10 ways with winter vegetables
In the immortal words of American comedian Lily Tomlin, “there are no small parts, only small actors”. She was referring to an actor complaining about not getting the starring role and meant, it’s not the part, it’s what you do with it.
Food is also like that. I have heard people complain that the food in France/ Italy/ China/ India etc was terrible. I am guessing that this is because they didn’t find any good cooks. In the hands of a good (or even middling) cook, all food, however simple, is delicious.
Plain food isn’t the same as simple food. Plain food is boringly unappetising, whereas simple food, cooked with care, celebrates the natural flavour and quality of good ingredients.
Which brings me to the vegetables some may think are boring.
Swedes, cabbage, brussels sprouts, silverbeet and parsnips come in for this sort of bad press.
I was brought up eating vegetables like this, usually boiled or when the cook responsible really wanted to knock themselves out, enveloped in white sauce that wasn’t far off wallpaper paste. A food’s reputation is usually the result of your experience of it.
Here are good ways to experience winter vegetables
Slice some silverbeet leaves thickly and boil them for about 5 minutes then cool, drain and squeeze dry. Slice thinly and reserve. Heat a wok over moderate heat and add some extra virgin olive oil, a finely chopped onion, plenty of chopped garlic, lots of sliced brussels sprouts, the finely diced peel of a preserved lemon, or fresh lemon zest, chopped roasted almonds and some golden raisins. Fry gently for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft then add the silverbeet and fry until hot. Taste and season and serve with crumbled feta and steamed rice for a vegetarian meal or lose the feta and serve as a side with roasted or barbecued chicken or lamb.
Make a traditional Portuguese Caldo Verde soup. Boil plenty of 4cm chunked peeled agria potatoes in enough vegetable stock or water to just cover the potatoes. Puree ¾ of the potato mixture and return it to the unpureed potatoes and stock. Add thinly sliced savoy cabbage that has been well wilted in boiling water and lots of sliced fried chorizo, taste, season and serve with crusty bread. Portuguese soulfood!
There is nothing quite as good as thinly sliced cabbage, quickly stir-fried over high heat (but don’t brown it) in extra virgin olive oil with finely diced preserved lemon peel, finely chopped garlic and a splash of water to make some steam.
The clever Thai people at the excellent Yeda restaurantin Palmerston North use raw swede cut into matchsticks instead of green papaya in their generic salad. It works, as it is the texture which is important. For a meal-size, hot version, put plenty raw swede matchsticks, cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, mint and coriander sprigs in a bowl, top with thinly sliced barbecued free range boneless chicken thighs, dress with a mix of equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, a little sesame oil, sliced chilli and sweeten with sugar. Serve sprinkled with crushed roasted peanuts. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Update the classic Kiwi swede mash by simply paying attention to the quality and adding a couple of flourishes. Peel and cut the swede into 3cm pieces and steam it (don’t boil it — too watery) until soft. Coarsely mash with butter, a little cream and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in some toasted fennel seeds and serve sprinkled with thinly sliced spring onions and chopped curly parsley. Good with pork chops. Also good using a mix of steamed swedes, parsnips and carrots.
Colcannon is a delicious Irish gift to the world, up there with James Joyce’s writing and Guinness. I am always amazed how good this combination of everyday ingredients tastes. It’s the old potato and cabbage combo. Well seasoned buttery mashed agria potatoes are mixed with thinly sliced blanched cabbage, thinly sliced spring onions and cream. Try with a pile of crisp bacon or roast pork and gravy.
Fry your favourite cut of well-peppered steak the way you like it and serve it with sliced brussels sprouts fried in extra virgin olive oil with a little garlic; and with a blue cheese sauce made by melting crumbled blue cheese in a little boiling cream. Also good with lots of peeled parsnips, thinly sliced lengthways, tossed in extra virgin olive oil, spread on a baking paper-lined oven tray and roasted for about 40 minutes at 200C until crisp and browned.
Slice and boil silverbeet leaves in well salted water for about 5 minutes, drain, cool under cold water, squeeze dry and slice again. Fry in extra virgin olive oil, with chopped garlic and chilli flakes and toss through al dente short pasta with fried diced bacon, a drizzle of balsamic and plenty of freshly grated parmesan.
Steam plenty of peeled sliced parsnips until soft. Mash with cream, salt, freshly ground black pepper and a large pinch of ground cloves and serve with panfried steak or duck breast.