
an inch of the bottom of the dish. If there's no leftover stock use some
white wine -- not too dry, but not sweet wine either -- and mix with
non-sodium bouillon. Flavor with anything else, like dried chives, lemon
grass, tarragon -- and even lemon juice, if you like (presumably your
leftover stock includes lots of onion and garlic flavors and whatever
already). Add as much / as little olive oil as suits YOU.
Take as many carrots as will fit comfortably on the bottom of the shallow
baking dish and leave room between the 'sticks'. These carrots should be
the enormous ones that look like a version of a billy club -- long and
thick, especially at the head -- not those wimpy things that come in plastic
bags, and especially not the machine-grated down nubbin things that are
passed off as 'baby carrots.' No flavor or texture in those. Peel the
carrots and slice lengthwise, to make sticks.
Peel an eggplant and slice it too lengthwise, from one end to another -- a
layered slicing if you will, not TOO thin, but not thick either. Put these
thinnish slices between / around the carrot sticks.
Peel a chayote squash -- o.k., that's not a Mediterranean, but Mexican
vegetable. So what. This squash is an inexpensive staple by now in my
kitchen. Often you can find 2 and even 3 of these yellow or green
pear-shaped vegetables for a $1.00, or below 80 cents @ lb. They hold their
shape and texture no matter whether you bake, roast, or boil them or for how
long you cook them. The single seed is edible. They can be eaten raw in
the summer with dips; sliced very thin, or shredded, they can be used in
wok cooking and in salads. They are great in any kind of soup that uses
vegetables. They have a lot of fiber and vitamins. The longer you bake
them, the sweeter and more tender they become -- probably anywhere from 45
minutes to an hour in your hot oven to be sure these tougher carrots become
tender and the carrots' flavor comes out. However, the chayote's weetness
is different from the sweetness that comes out of the carrots. So cut up the
chayote, chunk it, slice it, dice it -- doesn't matter. The chayote parts
can sit on top of the carrots and the eggplant.
It's essential the eggplant sit on / in the stock and olive oil on the
bottom of the dish -- the eggplant needs to absorb those flavors. The
eggplant pulls together the flavors of the stock, the carrots and the
squash. It's the mediator, so to speak, among the other parts, taking on
flavors of stock, carrots and chayote, while remaining eggplant. Some of
the eggplant will become delightfully soft and melt in your mouth, and some
pieces will retain more structural integrity.
Cover dish tightly, put in oven. You can be roasting chicken or something
else at the same time. This dish really takes very little time to prepare.
Once it's in the oven it needs nothing else from you, except to pay
attention that you don't leave it in too long, meaning burning it on the
bottom as the olive oil (which also helps guard against that) and liquid are
absorbed or evaporated.
These are fresh vegetables that are available in winter in most
supermarkets, vegetables that contain flavor, are filling and provide
texture for the mouth and tongue, and aren't expensive, at least if you buy
the long eggplants common in Chinatown, not the big egg shaped ones or the
boutique baby ones. They are particularly inexpensive relative to lettuces
and so on -- and forget about tomatoes. Anyway, tomatoes should only be
eaten in season, if flavor matters to you. Currently in the only supermarket
that serves our neighborhood, cardboard tomatoes are going for $3.99 @
lb. -- nope it doesn't make any difference that they come from Israel and
supposedly are vine ripened. They still don't have flavor. If you need
tomatoes to cook with, get Parmalat -- an Italian company -- chopped
tomatoes packaged in a cardboard box, without sodium. As well, carrots and
the chayote can be kept on hand -- the eggplant for less time, of course,
before going bad . Storage is also calculated into cost -- fresh vegetables
are a luxury item for so many of us in this country, winter OR summer now.
This last August tomatoes grown a few miles from the city were sold in the
supermarkets for over $2.00 @lb. I grew up with a root cellar in our
farmhouse's basement, where we stored potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions,
etc. during the winter. I've made an imitation of one in our apartment where
I store dried herbs and spices, peppers, chilis, yams, potatoes etc. in the
coolest place in our apartment. This was handy for making dinner last night
while the weather outside was frightful. You can take the farm girl out of
the country but you can't take the habits of frugality and storing food of
the farm girl raised on butchering, gardening, canning and freezing.
Take the dish out of the oven when the carrots are tender. Add pepper and
salt, if you like. This vegetable dish goes well with baked potatoes or with
boniatas and other yams -- even manioc / cassava dishes, as well as, say, a
cauldron of black beans or one of chowderi, and any meat, if you eat meat.
They make a good side to pasta --almost like a hot, winter antipasti. Your
kids might even like these vegetables -- it's a colorful dish, due to the
carrots -- the baking brings out the natural sugars in the carrots and
chayote, so it's fairly sweet. The olive oil provides that sense of content
and completion a person's inner self needs from eating.
As I said, this takes little time to prepare, certainly less than it took to
read about it.