Well, I don't know what to think. One minute my hopes are dashed, when I read that Americans are eating less vegetables than ever. (And I was particularly annoyed that I had to find this out from my very favorite New York Times reporter, Kim Severson. I hate when nice people deliver bad news.) The next minute I feel a strange squirminess, when I read that Vegetables are the Trend of the Minute in New York. (Should I be happy or worried about this?) This news was also delivered to me via a favorite reporter, Tom Philpott, of Grist.org, who cited an article in New York magazine about the new "vegivore" (someone who loves vegetables, rather than someone who hates meat.)
Philpott points out that this "trend" (to cook and eat vegetables as a main event, but not necessarily sans meat on the plate) has actually been building among cooks and eaters for many years, and he cites the enthusiastic carnivores who began heartily embracing the likes of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in the late1990s. He fast forwards to the present, kindly mentioning that Susie Middleton's cookbook Fast, Fresh & Green (a collection of 90+ vegetable recipes organized by cooking technique) is a worthy contemporary successor to Madison's works. I bring this up, not only because I am always happy to be mentioned in the same breath as Deborah Madison, but also because Philpott can articulate what I struggle with. "If ideas championed by the likes of Madison and Middleton are suddenly the foodie trend of the moment in New York, I hope the trend has legs and staying power."
Me too! Me too! But the creeping-doubt-syndrome returns when I think about the quotes from people in Severson's article who think vegetables are "a pain," "intimidating," and "a lot less fun" than some other foods. I understand these sentiments to a certain extent, as I feel like you a) have to enjoy spending a little bit of time in the kitchen and b) have some basic cooking skills--in order to prepare tasty vegetables. Even though I offer 9 different ways to cook vegetables in my book (with lots of tips and instructions and easy flavor-boosters), I do say at the get-go that this is a cookbook, and you will actually be cooking, not assembling. But the payoff is huge, I go on to say.
It all comes down to flavor. I think the authors of the New York magazine article hit on one major reason for the popularity of vegetables in New York--people are beginning to realize that vegetables taste good (thanks to some good cooks and chefs who are preparing them well). For me, flavor is a huge motivation - for eating or cooking. (Well, isn't it for everyone?) I love things that taste good, and once I started caramelizing onions, roasting tomatoes, and browning my broccoli, I started to eat more vegetables. I love high-heat cooking methods (especially roasting and sautéing, but grilling and stir-frying, too), because they bring out the sweeter side of veggies.
My theory on this whole "why aren't Americans eating more vegetables" conundrum is that many folks have not eaten enough really tasty vegetables or they're at a loss on how to prepare them. (When I'm out demo-ing, I hear from a lot of people who tell me they're stuck in a vegetable rut, either because they're not sure how to cook veggies more than one way, or they're afraid family members won't eat the veggies if they try something different.) Since I'm not a vegetarian or a nutritionist or a specialist in any kind of diet, I come at this conundrum mostly from a cook's point of view.
To me, the solution boils down to encouraging folks to get in the kitchen and mess around a little with vegetables. To that end, I offer a good place to start (see below), because, after all, I can write ad nauseam about this stuff, but the truth lies in the cooking, or more accurately, the recipe: If the ingredient list is short, the directions are easy to follow, and the results turn out to be tasty, maybe you (or I or someone who doesn't think he likes veggies) will make this again, because it's kind of a kick and pretty darn delicious.
So whether you're looking to get friendly with vegetables or looking for an easy and delicious Thanksgiving side dish, the recipe below for Vanilla Cardamom Maple Glazed Acorn Squash Rings could be your ticket. And if you already love to cook, pass this on to someone who's tentative.
P.S. You can see me demo this and other quick-roasting recipes from Fast, Fresh & Green, on The Martha Stewart Show Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 10 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.
Vanilla and Cardamom Glazed Acorn Squash Rings
The buttery glaze that tops these delicious squash rings is more subtly flavored than it sounds. But it adds just the right amount of sweetness and interest to the earthy flavor and silky texture of roasted acorn squash. You might think a cumbersome vegetable like an acorn squash might take a long time to cook, but it's easy to quick-roast it by cutting it into pretty rings or half-rings (as I do here). Because of the relatively thin slices, I find the skin perfectly edible, but it's also easy enough to eat the flesh and leave the roasted skin behind (just pick a slice up and nibble it!). These are perfect for Thanksgiving, too, as you can pop the sheet pan into the oven when the turkey comes out to rest. (They take less than 25 minutes to cook.) And with a second baking sheet, you can easily double or triple the recipe. Rotate the baking sheets halfway through cooking.
1 small acorn squash, (1 to 1 1/4 lb.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 more teaspoons if needed
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 475˚F. Line a large heavy-duty rimmed sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.
With a sharp chef's knife, cut the acorn squash in half lengthwise (through both the stem end and the pointy end). Scrape out the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Put each half, cut side down, on a cutting board. Slice off about 3/4 inch from each end and discard. Slice the squash crosswise into 1/2-inch thick half-rings. If you want, you can trim away any remaining fibers from the rings by running a paring knife around the inside of each. Put the half-rings on the parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the maple syrup, vanilla, and cardamom. Stir well. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the squash pieces with a little less than half of the mixture. Season the pieces very lightly with salt and turn them over. Brush this side with more of the mixture, but reserve about 1 tablespoon for brushing on after cooking. (If using a larger squash and you wind up with a little bit less than 1 tablespoon of liquid, add 1 or 2 teaspoons more butter to the saucepan.) Season the tops very lightly with salt.
Roast the squash for 12 minutes. Use tongs to flip the pieces over. Continue to roast until they are nicely browned (the bottoms will be browner then the tops) and tender when pierced with a paring knife, 10 to 12 minutes more.
Flip the pieces over again when they come out of the oven so that the browner side is up.
Reheat the butter mixture briefly over low heat if necessary (or to melt the additional butter). Brush the butter mixture over the squash slices and serve.
Note: If you want to cut whole squash rings (a little trickier) rather than halves, trim away about 3/4 inch from both ends of the squash first and carefully slice it crosswise into 1/2-inch rings. Run a paring knife around the inside of the rings to remove excess fibers and seeds.
This recipe is from Fast, Fresh & Green: More than 90 Delicious Recipes for Veggie Lovers, by Susie Middleton, published by Chronicle Books, 2010. Susie blogs about vegetables on her website, sixburnersue.com, and is currently at work on her second cookbook, Fresh & Green for Dinner, a collection of vegetable-centered main dishes to be published by Chronicle Books in Spring, 2012.
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