Thursday, Friday, Tamarday
Keeping Busy if You’re Not Hearing Much About It
Postings from the Local Family have been paltry even as our efforts to eat local remaim robust. The food comes in mostly on Tuesdays, via our Tomato Mountain CSA box.* This is supplemented with visits to the Oak Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and odds and ends picked up by at the other markets where @shes_cooking works (Portage Park/Independence Park on alternating Sundays and Riverside on Wednesday nights). For the last several weeks, it’s all getting Tamar’d on Saturday.
Saturday’s Tamar-day because our everlasting meals have been starting with lunch brought to Sheila at the Oak Park market. Then, we need food for her various other work days. She’s eased up slightly on her vegan tendencies, but she still needs plenty of well-cooked local produce. It almost all gets done in a flurry of activty Saturday mornings from around 830 until 1230. Here’s a recap of the last Tamar-day.
Step 1 – Be Ready
To Tamar well, I need to have several things in the Bungalow. There are certain seasonings and sauces I always use and certain things that may vary by season and urge. I like need a good olive oil, lots of lemons, assorted vinegars including a balsamic glaze I like to play with; aromatics like ginger, onions and garlic are vital; at least a few things are done with Asian condiments like mirin, soy and sesame oil; I also have jars of black bean paste and chili-garlic paste; this week there was a tahini sauce already made and ready to use. I want as many herbs as possible, especially parsley and cilantro.
Step 2 – Be Prepared
Cooking is fun but prepping is labor. It’s the labor that really needs to happen to enjoy our everlasting meals. Kale leaves need to be pulled from their stems. The dirt end of chard needs to be loped off. All the greens need to be washed well. A lot of this week’s prep was done not on Tamar-day but on Friday as the Local Family sat in front of the TV.
Step 3 – It’s Summer, Use the Grill
The grill adds nice variety to the repertoire and opens up some really neat dishes.
The first thing that went on the coals was maybe’s the last of the season’s asparagus. Grilling brings out the sweetness in asparagus and the bitterness of the char is one of those strong flavors that asparagus stands up so well to. The key to grilling asparagus is to put it on the grill dry and then season afterwards with oil and vinegar. Shaved cheese goes well if your wife’s not so vegan.
My wife brought home two kinds of summer squash last week. Some, too small, would be wasted on the grill. I’ll get to them in a second. The other was finished with tahini sauce, which marries well to grilled veg.
All the while on the grill were a few of the season’s first peppers and tomatoes and an onion sliced in two. There’s no better use of the grill then slata mechouia, what the North Africans call a salad but we might also think of as a spread. It’s the dish up top. It looks impressive, but it’s easy to make. The fire does most of the work. Char whatever veg you’re using well, when eggplants arrive, they’ll go in with the peppers, tomatoes and onions. Then, remove the blistered skins; squeeze out excess juices–working outside meant quick dismal of all of the un-necessary in the compost bin. Finely chop, or authentically, mash in a mortar, the cooked vegetables. Bind with a good olive oil, and a heavy squeeze of lime (or lemon). Add salt as needed (and it’s needed in a good amount). Finish with more cilantro than you might have.
Step 4 – Back Inside
Finished out, I went back in. Tamar Adler opens her book with surprisingly useful advice on how to boil water. Besides some key instructions on how to use the water pot, the chapter is also about the latent and somewhat unappreciated art of boiling food. Take zucchini.
Do you boil yours? I think there’s a fear that it will be watery, that there will be excess of its “bitter juices.” Don’t worry. I think boiling serves zukes much better than the more common saute. Boiled, the vegetable yields to you, releasing the starch and strength that often make this vegetable less than palatable. A light dressing is all you need. Try.
I also like to boil at least some of our greens. All it takes for spinach or chard is about three minutes in robust water. It takes a lot more time to thoroughly squeeze out the water. Sometimes I go Greek, dressing the boiled greens with just olive oil, but more often, I’ve been doing an Asian style dressing with sesame oil and soy.
Greens must be sauteed too. I’m partial to the method that uses clinging water and a very hot pan to quickly make use of what’s in the house. I love combining sauteed greens with garlic and chile pepper. My secret, I only add the garlic near the end of cooking. This way the flavor is prominent and not burnt.
The other green dish I made Saturday, kale braised and finished with Chinese garlic-chile paste.
Not local produce, but critical to our needs, I also made a pot of brown rice. As wont in our house, I did not make enough.
Step 5 – The Everlasting Meal
A solid four hours of work and now’s there food for the week. We can mix and match ingredients. We can build out new dishes, for instance making a frittata with the cooked greens. Update simple items with new dressings, dressings that would ruin the product if done too far ahead. Mostly, we can ensure we eat local by having local food ready to eat.
*Mom works for Tomato Mountain