Fortunately for us, the cooking style that is kindest to the planet also yields the best-tasting food. Cooking sustainably means using fresh, in-season ingredients that have not traveled thousands of miles to your kitchen and preparing them simply so that their true flavor comes through. The sustainable kitchen includes a pantryful of unprocessed or lightly processed foods; the sustainable cook uses sustainably-raised foods from local suppliers.
It's nice to find great recipes that show tried-and-true combinations, but it's more important to know the basics so that you can make up your own recipes based on what's available from your local farmers' market or farmstand. So before we post recipes on this site, we're going to provide several basic techniques that can be used for whatever ingredients are in season and several basic recipes that can be adapted to whatever is on hand.
Some of the foods used in sustainable kitchens, such as pasture-raised meat and poultry, require special cooking techniques to bring out their best flavor. But most organic and local produce uses the same techniques as conventionally grown food—it just tastes better because it's more carefully grown and it's so much kinder to our planet.
Preparing Raw Vegetables
Many vegetables don't need to be cooked at all. The exceptions are shell and dry beans, beets, brussels sprouts, eggplant, parsnips, potatoes, salsify, and winter squash. Even kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabaga can be eaten raw if they are shredded or thinly sliced. Slice, dice, or shred vegetables as near as possible to the time you will eat them; they begin to deteriorate, discolor due to oxidation, dry out on the surface, and lose nutrients as soon as they are cut.
If you are preparing a crudite tray for a crowd and must cut and arrange raw vegetables ahead, select those that do not oxidize. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, kohlrabi, peppers, radishes, and rutabagas, sliced tomatoes, string beans, and turnips make great crudites. Prepare and arrange them on the serving platter, cover them with moistened cheesecloth and plastic wrap; then refrigerate them until just before serving.
If you are including tomatoes, the flavor will be better if you slice them, cover them tightly, and set them aside at room temperature; add them to the platter just before serving. If you are cutting or shredding something that oxidizes, toss the pieces immediately with an acid such as lemon juice, vinegar, salad dressing, shredded onion, yogurt, or sour cream.
Raw vegetables make wonderful natural containers for dips, sauces, spreads, salad dressings, soups, stews, or salads. Depending upon the size container you need, remove the top and clean or hollow out the center of a summer or winter squash, pumpkin, pepper, tomato, or cabbage. Once it has served as a container, you can rinse and cook the hollowed-out vegetable for another use. Raw vegetables make perfect garnishes.
Anything from simple sprigs of flowering herbs to intricately crafted vegetable flowers can be added to individual plates or serving trays or platters to enhance their appearance.
Boiling: Until recently, American cooks had a tendency to boil all their vegetables. And, in many cases, to over boil them until they had lost all identity. Boiling provides a steady temperature (212°F), plenty of moisture, and, unless the water all boils away, insurance against burning. A general guideline for boiling vegetables is to bring just enough water to a boil to cover the vegetables. Add the vegetables; return to a boil and then start timing according to the individual recipe.
An old fashioned way to get this right is to boil the water in a tea kettle, put the vegetables in the saucepan and pour in just the right amount of boiling water from the kettle to cover them. Tender vegetables such as corn, green beans, and broccoli can take as little as three to five minutes. Tough vegetables such as large beets, turnips and sweet potatoes can take a half hour or more. It is important to take them out of the water when they are crisp tender because they will cook a bit more from their residual heat on the way to the table.
Using a lid contains the heat causing the water to come to a boil faster and things to cook more quickly. Be sure to follow the recipe directions for heat intensity, whether to use a cover or not, and timing. A lid is a good idea for vegetables that need a longer cooking time, but can overcook fragile vegetables, such as asparagus and green beans, in a hurry. The rule for vegetable boiling used to be to use little water and a lid for mild-flavored vegetables, such as carrots and peas, and lots or water and no lid for strong-flavored ones such as onions and cabbage. But these days people have come to appreciate the vibrant flavors of vegetables such as onions and cabbage and using extra water to get rid of their flavor is a thing of the past.
