The Original Vegetable of the Year

Fava beans were my first vegetable of the year.  I was new to Seattle and working long hours.  For dinner most nights, I would have what I called Spinster Salad, or spinach topped with canned tuna and a balsamic vinaigrette.  I needed something new in my life, both in my salad bowl and my love life.  I discovered fava beans on a rainy May visit toImage the West Seattle Farmer’s Market.  I took them home out of pity. They looked like mutant green beans from another planet, twisted and bloated in parts, and they carried the stigma of Hannibal Lecter’s chianti-match fava bean meal. I opened Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to find Fava Beans with Yogurt, Lemon, and Dill.  The sun came out and I sat on the back porch, shelling the pods, and then the individual beans.  It was a lot of work and I thought, “Maybe this will be a one-time recipe.”  I shelled so many beans that my thumbnail was raw where the skin had pushed back the nail.

But it was worth it.  The meal was tangy and bright and wonderful.  I began making this recipe for everyone, trying to convert them to favas.   I’ve learned that if you blanch the beans once they are out of the pods, the shell a whole lot faster.  I’ve learned that you can put the whole pod on the grill and roast them whole and save yourself some work.

So, each summer since the summer of favas, I have awarded the title of Vegetable of the Year to the vegetable that has wowed me.  Like all awards, the prize winning is a complex interaction between unspoken forces: the recipes, the dining companions and atmosphere of the meal.  When I met favas, I was lonely and awkward and found a strange kinship with these alien beans.

Previous winners include cauliflower, snap peas, fennel, delicata squash, kale.  Before you ask, the winner from 2011 is the radish.  But that’s a story in itself…

Fava Beans with Yogurt, Lemon and Dill (adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

serves 4

  • 4 pounds fresh fava beans in their pods
  • 2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 scallions, including some of the greens, thinly sliced
  • 1 t finely grate lemon zest
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 T finely chopped dill
  • 1/3 cup yogurt, whisked until smooth

Shell the beans (if large, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water, then ice bath).  Peel the beans.  Cook in a medium skillet over medium heat in 1T olive oil until they are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add the scallions and turn off the heat.  Whisk together remaining oil, zest, juice and salt.  Pour over beans and add the majority of the dill.  Season with pepper and mix.  Move the beans to the serving dish and garnish with drizzled yogurt and dill.  Serve warm or chilled.

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Remains of the fridge

Less poetic than the remains of the day are the threatening spoilage in our fridge on the cusp of a holiday. Our fridge is empty save a small tub of baby spinach, 2 pounds of Brussel sprouts, ten cherry tomatoes, head of broccoli, and a large bag of peeled garlic. Hmmmm. And, 2 1/2 dozen eggs. We are thinking garlicky lentils with poached eggies.

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Roasting and rescuing baby bok choy

I’m not a fan of bok choy.  It’s a vegetable with texture confusion.  The bulbous stalk is watery and refuses to let go of the leafy green, choking the innocent diner.  When steamed, it can only be resurrected with a phenomenal sauce.  I imagine some hearty souls boil it, but I would not want to visit their kitchens.

We’ve been in the habit of roasting everything this year and fortuitously had bok choy cooked within a centimeter of its life.  It was amazing.  I was inspired.  This week, I bought a  bunch of bok choy, sliced them in half, drizzled with olive oil and roasted them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. They were great.  The leaf fan crisped like kale chips and the bulb softened and sweetened. It didn’t need a sauce, but I’m fantasizing about a plum vinagrette.

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