“I have found that meditation at the end of a knife makes everything seem better. (But) while cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures. The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce. The thump of the knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart. The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid. The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes. Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions.”
A small universe of culinary satisfactions awaits at the Cortez Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. And although it is not up to full capacity, it’s worth your while. Experience the tang of rhubarb, the snap of a fresh young carrot, the smooth sweetness of a salad turnip, the spiciness of scallions, and the rush of texture in the spring salad mix. All promise satisfaction.
The season is short for vegetables like rhubarb. It acts as the Master of Ceremonies in the garden, announcing the growing season. For those of us who weren’t exposed to rhubarb, it seems an odd and unapproachable food. Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? What are you supposed to do with it? And yet, it is surprisingly simple to prepare. If you’re a novice to rhubarb, try this: Discard the leaves and slice the stalks into 1-inch chunks and add as much sugar to taste as you want (you’ll probably need at least ½ cup to each pound of rhubarb.) Roast it at 375 degrees until mushy. Eat it warm, cold, over ice cream or yogurt, put it in muffins, grind it into sauce, or sprinkle it with a streusel topping and bake. It is a homely but delicious food.
Root vegetables like turnips, carrots and parsnips are always better when they’re young and haven’t become woody, dry and less flavorful. They are easy to prepare by braising. Peel them, slice or dice, and throw them in a pan or skillet with a small amount of water. Simmer covered until almost tender, remove the lid and continue simmering until most of the water has evaporated. Serve with a dot of butter, and some salt and pepper.
Other early root vegetables deserve to be eaten raw. Young radishes will awaken and delight your mouth with their sassy spice, and salad turnips, though bland in appearance, will deliver the crunch of a carrot with a sweet delicate flavor that works beautifully in all kinds of salads.
Young scallions, mildly sharp, enhance the flavor of potato and pasta salads, and I always enjoy their taste in egg salad sandwiches. And speaking of eggs, they’re at the farmers market too.
The easiest approach to vegetables is to slice raw and serve with a dip. Here’s a recipe that will provide the foundation for both dip and sauce; you can make it in an instant and add the flavorings you want. It’s a lowfat substitute for sour cream, mayonnaise, or heavy cream. This idea comes from Julee Rosso in her Great Good Food cookbook.
BASIC LOWFAT BLEND
Whip together by hand or in a blender. (A food processor will deliver the wrong consistency.)
1 C lowfat or nonfat plain yogurt
1 C lowfat or nonfat cottage cheese
For a green dip, blend with fresh spinach or basil and garlic.
For a rosy dip, blend with red onions and roasted beets.
For a spicy dip, blend with salsa, jalapenos, cilantro, and zested lime.
For a sweet dip, blend with fresh fruit juice, grated fresh ginger, and honey.
Other additions could be bleu cheese, fresh herbs, horseradish, lemon, or tahini. You can make it work with any fresh vegetable. Let your taste buds guide you.