Alas, vegetables

Today, Jeff Fournier returned to introduce us to the wonderful world of vegetables. After so much meat and fish, I was looking forward to making the shift to non-protein food. In the morning, Jeff chit-chatted about "veg" families, the problems with GMOs, seasonality, and his restaurant's rooftop garden. But the big takeaway for the day was understanding the versatility of vegetables.

To grasp this concept we cooked a small farm's worth of produce using multiple techniques such as braising, frying, sauteeing, stuffing, pureeing, and roasting. The same vegetable—like eggplant, for example—was fried for "chicherones" and sauteed then pureed for babaganoush. Whole tomatoes were stuffed with herbs and breadcrumbs and baked while cherry tomatoes were prepared like confit with several glugs of olive oil and sliced garlic. We made a slew of different pureed root vegetables like turnips, rutabaga, and Jerusalem artichokes. Then everyone tasted the difference between using stock, cream, olive oil, or butter to enrich the purees. Not surprisingly, the vegetables cooked with cream were the most luxurious.

 Stuffed tomatoes, Cambodian salad (front), and quick sauerkraut.

Stuffed tomatoes, Cambodian salad (front), and quick sauerkraut.

Many of the veggies we cooked ended up being much more decadent than what I'd make at home. Deep frying brussels sprouts before tossing them with wine and miso isn't exactly easy in a home kitchen. It takes so much oil and requires some pretty hefty clean up, not to mention that it adds loads of extra calories. But I understand that in a restaurant, easy clean up and good nutrition isn't exactly on everyone's mind. If I had a hot fryolater on hand at any given moment, I'd probably be frying a lot more food. It sure makes for a satisfying eating experience.

 Babaganoush with pita chips, fried miso brussels sprouts topped with scallions and cilantro, and eggplant chicherones.

Babaganoush with pita chips, fried miso brussels sprouts topped with scallions and cilantro, and eggplant chicherones.

Artichokes are also delicious fried, but in today's class we practiced "turning" the tight green flower buds for use in a braise. The outer leaves were removed with a pairing knife, then the base and stem were peeled. After cutting in half, the choke was removed and discarded. This was new to me since I usually just pluck off the outer leaves or trim them with scissors before steaming. The leaves and trimming were saved in acidulated water for a soup we are making tomorrow. Cheff Fournier believes in using every bit food that comes through his kitchen. This is especially important with artichokes that lose at least 50% of their weight after trimming.

All in all, we accomplished a lot in today's class. The Cambodian salad made with napa cabbage, scallions, toasted almonds, and sweet chili vinaigrette was crisp and refreshing. The quick sauerkraut was warm and comforting. I enjoyed it all so much that I made a vow to get out of my rut (no more roasting!) and practice some of these new techniques that highlight the versatility of vegetables.