When we’re planning the garden every year and
fighting debating compromising about just how many of each plant we need, I can be counted on to say at some point, “Why on earth do 2 people need 20 tomato plants? 16 squash plants?! 15 okra plants?!?” The DreadBrewer always replies that he likes to give away the surplus; he likes to share and it makes him feel good. Which is true – we do give away a lot of veg. But, when most of our friends and neighbors have their own gardens and don’t need our produce, we’re stuck with quite a bit that we have to consume ourselves. So we’ve come up with some creative ways to use it all up.
One of our favorite (and easiest) ways to prepare vegetables is to make “Root Bake.” Basically, you take any hard vegetable you have on hand (although roots work best – hence the name of the dish), cut them into approximately equal sized pieces, toss the whole thing with a little olive oil and Mrs. Dash or seasoning blend of your choice, and bake at 375° until the vegetables are tender. We always use white potatoes, onions, beets, and carrots. If we have them, we’ll add sweet potatoes, halved Brussels sprouts, mushrooms – I can’t really think of too many vegetables that wouldn’t work well in this dish. (I mean, obviously you shouldn’t use tomatoes or cucumbers or other similarly water-dense, squidgy vegetables.)
The keys to making a good root bake are: 1) to cut all of the vegetables roughly the same size, so that they all finish together; 2) stir them periodically throughout baking to make sure all the sides are cooked, and 3) stop before the vegetables either turn to mush or dry out to hard little veggie rocks.
If you make a huge batch of this, its good heated up for days and days. And I feel like it’s a fairly healthy way to make a delicious vegetable side.
When DB and I find ourselves drowning in zucchini and okra, as inevitably happens with 15+ plants of each, our go-to recipe is oven-fried okra and zucchini. For Christmas a few years ago, DB got me a mandolin slicer, which is a huge time saver throughout the summer months and particularly when making this zucchini dish. ((Although the zucchini can be properly sliced by hand. It’s just a little more time consuming. But safer if you’ve had a beer or two – the mandolin should definitely not be used under then influence. And yes, I’m talking to you, Jessie.)) First, cut your zucchini into strips and your okra into ~1/2 inch pieces. Then, coat the veggie bits in a beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs (we add Italian seasonings to ours). ((The DreadBrewer always asks if we can try cornmeal but I hate the taste of baked cornmeal, so I always say no. Maybe I’ll give in next time. If you try it and it’s incredibly tasty, let me know!)) Place the strips/bits on a baking sheet sprayed with Pam and bake at 375° for at least 20-30 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes. The DreadBrewer likes ‘em kinda crispy (I guess so they’re more like fried) and we cook them at least 30 minutes, if not 40, to get them as crunchy as he’d like. I eat mine plain or dipped in ranch, while DB favors ketchup. This is honestly one of our favorite side dishes and we easily make it 2 to 3 times a week during the summer.
If we get sick of oven-fried veggies ((more likely, I get sick of the work involved breading the damn things. The zucchini’s not difficult but the okra is messy and drives me nuts. Also, because of my anal-retentiveness, I have to face all of the okra up and in straight neat rows while we bake them and that takes a long time to arrange. It would be easier if I could leave them all messy and out of order, but I can’t…)), we’ll whip up a quick stir-fry with the zucchini and okra with garlic and soy sauce. Delicious, fast, easy, and pretty healthy.
Finally, when our cherry tomatoes and cucumbers are in full swing, we have a salad with those, basil leaves, and balsamic vinegar nearly every night. When the nice mozzarella is on sale, we’ll dice that and throw it in – and it’s even more delicious, which doesn’t seem remotely possible but it’s true.
There are a few other dishes we make – peppers stuffed with rice and cheese, potato-leek soup, pasta with pesto or marinara – and a lot of crops (like the melons, carrots, cucumbers) can be eaten solo. And there have been a few failed recipe attempts that resulted in a large quantity of produce being cooked or pickled and then trashed. But there is no way we can keep up with it all, so we do end up giving a lot away. And, I’m sad to admit, there is a decent amount that goes bad before we can eat it or
foist it off on share it with other people. (All to the benefit of our compost pile, at least.)
Every year we talk about learning how to can so as to preserve some of the bounty into the winter months. But the fear of exploding glass jars filled with boiling hot preserves deters us. Perhaps this will be the year that we finally conquer our fears and give canning a shot. Or perhaps we’ll resort to ding-dong-ditch with bags of vegetables. If you find a bushel of zucchini and a quart of cherry tomatoes on your porch one morning, it wasn’t us…