Braising: Braising is a technique borrowed from meat cookery. It is especially good for roots and tubers because the long slow heating in a minimum of liquid enhances their flavor as it inches them toward tenderness. To braise vegetables, heat a fat such as butter, olive oil, or vegetable oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Add the vegetables and cook them, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown. Add a little broth, water, wine, or fruit juice; cover the skillet and cook the vegetables slowly over low heat until they are just tender.
If there is still liquid in the skillet, simmer the vegetables , uncovered, until enough liquid evaporates to form a thickened glaze. If you don't want to keep an eye on the skillet to make sure there is still enough liquid to prevent scorching, you can use an oven-proof skillet and lid and braise the vegetables in a 325°F oven.
Broiling: There is nothing more attuned to today's busy lifestyle than broiling. Broiling is the indoor equivalent of grilling except the foods are cooked under instead of over an intense, direct heat source. You can brush slices of summer or winter squash, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and much more with olive oil, salad dressing, or a marinade and broil them 3 to 5 minutes.
Turn them, brush them again, and broil them until they are just crisp tender; season them with salt and fresh herbs and dinner is ready. You could even have started some chicken breasts, burgers or gourmet sausages under the broiler before adding the vegetables for a meat and vegetable meal.
Frying, Panfrying, or Sautéing: Frying or Panfrying means to cook in a skillet (or frying pan) over medium to high heat with just enough oil or melted fat to slightly come up the sides of whatever is being fried not cover it. It provides the crisp exterior and decadent flavor of deep-frying but the vegetables will experience a bit more moisture loss because the top surface is exposed during the first half of cooking.
Frying is quick, uses less oil or fat than deep frying, and requires little clean up. Sautéing is almost the same as frying except that it uses only enough oil or fat to glaze the surface of the skillet and keep the vegetables from sticking. The two terms seem to be used interchangeably these days, and in truth, with many people reducing the amount of oil and fat in their recipes, most of our frying is now sautéing.
Whatever you call it, this is a fast and flavorful way to prepare breaded vegetables such as fried green tomatoes or fried squash; vegetable cakes, pancakes, or "burgers;" potato, sweet-potato, or mixed vegetable "home-fries;" stuffed Italian peppers or zucchini blossoms; and any vegetable you want to serve seared and crisp-tender. If you are sautéing chopped or sliced vegetables you can toss them rather than stirring them to keep them from sticking in the skillet.
Grilling: Pre-Columbian inhabitants of this hemisphere were enjoying grilled foods well before European explorers took note and there is still nothing as enticing as the aroma of dinner cooking on the grill. Grilled vegetables are simply delicious and so simple to do. Quick-cooking ones such as asparagus, corn, eggplant, onions, peppers, summer squash, tomatoes and zucchini can just be brushed with oil and arranged on a preheated metal grate set about 4 inches above glowing charcoal, hard wood, or a gas flame.
Vegetables that normally take more than 6 to 8 minutes to cook in boiling water (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, Globe or Jerusalem artichokes) should be parboiled (cooked briefly in boiling water) until almost tender before grilling. Small items such as brussels sprouts, mushrooms, baby squash, and sugar-snap peas should be threaded onto metal or well-soaked bamboo skewers before grilling to keep them from slipping through the grate. Long, thin vegetables such as asparagus are much easier to handle if two skewers are inserted, about 2-inches apart, through 4 to 6 pieces.
If using charcoal, we recommend selecting the most natural product you can find and starting the fire with an electric starter or a charcoal chimney. For the sake of your health, the flavor of your grilled organic vegetables, and the environment, avoid chemical starters and charcoal that contains them. Because lighting and monitoring the fire is the most time-consuming part of the process, and grilling the vegetables takes only a few minutes, we like to plan ahead and grill some for the next day as well.
The already prepared and chilled grilled vegetables will make great sandwiches, salads, appetizers, or side dishes. Grilling has always been a year round habit in the warmer half of the country, but now folks are bundling up, brushing the snow from the grill, and enjoying grilled food in the middle of the winter in areas where the food was house bound six months of the year.
