Of Vegetables and Domestic Unrest: A (Semi) Cautionary Tale

I gave up meat for Lent. I'd thought it would be difficult, but for the most part, I found it an enjoyable exercise. The night my wife insisted on the decidedly un-vegetarian-friendly Hubcap Grill for dinner, relegating me to a couple of orders of fries and a beer, was pretty rough. Aside from that, I chose to embrace the opportunity to explore vegetable cookery with a focus I'd previously been able to largely avoid by leaning on the crutch of pork fat.

Since I was going full-veg anyway, I decided to give Farmhouse Delivery a trial run. Sure, I could wake up early on Saturday mornings and go hand-select local produce at the Eastside Farmer's Market, but I'm lazy. I'd rather have a box of produce magically appear on my doorstep.

I also like the random aspect of a CSA-type program, never mind the fact that the ability to choose what comes in your basket is one of the selling points of this particular outfit. I figure that if I let chance dictate my pantry, I force my own hand to develop an increased comfort level with a wider variety of produce, rather than taking the easy way out of swapping in stuff I can cook in my sleep.

I've been receiving a biweekly shipment since the beginning of March. In those shipments I've received: a staggering amount of greens, several bunches of beats, kohlrabi, broccoli and cauliflower, brussels sprouts, spring onions, sweet potatoes, mangoes, zucchini, snow peas, carrots, lettuces, green beans, okra, strawberries, blueberries, artichokes (a.k.a. Satan's Flowers), mushrooms and, in my latest basket, the first peaches of the season.

Not everything has been a hit with the family, though I think I've had more successes than failures. I will say that leaning so heavily on vegetables demands a bit more time in the kitchen, and that doesn't always go over very well. The amount of time spent, for example, on a dish focused on the many forms of brassica did not seem commensurate with the enjoyment my six-year-old took from it.

My wife and I enjoyed it much more, and each of the kids found a favorite item among the various elements of the plate, the younger one preferring the slightly sweet cubes of kohlrabi that had been poached gently in shiitake dashi, the older one opting for the darkly roasted brussels sprouts.

That time, I had a backup plan in my back pocket, tossing the various elements of the plate with some quickly sautéed acini di pepe I'd blanched ahead of time. It's amazing what kids will eat when it's presented in a more familiar form. Pasta works wonders, in this regard.

Better received was a dish built around leftovers. I'd made a risotto flavored with beets that I'd roasted with peanut shells, cooked in mushroom stock, enriched at the end with a healthy dollop of tangy-sweet goat cheese. Classics are classics for a reason, and we all really enjoyed this twist on the so-classic-it's-cliché pairing of beets and goat cheese.

I'd made way too much, though, and had lots of leftovers. There's really only one thing to do with leftover risotto, and that's to fry it. My risotto was actually a bit too loose to mold easily into balls suitable for deep frying, so I formed the whole shebang into one large disk, held together with a handful of panko breadcrumbs, and fried it in a skillet, frittata-style.

Employing one of the many gigantic bunches of greens I've received with each basket, I made a quick béchamel, starting off with a blond roux and adding in a handful of diced spring onions, and creamed the greens. Taking things down a slightly exotic road, I opted to finish the béchamel with half coconut milk, infused with toasted coriander seed. The dark, slightly bitter flavor of the greens played very well with the sweet richness of the sauce, tasting lush and fresh, velvety and decadent at the same time.

To finish things off, I cooked off a few four-minute eggs, still golden-yolked and flowing, and dotted the plate with a little bit of Sriracha, for heat and just a bit of acid to brighten the flavors. Everyone agreed that this one was a keeper, though the younger daughter put forth the opinion that the everything-else-to-egg ratio was off. That kid wants to eat egg-topped eggs with a side of eggs, though, so I took the criticism in stride.

Since then, though, the kids have begun to tire of my vegetative explorations, longing for "something normal," as they so eloquently put it. I think the stumbling block has been my arguably silly insistence that each ingredient be treated as something to be highlighted and celebrated, rather than chopped up into a stew, its singular nature subjugated to the greater good of a perhaps more kid-friendly dinner.

We've had a bit of drama, a couple of mid-meal pizzas ordered to quell the complaints of hungry kids who would not be placated by a slightly small portion of a slightly elaborate edible treatise on the carrot. I went, temporarily, on strike, refusing to cook for a couple of kids who were becoming increasingly belligerent in their longing for some mac and cheese, or at least a nice pot roast.

I've since reconciled myself to the necessity of indulging their whims as much as (if not more than) my own, and we're back to the drawing board with our menu planning for this week's basket, looking at roasted chicken with sautéed green beans and butter-braised radishes, a gumbo for that lovely okra, and perhaps a raisin- and caper-studded Sicilian-style dish of greens and beans, a version of which the kids had enjoyed a few weeks earlier.

As a peace offering, I grilled a bunch of steaks this weekend, sneaking in some grilled endive with fish sauce and cilantro vinaigrette, and a big tumble of grilled fava beans tossed with garlic and lemon. The kids plowed through those steaks like a couple of Oliver Twist extras. My wife wanted more endive. I'll call that a win-win.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall