The Best Way to Eat Your Vegetables
When the Feeling Strikes
When we were last talking, I said that cooking seemed off the agenda. Meals meant slicing and chopping and including cheese for some protein. Then, a bag of green beans appeared. Well it did not appear. Rather, it had not disappeared. Or shall I say, it appeared in my conscious. It was supposed to have gone downstairs where all our neglected vegetables go waiting for inspiration. But it did not. It sat on the dinning room table since Saturday. Long enough for me to notice a few moldy green beans. Going through the bag, though, it turned out only a few were yuck. While the Condiment Queen and one daughter ate dinner, I topped and tailed the healthy green beans. At around 7 PM on Monday, when they were off to a movie, and I had finished my eating for the day, inspiration finally hit me to cook. Well, the need to nurse these greens beans to health. They were too ill for my first plan, a simple salad. Luckily, I knew the best way to cook vegetables.
The Turks call it zeytinyağlı, cooked or braised in olive oil. There’s an Italian term too, I cannot quite find, about suffocated vegetables. The idea is with a little, actually more than a little olive oil, a flavor base, typically cooked onions and garlic, but peppers, celery, carrots and maybe even, hearsay something meaty like minced prosciutto, plus usually some tomatoes, a lid and a lot of time, greatness can be coaxed from vegetables. The key or the point is, the vegetables are stewed in their own juices. No water, stock, or cream is added. The magic happens via slow, long heating and a cover to keep the essence from escaping.
Green beans are the classic way to make this dish, and all countries around the Mediterranean have a version . I’ll tell you a quick story about my green beans above, which I’m calling green beans Israeli style, before getting on to my other point. There is an Israeli restaurant, Mizrahi, in Highland Park. It is about the most Israeli restaurant I know around here (which are like and not alike of other Middle Eastern restaurants). They do a great green bean dish. Mine traditionally swam in tomatoes. Not oozing tomatoes but red and green. Mizrahi’s green beans only have a veneer of red. The tomatoes are there but as background, where my dish was like green beans AND tomatoes. So, I asked one day. How did they make ‘em like that. I told him my recipe: saute onions and garlic, add green beans, add a jar of tomatoes. He said that’s what he did. I said why does mine look different, more crimson. “Use less tomatoes,” and he got back to his business. Monday’s version included less tomatoes. Once I had the cooking feeling going, I needed to make at least one more dish. With peppers going about as bad as the green beans, I knew what. These melrose peppers (with a few jalapenos thrown in) got the same treatment of oil braise. I did the peppers too, with less tomatoes and finished with a balsamic syrup. Green beans are not the only vegetables that are best this way. Try any of the summer bounty, especially thin skin “frying” peppers like melrose or shishito. Zukes do great this way, and if you cannot have ham hocks in your repertoire like me, this may be the best way to address hearty greens like collards.
More ideas or instructions, here’s about thirty Turkish dishes done zeytinyağlı. You’ll soon learn that this is the best way to eat your vegetables.