Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.
2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.
Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.
This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.
Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.
Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.
The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.
It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?
The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.
Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight
Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb
2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish
Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.
Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.
Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 – 4 Servings
Batten down the hatches and hide the good porcelain; the holidays are here again. Ready or not, Thanksgiving hits in just over a week, throwing cooks and eaters across the country into a predictable annual frenzy. If your menu is already planned and locked down, you’re probably sick of reading the incessant recipe suggestions churning out of every food publication, online, in print, on TV, over the radio waves, and beyond. If you’ve been remiss in your advanced preparations, your blood pressure is probably spiking to greater heights with every mention of yet another overly complicated, time consuming new dish to consider adding to the elaborate affair.
Let’s take it back a step, shall we? Eight days is still plenty of time from either perspective, whether you need to get your act together or just stick to the script. No matter what, you’ve still gotta eat in the meantime.
There’s enough to stress about without adding another random recipe into the mix, so I’m not saying this is one for the Thanksgiving table. It does just happen to fit the theme beautifully, incorporating seasonal root vegetables into an easy condiment that would be just as home atop crackers as it would alongside your festive roast of choice. Ruby red, it glistens with the same luminosity as cranberry sauce, but shines with an entirely unique earthy yet sweet and zesty flavor. Beet marmalade was one of our top selling items at Health in a Hurry, and it remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. It’s the one single dish that I can point to that finally converted me from beet hater to lover.
I deeply regret not writing down that secret formula before the restaurant closed, but the good news is that it’s such a simple concept, it doesn’t take much effort to recreate a very close proxy. Caramelized onions lay down a rich, savory baseline, while jazzy orange peel hits the high notes, complimented by the sweetness of maple syrup. Perhaps an unlikely combination on paper, the final flavor sings with a resonance that far exceeds the sum of its parts.
I’m not saying you should save it for Thanksgiving… But I’m not saying it would be a bad guest at the table, either.
4 Medium Red Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Sliced
1 Large Orange, Zested and Juiced
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets up in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered, and roast for about an hour, or until fork tender. Let cool before peeling. If they’re cooked properly, the skins should just rub right off with a bit of pressure.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add in the sliced onion. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply caramelized and almost silky in texture. Add in the orange juice about halfway through, and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent burning.
Roughly chop the cooked beets and place them in your food processor along with the orange zest and caramelized onions. Add in the maple syrup and salt. Lightly pulse all of the ingredients together until broken down and thoroughly combined but still quite chunky.
Serve warm or chilled, as a dip or topping for crackers, a condiment on the dinner table, or as a spread with bread.
Makes about 2 Cups
Pungent, peppery little orbs hidden beneath crowns of unruly leafy greens, the humble radish is all too often overlooked both in the garden and on the plate. Offering so much more than just fodder for antiquated garnishing techniques, these root vegetables were once so prized by the ancient Greeks that gold replicas would be crafted in their form. Though considerably less valuable but far more delicious, the plain old red radish deserves just as much reverence today.
Best when picked small and eaten moments after brushing away the soil that they grew in, nothing is needed to dress up the bright, spicy flavor concealed within each tiny tuber. The average supermarket radish is sadly so far removed from it’s original glory that it’s no surprise few people share any amount of enthusiasm for this once prized vegetable. Decapitated in the field, denuded of their glorious greens, and shrink wrapped to preserve shelf life, I wouldn’t want to do much more than carve these tasteless marbles into silly sculptures either.
Even if you’ve turned up your nose at radishes in the past, I implore you to give them another chance- Fresh, full of flavor, and treated with respect.
Tossed simply with a bold dressing highlighting its not-so-distant relative, the horseradish, the complimentary flavors sparkle across this crisp salad. Utilizing the whole vegetable, greens and all, this raw preparation comes together very quickly, ready to start off any springtime meal on a high note.
Totally Rad Salad
1 Bunch (About 3/4 Pound) Red Radishes
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Horseradish
1 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Leaves, Fronds, and/or Blossoms
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
Trim off the spindly tips of the radishes and remove the greens. Rinse and reserve the leaves. Thinly slice both the radishes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a separate dish, making sure to break up all of the horseradish so that it’s not ultimately clumped into one bite. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and radishes, tossing thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables. Arrange the reserved leafy greens on salad plates and top with the dressed veggies. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 – 4 Servings