As I mentioned in a previous post, to everything there is a season . . . and with each season comes a bounty of blessings for which I am grateful each day. If nothing else in my life right now, of that one thing I am certain.
For instance . . . the sun’s potent rays of summer’s longer days that have been nourishing my growing lemon, tomato, and herb plants on my deck are doing marvelous things for larger home gardens everywhere. This is a special season — time for tomatoes, squash, onions, melon and berries — the best time of the year for salads and entrees starring fresh veggies, and cool, fruity desserts.
When I was a kid perfecting my Ew! Yuk! Vegetables! face, my folks didn’t buy many veggies fresh from the farmer’s or any other market. Other than picking up the occasional iceberg lettuce, carrots, onions, or seasonal corn-on-the-cob, many families were still innocently unaware of the bounty of benefits that hid beneath the abundant wandering, green vines that crept along the top soil.
Growing up, I remember canned and frozen peas, canned corn, steamed carrots, and — get this — canned asparagus tips at our dinner table. That’s what most families did before the Food Network came to town. Just as we had no real idea in the 60s of the dangers that lurked inside the innocent little cigarette, we were mostly unaware of the important benefits of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables at the peak of their seasons. Thanks to an evolving society, in partnership with community gardeners and television chefs, things are different today.
Now that I’ve become a backyard gardener (in the smallest sense of the title), I’ve learned that dishes made with seasonal ingredients from my garden — or the garden of a generous neighbor — are healthier, more economical, and make for the best menu options at any time of year.
A few months ago, when spring warmed into a new summer, I received a huge bag of freshly harvested spring peas from neighbors (and fellow dog park pals) Angela and Andre. Their large backyard garden of carefully tended, raised fruit and vegetable beds is a tantalizing sight to behold. I envy their collective four green thumbs, and am grateful to be the beneficiary of their sometimes overproductive plants.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to wander through their fresh food mecca, where I helped myself to warm, sweet strawberries, three or four onions pulled right from the hot soil, and mentally put my name on a couple of still-growing butternut squash. And when my good friends, Suzanne and Bryan, recently dropped off a bowl of fresh yellow squash on my doorstep, I knew I had hit the motherlode. How lucky can you get?
When generous home gardeners hand me fresh veggies, I’ll thank the powers that be for my good fortune. And when life hands me fresh lemons (which it will in a few months), I’ll make our family recipe lemon bars — and share the bounty. Without the support of good friends and generous neighbors, where would any of us be at any given time in our lives?
I like veggies and I like rice — and this dish brings them together deliciously in one neat package. An easy creation: just add whatever veggies you prefer and the same goes for the seasonings. I like a subtle, Asian-themed taste to my veggie fried rice. Toss your favorite fresh veggies into a hot pan; add cold, cooked rice, maybe some leftover chicken or pork tenderloin, and you’ve got a fast, healthy dinner. It’s one of my nephew’s favorites. Here’s what I recently came up with using the veggies I had on hand:
- About 4 cups of cooked then thoroughly chilled rice
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup each of the following:
- Sliced celery
- Chopped red onion (or green onions, if you prefer)
- Julienned carrots
- Chopped purple bell pepper (or yellow, orange or red; green is a bit too strong here)
- Chopped zucchini (and/or yellow squash)
- Sliced green cabbage
- Frozen petite peas, thawed (or edamame beans: delicious and nutritious!)
- Salt & pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive or salad oil
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (optional)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce — You can create any number of good Asian-inspired flavors beginning with soy sauce and a sweetener such as honey or pineapple or apricot preserves. Using a premade sauce is an easy and fast path to dinner. My current favorite is Yoshida’s — but feel free to create your own if you’d rather.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add oil. Add to the pan: celery, onion and carrots and stir fry for a minute or two; add the bell pepper and zucchini (and ginger, if desired), season all with a little salt and pepper, and stir fry another minute or two. Add the cold, cooked rice, and help it mingle completely with the veggies and crisp up a bit in the pan (remember, it’s fried rice). Stir in the teriyaki sauce, making sure to evenly coat all ingredients; add the cabbage and peas, and allow to cook together just until peas are heated through and cabbage is slightly wilted. This makes more than enough for a family of six. Serve alongside chicken or beef kabobs, or large grilled shrimp brushed lightly with a mixture of equal parts teriyaki sauce and apricot preserves just before removing from the grill. No need to worry if you forgot to take your vitamins — this dish has it all!