Poaching: No, this has nothing to do with stopping along the road and snatching a few ears of corn from a field--farmers hate that and usually plant the sweet corn where you can't find it anyway. Poaching is gently cooking fruits or vegetables in a liquid that is barely simmering--just below the boiling point. The liquid can be sugar syrup, fruit juice, wine, seasoned water, meat or vegetable stock, or any flavorful liquid. This is especially good for fragile things such as peaches, pears, berries, baby summer squash, or French green beans. Once cooked, the food is carefully removed to the serving dish using a slotted spoon. Then you can turn up the heat and reduce all or part of the poaching liquid to use for a sauce.
Roasting: Once called "baked," as in Baked Potatoes, roasted vegetables are "hot!" And, there is nothing easier. You simply toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil and seasonings, spread them on a tray, and roast them until they are crisp tender. The initial heat on the surface of the vegetables seals in the moisture and the vegetables brown on the outside as they become tender and juicy on the inside.
The only secret is that different vegetables achieve perfection at different times, so when you see a tray of perfectly roasted mixed vegetables come from the wood oven of a restaurant, they were roasted separately until almost done and then mixed for the final few minutes. Do the same thing at home and you will always be successful. Many of the things you might do on a grill, such as corn in the husk, wedges of baking potatoes, and split zucchini can be just as successfully roasted.
Steaming: Steaming is an excellent way to cook vegetables. Because they are suspended above the boiling liquid, either on a rack or in a special steamer, they only come in contact with condensation from the steam not with the liquid and so lose fewer nutrients. Steaming also preserves the color and shape of the vegetables and seals in flavor and moisture. While steaming will take a bit longer than boiling to cook the vegetables to the same degree of doneness, the time saved in bringing the smaller amount of liquid to a boil may compensate for that difference. Excellent multi-level steamers allow you to prepare a whole meal at once with only one piece of equipment to clean up.
Basic Vegetable Quiche
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie, recipes follow
Prepare pie crust. On a floured board, roll out pastry to make an 11-inch round; fit into a standard 9-inch pie plate. Fold edge over and flute.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in prepared vegetable and cook until hot through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in flour, salt, thyme, and black pepper. Beat eggs until frothy in a medium bowl; brush a little egg over the bottom of the pie crust. Beat the half-and-half into the remaining eggs. Layer half of the cheese, the vegetable mixture, and the remaining cheese into the pie crust. Pour the cream mixture over all.
Bake quiche until center appears set when pie plate is gently tapped, 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside 5 minutes before cutting.
Note: Almost any vegetable or mixture of vegetables can be used in a quiche. If you are using asparagus, broccoli, celery, eggplant, fresh corn, bell peppers, summer squash, mushrooms, or zucchini, they should be sliced, added to the skillet raw, and sautéed with the onions. Carrots, green or yellow beans, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or winter squash should be parboiled and drained thoroughly before adding. Greens such as arugula, beet greens, collards, kale, mustard, spinach, Swiss chard, or turnip greens should be steamed, simmered or stir-fried until wilted, thoroughly drained, and coarsely chopped before adding.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Combine flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water over flour a little at a time and mix until pastry forms a ball when lightly pressed. Flatten dough, wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes.
Easy Whole-wheat Pastry
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Combine flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in oil until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water over flour a little at a time and mix until pastry forms a ball when lightly pressed. Flatten dough, wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes.
The secret to a perfect souffle is using high quality eggs and gently incorporating the
beaten egg whites with the vegetable puree mixture. The variety of vegetable purees that
may be used makes it possible to serve this spectacular dish any season of the year.
3/4 cup vegetable puree, see below
Prepare vegetable puree. Separate eggs placing whites in a large bowl and yolks in small bowl. Gradually beat puree into yolks with wire whisk.
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add onion and sauté until tender about 3 minutes. Stir in flour, salt, your choice of herb, and the black pepper; gradually stir in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Fold yolk-vegetable puree mixture into thickened sauce along with 3 tablespoons of the cheese. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Measure and cut a 26-inch long piece of waxed paper. Fold paper in thirds lengthwise. Lightly grease one side. Fit paper, greased side in, around outside of 1 1/2-quart souffle dish with at least 2 inches above the top of dish. Tie tightly with string.
