My mouth is on fire and my heart is full. My tummy’s somewhere in between. I’m also sitting alone but feeling in fine company, lunching with Kim, Jenni, Elizabeth, and Doc. Am I suffering a psychotic break? Hearing voices? Not at all. Allow me to explain.
I get wonderful quirky gifts from my husband all the time. A baby Blue Hubbard squash, last week, for example. These behemoths of the cucurbit family typically run several pounds in weight and have a blue-gray skin. I’d never seen one smaller than a medicine ball and I’d seen many about the size of a small child.
In fact, it’s not unusual for these (squash) babies grow up to 50 lbs., so usually we’ll see them sold in chunks. They’re sweet orange flesh is full of vitamins A & C and fiber. This one I got was about the size of a small cantaloupe. So cute! By the time I scooped the seeds and peeled the peel, there wasn’t so much left. The good news is that it was easy to peel, much easier than say a butternut squash.
Baby Blue Hubbard Squash
I had decided to give my friend Kim O’Donnel’s braised winter squash recipe a whirl and only realized at the last moment that I was going to be quite a bit shy of the amount I needed if I stuck to that recipe. And here’s the beauty of learning from and cooking with Kim: I immediately thought of other things languishing in my fridge, waiting to be of use. Half a turnip. Half a block of tofu. The leaves of two small romanesco cauliflower.
Wanting to cut down on food waste, I’ve started making a point of stopping on my way to the trash bin and asking myself “what else can I do with this?” Kim, when she was writing for the Washington Post regularly held an “Eating Down the Fridge” challenge where readers were encouraged to get creative with what’s on hand.
With a mammoth Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m mindful of needing to clear out some of the fridge and freezer for the make-ahead stuff. We love romanesco cauliflower and my recent purchase included a lot of the leafy greens surrounding our little chartreuse, fractal veggies. I couldn’t imagine that they would be very different from the cabbage or cauliflower or broccoli in taste (after all they’re all cruciferous, so good for us and so tasty.)
Who could resist these gorgeous greens?
My friend Jenni Fields recently held her own anti-food waste challenge called “Four Pounds of Cheese” named after a stat that leapt out at her in a National Geographic article on food waste. Americans typically throw away four pounds of cheese annually, and that’s just one data point. Food waste is the great unexamined “green” topic. Think of the energy, carbon-based fossil fuels, the packaging, the food miles behind any given item in your fridge. Someone grew, watered and fertilized, picked and packed it. Maybe someone processed it in some way, say turning wheat into bread. Somewhere it got packaged and shipped, trucked or flown to you. When you toss an apple with a bruise or an onion with a soft spot, you’re not only wasting the food that can be salvaged from the nicked up item, you’re also adding to the compost or refuse pile somewhere. Greenhouse gas emissions that we now know to be bad for the environment are directly related to the amount of food we waste, bury, trash.
Elizabeth Andoh, author of Washoku and Kansha, two Japanese cuisine bibles, also introduced the concept of root to leaf cuisine of Japan in Kansha. Now that someone in NYC has coined the term “vegetable completist”, I’m quite sure we’ll see the concept catching on. The concept like nose-to-tail cooking, is to fully utilize whatever it is you are cooking with. In Kansha, for example, one might start with a daikon radish. Instead of chopping off the leaves, peeling it and using only the white-fleshed radish, Elizabeth shows you how to make matchstick tempura “Kinpira” from the skin, and how to use the greens in soups or braises. In fact, she describes seven ways to completely use the single daikon.
So as I munch away, I tip my hat to Kim. For inspiring me to eat more meat-free meals, for giving us one great cookbook with another on the way. To Kim, Jenni, and Elizabeth for encouraging me to get creative about fully utilizing and not wasting my food. And as always to my husband for inspiring me with gifts of food.
Braised Whatever with Black Bean Sauce and Random Greens
Inspired by Kim O’Donnel’s Braised Winter Squash recipe on page 122 of The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook.
- 2-3 TBSP peanut oil
- 1/4 C scallions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1” x 1” ginger chunk, peeled and minced
- 1 TBSP Chinese Black Bean sauce
- 3-4 C "Whatever" - winter squash and/or root vegetables (I used half a turnip, one darling little Blue Hubbard Squash, a carrot)
- 2 TBSP Shaoxing Rice Wine (Sherry or Sake would work, I think)
- 2 TBSP soy
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 C water or veg stock
- 1 bunch of random greens - (I had those beautiful romanesco greens, I cut them in 1" or so pieces. Stick to smaller, tender leaves. Chard, spinach, broccoli would all work, mustard greens would be beautiful contrast to the sweet squash.)
- half a block of tofu, cubed pressed gently in clean towel
- Garnish with gomasio (sesame seed/salt mix found in Japanese stores) I used this terrific sesame blend from my from my TECHmunch swag bag.
- Peel and seed squash, scrub and rough chop other root veggies.
- Measure sauce ingredients or have on hand. (Easiest to mix together so you’re not last rushing and looking for the right bottle, the clean measuring spoon, etc.)
- In a 4 quart sauce pan with cover (or a wok), sautéscallion, garlic, ginger till fragrant but not brown,
- Add tofu cubes, stir to get tofu evenly golden, coated.
- Add black bean sauce, stir to coat tofu.
- Add whatever squash, root veg you are using, then add sauce ingredients. Cover and simmer till root veg are tender.
- Add random greens you’ve kept rather than tossed, (or, new ones purchased for this recipe; Kim likes bok choy.) If they are thick-stemmed greens, you may want steam them a few minutes in the microwave, first. Or, add them sooner so they cook longer with the root veg. I think it's healthier and prettier to steam though.)
- Drizzle with Asian Toasted Sesame oil if you like, I omitted because I was using the sesame mix on top.
- Replace lid to steam greens as you wish.
- Serve over rice. Garnish with gomasio and cilantro