July’s cookbook giveaway sparked so much reader interest — and requests for help with veggie recipes in particular, that I felt compelled, compelled I tell you, to seek out The Homesteader’s Kitchen author Robin Burnside to ask her advice on behalf of you all.
Generously, and in the spirit of everyone eating more greens (and other colors of the rainbow too), the natural chef and former cafe owner agreed to answer questions, offer advice, demystify cooking veggies — and share some recipes too.
How nice is that? If you’re in the area, you can thank her yourself this Saturday at Treebones Resort, the cool yurt getaway perched on a cliff over the ocean in southern Big Sur, where she’s throwing her book launch party.
1. Lots of readers seem unsure about how to cook eggplant. Any tips?
The most important step is to choose a fabulous, organically-grown globe at your local farmers’ market. I’m sorry, but it’s just near impossible to find a good eggplant at Safeway. You want to pick an eggplant that has a deep purple color and dark shine. It needs to be firm too. If it’s squishy to start with, it’s just going to taste too bitter. Eggplant is wonderful grilled. I spend several months a year in Baja California and I find the Mexican climate — lots of hot sun — produces a wonderful sweet eggplant. We pick one from the field after we’ve been surfing, slice it, and throw it on the grill.
A simple way to serve eggplant is to cook it, cut into cubes, and then pair it with caramelized onions and garlic, add some diced fresh tomato, some fresh basil strips, salt, olive oil, and perhaps a splash of balsamic vinegar and you have what we call eggplant caviar. My son would never eat eggplant any other way.
If people are too intimidated to start with a traditional, big globe, I recommend searching out the smaller Japanese varieties, and using them to make baba ganoush (eggplant dip).
2. Another vegetable folks seem afraid of is the artichoke. How to handle this thorny creation?
Again, you want to look for the freshest globes, which will pack more flavor and nutrients. Regardless of size, look for dark green, heavy and firm chokes that give a little squeak when squeezed. The artichoke is also surprisingly good grilled. One caution on grilling: Since we know charred food isn’t good for us, it’s important to turn food that’s being grilled frequently and cook over a bed of glowing coals releasing radiant heat — not an open flame. Cut small ones in halves, larger ones in quarters.
One handy tip before steaming, which is another good option: Dip a washed artichoke in 1 tablespoon of water and lemon juice before cooking to retain color.
For something fancier yet simple to fix, try my Stuffed Artichoke recipe from the book. (Find recipes at the end of this Q&A.)
Roasting root vegetables couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. Carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes can be cut into finger-size, kid-friendly pieces — these are the only fries my kids ate growing up. Coat in some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic, pop in a 350-400 degree oven, and cook until crunchy. Time will vary depending on oven temp. and size of veggies, so you’ll want to keep an eye on them and turn every 15 minutes or so with a spatula so the pieces get nicely crisped on all sides.
4. What about leafy greens like kale, cabbage, and chard?
These garden greens are my joy, I eat them every day. I pick kale out of my garden and eat it raw or in a fresh smoothie or in my Kale and Sea Vegetable Salad with Sesame Citrus Dressing.
Chard pairs nicely with tempeh, an easily digested plant-protein made of fermented soy, that soaks up flavors like a sponge. My Tempeh and Chard Enchiladas is a meatless meal that can satisfy even vegetarian skeptics.
Cabbage is such a diverse vegetable; it’s featured several times in my book. Since some of your readers asked what to do with jicama, they may enjoy my South-of-the-Border Slaw with Chile-Lime Dressing.
5. How do you handle fruit in cooking?
I eat most of my fruit raw. I can’t imagine cooking a mango; they’re so perfect just as they are. One general guideline about adding sweet notes to savory dishes is to test for balance and adjust accordingly, so a dish doesn’t taste too salty or too sweet. That comes with practice and playing with flavors on your palate.
6. Several readers commented that they’re often perplexed by some of the produce that shows up in their CSA box — or at the local market or store. Celeriac comes to mind. Some want new ideas for dealing with abundance from their gardens (zucchini anyone?). What are your go-to cookbook guides?
Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone is a wonderful reference book. Other favorites include Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice, which focuses on nutrient-dense and fermented foods, as does Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Also: The Cafe Gratitude cookbook (I am Grateful) for those interested in learning more about raw food.
Consuming whole foods makes a huge difference to my health and vitality. Staying connected with and nourishing my body throughout the day is a practice, and making what I eat with my own hands is at the core. Fresh, whole, and simple. That’s my mantra, whether produce is juiced, grated, chopped, or cooked before it’s consumed.
8. Give us a little background about your book?
It was about five years in the making. Five of my six grandchildren were born in the time it took to write this cookbook. I wanted to call it The Holistic Kitchen, to reflect my food philosophy, someone else suggested The Off-the-Grid Cookbook, in reference to my lifestyle. All I know is that it evolved over the years, it reflects my values and spirit, and it’s come out at a time when there’s a lot of interest in the kind of recipes I present. So I’m glad it took as long as it did. I want it to feel at home in different worlds and I think more people are open to my message now.
[Photos: Kodiak Greenwood, Recipes follow, courtesy Robin Burnside and Gibbs Smith.]