With electric mixer on high speed, beat whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold some of whites into vegetable mixture. Then fold mixture into remaining beaten whites. Gently spoon mixture into prepared souffle dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon cheese. Bake souffle 40 to 45 minutes or until top is golden brown and center does not shake when dish is gently tapped. Serve immediately.
Note: You can use asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, pumpkin, summer or winter squash, and greens such as chard, mustard, and spinach.
Purees are colorful and comforting as a side dish (We like to pair two compatible flavors
and swirl them in the serving bowl.) and are an essential first step to vegetable souffles,
cream soups and breads. Because they are simply made from fully cooked vegetables and
seasonings, you really only need to know how much to cook and how long.
Vegetables, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks, if necessary
Combine vegetable, water to cover and herbs in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling over high heat; reduce heat and cook, covered, until tender. Drain vegetable very well, reserving cooking liquid. Puree vegetable in a food processor or blender adding cooking liquid 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture is smooth and creamy, yet stiff enough to maintain a furrow when a spoon is pulled through the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Use puree as directed in recipe or prepare puree recipe in multiples and serve as a side dish, allowing about 3/4 cup puree per serving.
Basic Omelets and Frittatas
2 large eggs
Whisk together eggs, milk, and 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 7- or 8- inch omelet pan or heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
Pour in egg mixture, tilting pan to distribute egg evenly. As egg sets, push toward center of pan with an inverted spatula and swirl uncooked egg onto pan surface. When top surface has just set, fill, fold in half, and slide onto serving plate.
Omelet Fillings: To fill one single-serving omelet, combine about 3/4 cup of any chopped or thinly sliced hot cooked vegetable or mixture of vegetables with 3 tablespoons grated American, Blue, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Munster, or mozzarella cheese (or 1 tablespoon Parmesan), salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste, and 1/8 teaspoon dried basil, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, or thyme. Cooked meat, poultry or fish can make up part of the 3/4 cup as well.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy 9- or 10-inch skillet with broiler-proof handle over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add vegetables and cook, stirring, until hot.
Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl; fold in hot vegetable mixture, cheeses, and herb, if using. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over very low heat. Pour in egg and vegetable mixture, spreading with spatula to distribute evenly. Cook, covered, until top surface has just set, 8 to 10 minutes.
Preheat boiler half way through cooking time. Broil frittata just until top surface browns. Cut into 6 wedges and serve.
1 pound potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, or Jerusalem
Cook root vegetables in salted water 5 to 7 minutes or until surface starts to look cooked. Drain; save and cool cooking liquid to use for sauce, if desired. Blanch the pound of more tender vegetables; drain thoroughly.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 2-quart gratin or shallow baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic, if using, until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Whisk the milk into the flour in a small bowl. Whisk the mixture into the onion mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Layer half of root vegetables, 1/3 cup sauce, 1/4 cup cheese, half of the tender vegetables, 1/3 cup sauce, and 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat ending with 1 cup sauce and 1/2 cup cheese. Combine crumbs and remaining oil. If using butter, melt it before combining. Sprinkle over cheese.
Bake until root vegetables are tender and top is well browned, 35 to 40 minutes.
2 to 2 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
Combine 2 cups flour, the yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and oil; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a board with the remaining 1/2 cup flour; knead until smooth adding any additional flour as needed. Oil bowl; return dough; let rise 30 to 45 minutes until double in volume.
Meanwhile, prepare vegetables.
Shape dough on lightly oiled pizza pan. Set aside 15 minutes. Place oven rack at lowest position. Preheat oven to 450°F.
Top dough with tomato sauce, vegetables, and cheese; bake 15 to 20 minutes or until crust has browned and cheese is bubbly.
Note: Asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, carrots, cooking greens, fresh peas, green beans, summer and winter squash and zucchini should be cut into bite-size pieces and parboiled until crisp-tender. Onions and mushrooms are best if sautéed. All should be well drained.
Text and recipes rom Recipes from America's Small Farms by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Lori Stein, copyright 2003 by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Lori Stein. Used by permission of Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc.