10 July 2009

I've said it once, twice, a million times.

A friend on one of my forums asked a question.

Hey guys, I'm going to be in rural Oklahoma with a large party of omnis for a few weeks next month, and I'd like to make stuff for every meal to share with them (a main course, so I've got what to eat too, I'd make some desserts also, anything really). They're potentially wary of "weird" things (though I'll still make some things with tofu, just strategically hidden). I'm not asking you to do my homework (okay, I kind of am), just give me more ideas.

I'm pathetically a cooking rookie, but I'll tackle anything. Ideally, some simple, fairly quick (or slow but totally worth it) recipes that you think would have success with omnis. Also being in rural Oklahoma means I have limited access to exotic ingredients (...exotic here includes miso paste, tahini, and hummus...and vegan yogurt, and anything else really, you're stuck eating sprayed carrots and corn from a can -- I digress!). If you've got a killer recipe that calls for something less Wal-Mart-standard, there's a Whole Foods an hour's drive away -- I would sacrifice myself for cuisine!

OK here goes. I'm not going to tell you to get fake meats (big surprise) or weird spices (that actually is a big surprise). Use what's in the pantry, and what you can find at any grocery store, and that tastes good and people can easily make, so that when you leave, they may very well be tempted to try their own hand at it. I've discussed this technique so many times, but it's still not getting out there, so I'll keep at it till it does.

Start with vegetables of any kind. Get them into equally sized pieces. As long as they're the same size (roughly) you should be fine. Get a dish, and pour in some spices that you have. Paprika is good, dried herbs like basil and sage are both really good, and if they have curry powder, seasoned salt, chile powder, mrs. dash, or any other herb or spice blend, be lazy and use that instead. Add a bit of salt (to taste), a bit of black pepper, and oil. Mix the oil and spices together. Then, toss your vegetables in the spices and oil, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until tender. Check them at 20 minutes, and if they're not tender yet, let it go for another 10. Then check every ten minutes or so till it's done to your liking. Quick cooking veg, like courgette or squash or dark leafy greens without stems (you heard right--this works for leaves too) can take as little as 15 minutes. Long cookers, like whole potatoes, yams, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes, can take as long as 1 hour. Most vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens with stems, carrots, rutabaga, daikon, and other such high-water vegetables will take about 25 - 30 minutes.

I do not kid you when I say that the smells are fantastic. If you are going this route for dark leafy greens, go ahead and put some foil over the baking sheet, so as to allow the greens to steam themselves, and prevent drying out. While you're at it, don't make just one variety. If you have a bunch of different things, and you make the same (or different) spice and oil combos for each one, and bake them in their own little dishes, and then serve a side of rice and beans, you've got a very filling meal going down, with very little effort.

With just this basic technique, you're hitting gluten free, soy free, nut free, and pretty damn near every other allergen free, barring the freaky ones that people make up to be unique and special. And it's easy. And it's low in fat and calories. And it smells and looks fantastic. AND it works for frozen or fresh vegetables. You heard me right. Frozen works fine too. Just avoid tinned veg.

To round it out (with the beans and rice as mentioned), sautee some onion (a medium one, diced is great) in a bit of oil. When the onion turns brown, throw in some of those herbs and spices you used for the vegetables. If you have access to curry powder or turmeric, throw in a bit of that as well to make lovely yellow rice. Then, throw in the rice (about 2 cups), and toss it through with the onions, oil, and spices, until the rice gets toasty, and smells slightly nutty. At that point, dump in a tin of beans of your choice (with the liquid) and wash out the tin with water, and pour that in as well. Then add one more tin's worth of water, and let the water all come to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, slam on the lid, and let it cook slowly for 20 minutes or so. Turn off the heat after 20 minutes, and let it sit there with the lid shut for 10 minutes, while you do other stuff. This is 10,000 times easier in a rice cooker, as you just have to dump everything in, and hit the start button. If it's not cooked enough, let it cook longer over low heat, with some extra added water. If you're using brown rice, increase the cooking time to 40 minutes.

He said that it seems quite doable, and accessible. Anyone else agree?