I'm such vegetable cheerleader. It's probably good that I get hit with a curve ball
every now and then to make sure I don't cartwheel off the stage.
Apparently I was in danger of just such a fall because leeks came up as the Vegetable
of the Month. All autumn, I was coming up with great recipes for kale, Brussels
sprouts, winter squash and even winter radishes--but not leeks. I just couldn't
get excited about these alien objects.
I'm guessing a lack of excitement describes how a lot of people feel about a lot
of vegetables--which is probably why our vegetable repertoire is so limited. According
to a study reported in the Wall Street Journal, potatoes, corn and peas comprise
40% of our vegetable consumption. The other 60% is no doubt dominated by the standard
salad components of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
Doesn’t Target or WalMart stock jars of Vegetable Inspiration that you can sprinkle
on the green stuff in the frig before it rots?
If it's true that we need to be eating an entire rainbow of vegetables (which is
what all the experts say), we're never going to reach the pot of gold without something
to fire up the engines. And that something, I suspect, is not just more reasons.
We know all the health reasons to eat "a wide variety" of vegetables--but that hasn't
gotten us very far.
So back to my leek challenge: I didn't have to dig very deep to unearth my leek
bogeyman. I'd created him myself--over just the past couple years by cooking leeks
in ways that didn't taste that great. As explained in the "Discovering What We Don’t
Know that We Don't Know about Cooking Leeks," I either browned them too much and
too quickly (so they tasted like burnt sugar) or I overcooked them (so they came
out slimy and tasteless.) No wonder I was hesitant about the subject of leeks!
Taking my own advice, I invested a little time learning to cook them properly. In
fact, I went so far as to carve out a couple hours to really get a handle on leek
cooking, testing several methods in an orderly, comprehensive manner, instead of
just piecemeal here and there. With a little knowledge and care, I was able to easily
and deliciously cook up a batch of leeks.
Finally, just like Nach's professional chefs, I browsed cookbooks and the Internet
to see how others were using leeks. There were dozens of intriguing possibilities--and
with my basic cooking skills now in place, those possibilities felt comfortably within
reach. That's when my usual cooking enthusiasm really began percolating once again.
Once again, vegetables were looking like fun, not work.
Want to get to know leeks? What do they taste like? How do you cook them?
Learn All About Leeks in
Whether by accident or virtuous intentions, alien objects of a vegetable nature are
popping up in kitchens around the country.
What if one lands in your kitchen?
“Should” to “Want”
Our mission is to transform vegetables into something we want in our meals, not just
something we tack on at the end because "we should eat our vegetables."
Maybe what we need more than reasons is inspiration, motivation–something to kick
start us on to a vegetable adventure. Which gets back to my ambivalence about leeks.
As I began writing this month’s issue, I was desperately searching for some inspiration.
So for the sake of science I decided to observe my frantic quest, which happily
yielded three helpful strategies:
Strategy 1: Dredge Up Past Bogeymen When it comes to vegetables, there are plenty
of bogeymen lurking around and ready to sabotage our taste buds, especially when
it comes to vegetables we view as “aliens.”
Spinach In the Spinach issue, for instance, I told the story about exhibiting at
a health fair. No less than three attendees in a single morning stopped by my display
with identical spinach stories: As youngsters, they had all been force fed canned
spinach and now they hated it.
Beets Countless people have told me similar stories about beets: As kids they were
forced to eat pickled beets, souring them on this vegetable for life.
Winter Squash In a similar vein, my neighbor insisted that she and her husband wouldn't
like the delicata squash that had accidentally popped up in her garden. To her,
all winter squash tasted like baby food.
With bad taste memories like these, it's no wonder we view vegetables, especially
strange-sounding ones, with a fair bit of skepticism.
Strategy 2: Learn to Buy and Cook Flavorfully Thankfully, it's not hard to dispense
with bad taste memories. Usually, it takes just a kernel or two of know-how to transform
something that's "good for us" into something that is really tastes good, too.
For instance, when our spinach haters finally had a chance to try fresh spinach they
became giddy over the taste. When the beet eaters learned to roast beets, they were
amazed how the vegetable morphed into such sweet nuggets . And when I suggested
that my neighbor try baking, rather than boiling her delicata, she became an instant
This is what Vegetable a Month is all about. Sometimes, our vegetable know-how is
a little spotty; a lot got lost on the way to Fast Food Paradise. Now we need that
lost vegetable sense back, and Vegetable a Month is the passage home.
Strategy 3: Now for Some Inspiration Eliminating bad taste memories makes room
for a fresh start--and there's no better way to get started than by perusing recipes.
I once visited one of the most famous food book stores in the country, Kitchen Arts
& Letters in New York City. Owner Nach Waxman, a fascinating character described
by EatMeDaily as "the alpha and omega of the recorded history of food," shared that
some of his best customers were big name chefs. I was surprised that those sorts
would need or want to buy any cookbooks. "Oh, they don't actually buy them to make
the recipes," Nach explained. "It's the inspiration they're after."
An Inspiration Strategy
Drumming up Leek Inspiration
Hopefully this and all issues of the Vegetable a Month Magazine will give you not
only the know-how to cook with confidence but the inspiration to experiment, so no
matter how alien the vegetable, it will be a fun alien encounter.
A Week of Leeks
7 Days / 7 Ways
to cook leeks
+ 7 tempting menu ideas
On the Blog: Strategy 4
Read the blog for a report on my first, informed foray into leek cooking--and a fourth,
really good strategy I discovered: “Learn Right From the Start.”