Summer Abundance

February 11, 2014

The day I met Julia Child was amazing…awe-inspiring and I was just a little star-struck. Here she stood, the icon of all that is cooking, shaking my hand, smiling and asking about my specialty.
‘So all you eat are vegetables?’ she asked, genuinely interested and perplexed. At first, all I could think was that she did a great imitation of Julia…but she was Julia and I was dumbstruck.

Her words have stuck with me for years. As perplexed as she was, is as sure as I am about the use of vegetables in my diet. For me, there can never be enough…and there is never any shortage of variety and interest to keep me inspired.

What is it about vegetables that enchant me season to season, with no end in sight to this honeymoon-like state of culinary bliss? Plants have the most important job on Mother Earth–they work to supply the planet with oxygen as they purify the air of carbon dioxide, which they, in turn absorb through photosynthesis. And since we, as animals, take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, plants make the perfect partner for humanity.

Plants only get more delicious…with an innate ability to transform light into useable energy, which they can store for later use; plants are our most significant source of vitality, as we consume their energy and convert it into fuel. Plants are the original source of protein, carbohydrates and other complex molecules of nutrition, which means they contain within their humble seeds, stalks, stems, roots, leaves and flowers all the vital components necessary for animal life (which includes us) to thrive. Without plant life, our beautiful, fragile planet would be a barren, sterile sphere, lifeless and still.

Still not convinced to eat more plants? Then skip the science and picture the bustling activity of open-air markets, bins overflowing with the harvest of the land. From backyard gardens to busy farm markets, wherever fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs of the season are cultivated and shared, an engaging way of life is created, one that puts us back in direct contact with the planet we call home…from robust greens and delicate herbs to succulent tomatoes, strong, sweet roots and fresh seasonal fruits…if that doesn’t inspire us, I’m not sure what will.

Planting your own garden, even if it’s just a few herbs in containers, as well as making early morning trips to area farm markets will give you a sense of abundance that is unparalleled. Even supermarkets feature locally grown fresh produce, as the demand for such lively freshness grows.

For me, the recipe is secondary to the choosing of ingredients–and that is especially true with vegetables. No amount of culinary skill can revive vegetables that are bereft of their fresh vitality, even creating complex sauces and dressings as disguises. Freshly harvested, organic, locally-grown vegetables are always my first choice and comprise the majority of what I use, with commercial and organic choices from outside my region used solely to fill in the gaps. Over the years I have discovered that the handling of a vegetable in the kitchen, the actual preparation of it for a dish, is far less important to taste than the quality of it. Where and how it was grown, when it was harvested, how long it has taken to get from the farm to your cutting board will impact a recipe far more dramatically than how you season it. Cooking is only a bit player in the drama of the kitchen.

So how do you get the best quality vegetables and fruits on your dining table? Shop where you know the food is freshest, a farm market, a cooperative market or better quality supermarkets. Decide your final menu after you have shopped, not before. Free yourself to look for the most vital and beautiful produce you can find and build your delicious menu plans around them. Buy produce that is locally grown and organic (as much as possible), choosing the ingredients that look freshly harvested. Vegetables and fruits should look like they can jump out of the bin into your cart.

Thinking of vegetables in this manner will make the cooking of them an entirely different experience. Handling fresh, vital, living food is so inspiring, that you will want to cook. You will never tire of washing beautiful vegetables, as their vital colors blind you with jewel-like vibrancy. Smell them; caress them; taste them in their raw form so that you become familiar with how they will behave in a dish. With this kind of insight into cooking vegetables, you will come to the realization that fresh, vital foods require very little effort and little enhancement. You will find that they stand best when left to their own devices, with just a little coaxing from sea salt, fresh herbs, excellent oils, nuts and seeds and a touch of lemon or vinegar. Complex cooking methods, heavy sauces and overwhelming preparation time will be a thing of the past in your fresh kitchen…with yummy results.

Cooking vegetables is the key to our vitality, to enlivening our being. With vegetables in our diet, anything is possible. Can you imagine a more delicious way to follow the path to your dreams?