The Local Family Pantry Makes Things Easy
If There Are No Pictures Did the Dishes Exist
Another round of Local Family family matters this week, and what took the hit, not cooking but taking pictures of cooking. No, while making several hospital runs, I spun out a roasted veg dish with carrots and asparagus, a stir fry with chard, bok choy and more carrots; a dressed asparagus dish and a dressed spinach dish. I took pretty good advantage of full CSA boxes and other seasonal offerings. I got no pictures.
So, if you cannot see me cooking the dishes, how about seeing some of the key ingredients. Now, you may suspect this is simply a way to gin up a post, get something online besides links and listings. You may be right. Except filler serves its purpose too. I want to say that as easy as it is to whip up a blog post, it’s easy to whip up seasonal, local dishes. For the dishes, all we need is a few spare condiments, and for the posting all we need is a few mediocre cell phone pictures of these spare condiments.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the way for all of us to be better local families is not at the farmer’s market but at the grocery store. Unless you’re part rabbit, most of your seasonal bounty needs preparation, seasoning, the addition of flavors. Vegetables need taming or tampering. At our most basic, compare the flavor of raw lettuce to lettuce you can brag about. Salt, acid and oil take some dreadful to eat and make it pleasurable to eat. It all revolves around having good salt, acid and oil. And remember that salt, acid and oil mean a lot of things. Salt can be fish sauce, anchovies, or soy sauce as well as Morton’s. Stock up so you can play around in your local kitchen. Think how you can play with acids from the rough effect of red wine vinegar, which I use especially when I want that Italian restaurant effect in a salad, to more nuanced things like sherry vinegar, to the clarity of rice wine vinegar. Citrus fruits give spark in a different way. Finally, the oil. Oil matters at two ends. There’s cooking oils and finishing oils Take peanut oil. I love cooking with plain peanut oil because it has a high smoke point and leaves foods tasting clean. Then, I can muddy them up with the roasted peanut oil pictured above. Although roasted sesame oil is the standard for most Asian cuisines, there is something about a small splash of this stuff that makes the Bungalow taste like Chinatown.
We can get by with three ingredients. Do we need to? Again, to reiterate what I just wrote, a lot of flavor elements can arrive just by your choices of salt, acid and oil. For instance, a lot of the salt options also bring in a lot of umami or “meaty” flavors. Various acids are also sweet (i.e., for me, balsamic vinegar is nearly always too sweet for what I want to do). We bring in additional condiments for two reasons. First, there are dishes where more balance is needed between the elements, and mostly the balance leans towards more sweet. If you know Thai food, you know that sweet elements can pull out all the other flavors. I have seen Thai cooks scoop mountains of white, granulated sugar into concoctions. I like too use honey as a sweetener at times because it also adds good bitter back-tones, and I like to use agave syrup for its simplicity and ease. The gochujang paste shown above is an example of something I use for it sweetness but also something I use for that other reason we add. We want more to our food. For me, like a lot, more comes in the form of chili heat. At least 3/4ths of what I make gets something spicy included. This Korean paste works so well not just because the way it combines sweet and spice. I also like its thick, gooey texture. It coats leafy greens well, working than flavor all into the dish.
This week, think about spending as much time outside the farmer’s market as in for all the things you need to tackle the eat local life. What kinds of condiments do you like. what are you missing? What are the things that will allow you to get dishes out easier. Like this is what I did last week with a big bag of seasonal spinach. I put a pot of salted water to boil. Dipped the spinach in for less than a minute. Rinsed in cold water then allowed the spinach to drain as much as possible–squeezing here and there to speed things along. I put it in a bowl, added a big tablespoon of gochujang, a bit of agave, some soy, some rice wine vinegar and some roasted peanut oil. How much? As much as I needed. Be generous with the spice paste, miserly with the vinegar, and adjust by taste. For instance, after mixing it all together, I found it needed more spice paste. I’m telling you, this is one of the best spinach dishes I’ve ever made. It all came together from what was in my pantry–note I use that term loosely as the gochujang actually resides in the fridge.
Do you need pretty pictures to get you going in the kitchen or do you need to get shopping for a few extra ingredients.