From Too Many Chefs -

July 21, 2005
Cleaning Out the Icebox: the Vegetarian Edition

salad.jpgWhen I was growing up my grandmother had a vocabulary all her own. My grandma had a davenport, not a couch. She cleaned out the icebox. In our house it was cleaning out the fridge. Well, icebox sounds more frugal and quaint so I'll skip a generation and revert. The principle is the same: you choose an evening when your picky spouse is away and you pull out all those leftovers that would have gone bad if you left them in there much longer. And you feast.

I've been pretty unambitious lately in the cooking department. In some ways, having a grill has liberated me from fancy cooking in the summer. All I need is a slab of protein, a few spices and a few seconds to heat the gas grill and we have perfect summer food. So if I do anything special at all, it's probably going to be vegetable-based. And I did a few tasty vegetables this week, none of which seemed exciting enough to justify a post on its own. But they made a great dinner for me tonight. And so, collectively, I guess they make a post.

Tonight's dinner was a trio of tasty vegetable side dishes. Together they made a fabulous meal. Too bad my vegetarian friends Barrett and his-lovely-wife-Rebecca are a few thousand miles away.

First up, was a recipe from a book that Barrett gave me a while back: Deborah Madsen's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was looking for something different to do with an eggplant and something about the simplicity of this recipe (and the fact that I love all the ingredients that went into it) called to me. I made one small adjustment. I added garlic. I think that just about anything that includes olive oil and pine nuts cannot help but be improved by the addition of garlic. Blame it on my old Italin-American friend Tom: I'm a garlic fiend.

It's hardly a recipe. You take a medium eggplant and cut it in one inch cubes. Pour about a 1/4 cup of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and toss the eggplant cubes in it. Put on a relatively high flame and stir every few minutes to brown the eggplant cubes on all sides. In the meantime, slice finely a plump garlic clove. Add it to the pan with about a 1/4 cup pine nuts. Toss. When the garlic smells sweet and the pine nuts are just starting to brown, turn the heat down to its lowest point and cover. Let the eggplant steam until it's tender. Toss with 2 Tbs fresh parsley and a generous pinch of salt and serve. It's lovely. The eggplant's nuttiness goes well with the pine nuts, the parsley gives a fresh taste to everything and there's an underlying olive oil theme. Heavenly. I don't know why the Critic didn't want any when he came home from work last night but I was glad he didn't: more for me.

Next up, was a simple cherry tomato and cucumber salad. This "recipe" is even less complicated than the last. Take one small container of yogurt (brassť for preference) and into it mix 1-2 Tbs fresh or frozen chopped dill and one pressed small clove of garlic. Mix well and toss with half a cucumber (sliced) and a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes. Salt to taste and let steep in the fridge (icebox) for 15 minutes or more so that the flavors can mingle. Serve cold

And if you are lucky, you'll serve the latter on a smal salad of lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes from your own garden. What amazed me most about the lettuce (pictured above) is how fresh it stayed despite the abuse it received from me. Day one: I picked the lettuce, washed it, put it in a towel to drain and forgot it. Day two: found the lettuce and put it in a tupperware-like container in the fridge. Day four: brought the container of lettuce to work and realized afterwards that I had an engagement to lunch with a friend. D'oh! Brought home salad, where it sat on the dining room table on a hot summer day for several hours before I finally remembered it and had it for dinner.

And it was still crisp. Sweet.

I wonder how old those bags of salad that I occasionally buy at the grocery store are? Because they go bad in 48 hours in the fridge.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at July 21, 2005 2:08 PM | TrackBack

Half Italian I am. So then it would be ice-a box-a. Seriously, Grandma Lucy (my namesake).

And for you young uns' out there.....why is it called an ice box?

(OK, it's not THAT difficult)......

Drumroll.....because the ice man would come by the house and you would buy a huge chuck of ice to keep the perishables COLD.

Tah dah.

Posted by Lu on July 21, 2005 at 8:16 PM

Actually, Lu, to me the more interesting question is where the heck did Davenport come from? I did a little Googling and it seems the best bet - though no one is sure - is that there must have been a company called Davenport that sold particularly popular couches!

Guess it makes sense...

Posted by Meg in Paris on July 22, 2005 at 3:36 AM

Meg...I too have been growing my own lettuce this summer and although delicate in texture is remarkably hardy and durable once picked. Although mine didn't take quite the scenic route that yours did, it lasted a REALLY long time in the icebox :>) (I'm from Alabama, and we always called it that too.). So good question about the advanced age of what's available in the grocery store.

And the cucumber-tomato-yogurt salad is my absolute summer favorite. But it goes by the Indian name of 'raita' in my kitchen and has a pinch of cumin in it to give it that sub-continental flair. Goes great with curry.

Posted by Celeste on July 22, 2005 at 4:58 PM

Couple of comments. Celeste, MMM yummy adding the cumin to the salad!

Meg, I think that the bags of lettuce go bad because they are already cut up. I mean, when you ice-boxerate (as opposed to refrigerate) clean (washed) lettuce as you did and it survived your "alleged abuse", it's most likely because it was in whole pieces. The more cut up or processed something is I think it is more likely to "go bad".

What do you all think?

~~~~~~ Lu

Posted by Lu on July 22, 2005 at 6:54 PM

ummm. Precut bags of lettuce may be designed to go bad.

Posted by MonkeyBoy on August 19, 2005 at 10:35 PM