Q&A With The Homesteader’s Kitchen Author

by Sarah Henry on July 29, 2010 · 30 comments

in food book giveaways,food books,vegetables


I heard you. Help is on the way. This post is for all you artichoke, eggplant, beet, kale, parsnip, kohlrabi, rutabaga, celeriac, and (your veg of choice here) phobes.

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.

The mother of four and grandmother of six, all of whom can walk to her Big Sur home for dinner, knows a thing or two about feeding family.

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.)

3. People want help with root vegetables — everything from carrots, parsnips, and beets to kohlrabi, rutabaga, and turnips. Do you have some general pointers?

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.

7. Can you tell us a little about your personal food philosophy?

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.]

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Frugal Kiwi July 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

Lots of goodies today. Thanks for all the recipes. I’ve been looking at pictures of this cookbook with some envy.
Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Te Reo Māori Week- The Haka

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Yes, Robin is a generous soul, willing to share the bounty of her book with my readers. And Kodiak Greenwood’s photos the whole farm-to-table philosophy the author espouses.

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MarthaAndMe July 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

These recipes look terrific. I appreciate all the tips – especially eggplant which I’ve never made.

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

It’s fascinating how many people shy away from the purple globe. But cooked well, eggplant is worth the effort.

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Christine@Origami Mommy July 29, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I love these recipes! How wonderful to see them in this post. I make several of our veggies in a very similar way. Roasted root veggies are a staple around here, and we also love cabbage and kale prepared in various ways. My children’s favorite way to eat eggplant is: cutting Japanese eggplant in half, brushing with oil and broiling till perfectly soft, and then chilling in a light sauce made of soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), and dashi.
Christine@Origami Mommy´s last [type] ..Home birth in Japan

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Thanks for sharing your eggplant recipe, Christine. Sounds so simple and yet I don’t doubt it’s delicious.

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Jennifer Margulis July 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I was just commenting on MyKidsEatSquid that I tried kohlrabi for the first time, and really liked it. I am pro All Things Vegetable and these recipes are totally awesome! Robin is so beautiful. Maybe from eating so healthy? And Christine, I’m coming to your house for eggplant!
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..BlogHer Yes! Conference Swag I’m Just Saying No Thank You…

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Jennifer, it’s funny I thought the same thing when Robin’s head shot landed in my email inbox (we talked by phone and haven’t yet met in person). She looks as vibrant and alive as the food she eats.

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Alexandra July 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Thanks for those recipes. Never thought of roasting root veggies. Duh! As to celery root, in France we would chop it up fine, or grate, and smother in mustard vingagrette for a great salad that fits with other crudites.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..An Evening on the Town

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:11 pm

You’re full of fun food tips from your days in France, Sandy. Thanks for sharing.

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alisa bowman July 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I AM scared of eggplant and I didn’t even know it til I read this post. Thanks for the great info!
alisa bowman´s last [type] ..How to Find Your Calling

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Now you no longer need be afraid of those shiny purple globes. Treat them well and you will be rewarded. Promise.

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MyKidsEatSquid July 29, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Love the idea of eggplant caviar. I had a recipe for a Thai green curry tonight where you could choose either zucchini or eggplant. This time I used zucchini–next time, after reading this, I’ll go for eggplant.

THANKS for the recipes–which to try first…

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I know, MKES, so many choices! File them away for future use. I lobe the eggplant caviar idea as well. Think that may go over well in our house, where anything that looks salsa-like is usually a hit.

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The Writer's [Inner] Journey July 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I loved this post! I learned so much. I am that person who, like question 2 says, was scared of the artichoke! Not any longer. These suggestions are really wonderful. Thanks, both of you, for the interview.
The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last [type] ..Social Media and Writers- Tips for a Harmonious Relationship

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:16 pm

All these veggiephobes crawling out of the woodwork. Who knew? Now you no longer need be intimidated by an artichoke — or any other piece of produce, for that matter.

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Ruth Pennebaker July 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Lovely interview — love this woman’s approach and spirit. She might even persuade me to try eggplant. Now, that would be a miracle.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..Make New Friends- Make Better Plans

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Sarah Henry July 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Okay, Ruth, let us know when a miracle happens in your town.

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Donna Hull July 30, 2010 at 5:57 am

I’ve never attempted to cook eggplant. After reading this article, I will.
Donna Hull´s last [type] ..Searching for Paradise in Montana

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Sarah Henry July 30, 2010 at 8:03 am

Let me know how it goes, Donna.

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Dianne Jacob July 30, 2010 at 10:45 am

What a great story, Sarah.

Ms. Burnside looks remarkably like an older version of a mutual colleague of ours, Nani Steele of My Nepenthe — the tan, the smile, the flowing hair. All that good, clean livin’ must be contagious in Big Sur.

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Sarah Henry July 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Thanks, Dianne. As for the look-alike effect: I thought so too! It’s kind of uncanny. And I agree: All that fresh ocean air, locally grown food, and laidback coastal lifestyle seems to suit these two cookbook author-chefs well.

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sheryl July 31, 2010 at 7:09 am

Thanks for all these recipes – right up my alley. I love every kind of veggie but am intimidated by preparing artichokes. Maybe I’ll have to finally tackle it. What beautiful photos, too. Just looking at this beautiful mother and grandmother is inspiring.

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Sarah Henry August 3, 2010 at 7:06 am

Be intimidated no more, Sheryl. And you’re right, Robin’s way of eating certainly seems to suit her well.

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stephanie - Wasabimon August 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Just bought this book, based on your recommendation. I love it! Thanks so much for pointing me to Robin Burnside.
stephanie – Wasabimon´s last [type] ..Revisiting My Favorite Lettuce Wrap Recipe

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Sarah Henry August 3, 2010 at 7:05 am

My pleasure, Steph.

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