MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
For some of us, Thanksgiving is all about the green or orange or red dishes on the table. And for vegetable inspiration, who better to turn to than the self-proclaimed leaf geek, Mollie Katzen. Her vegetarian bible, "The Moosewood Cookbook," just turned 30, and her latest cookbook speaks for itself. It's titled "The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without." They're simple dishes with flare like her dramatically seared green beans, vanilla maple sweet potatoes or Mollie's quite surprising mashed parsnips.
We asked Mollie Katzen to cook for us long distance. She was in her kitchen just outside Berkeley, California. And we requested the dish with the lovely name Ruby chard decorated with itself, though in this case, it's rainbow chard.
Ms. MOLLIE KATZEN (Author, "The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without"): And what I put in the pan is minced red onions, which is actually quite bright purple and all the little stems that I cut into very small pieces, I took the leaves off the stems. I shaved them off with a sharp knife. And I minced the stems. So I got like great kind of orange-yellow and sort of pinkish ruby color. And if you cook it really briefly over very high heat in really just less than a minute, with the heat turned very high, the color just brightens up. It's just a big color enhancement. You know, if you leave them on the stove too long the color starts to drain up. But just the right amount of time and a very, very hot pan, the colors just pop.
It cooked really quickly and so now I'm transferring it into a bowl.
BLOCK: You have a great instruction in this recipe, which I love, which is that you don't have to clean the pan in between the different sauteing you're about to do.
Ms. KATZEN: That's what I do. I try to anticipate what's going to be the barrier for my readers. What's going to allow them either to decide or not -decide not to make my recipe? And I realized is there's a three-stage cooking process. So, you know, just be funky and use the same pan over and over. So I just - after emptying out the stems and onions into a bowl, I put the pan back on the heat without cleaning it. And I'm going to deglaze it with some balsamic vinegar.
What deglazing means - it means you put a liquid into a pan in which you've just sauteed something and it picks up all the little leftover tidbits that stuck to the pan, plus some of the oil that was in the pan. So, in effect, what we're doing is we're cleaning the pan with vinegar, which then reduces from exposure to the heat. It evaporates down and becomes thick. And balsamic is delicious when it reduces down, and that creates a sauce.
BLOCK: Now, will any old balsamic vinegar do? Some is really cheap and some can be really expensive.
Ms. KATZEN: One of the really nice things about reducing balsamic vinegar is that just miraculously the cheaper and the lower grade the vinegar the better it works…
Ms. KATZEN: …in this deglazing process. So isn't that good news?
BLOCK: That's great news.
Ms. KATZEN: Otherwise, you know, but, you know, because you're taking it down to, like, less than 50 percent of its original value and that could get pricey. So I'm putting that now. I proceeded to not clean the pan again and I'm putting it back on the stove.
BLOCK: Let me just recap here in case we're losing track.
So you've sauteed the stems. You have reduced balsamic vinegar and you've poured that over the stems.
Ms. KATZEN: Yes, and the stems had onions on them too.
BLOCK: Right, with onion.
Ms. KATZEN: A little bit of salt.
BLOCK: And now, you're about to cook the leaves, right?
Ms. KATZEN: Right. So I didn't - I once again did not clean the pan. It went back in the stove. I'm heating it again and I'm putting a little more olive oil into the pan. And now it's picking up those very well done morsels of stem and onion and it smells incredible, by the way. So I'm putting the chard leaves that I removed from the stem into that hot olive oil.
(Soundbite of searing oil)
Ms. KATZEN: You can hear how hot it is.
Ms. KATZEN: And they're going to cook so fast you don't even - you don't want to answer your phone. You don't want to move any distance away from your stove because these are going to cook in just less than a minute. And what helps them along is a little bit of salt while they're cooking. It sort of speeds up the cooking process and helps them to wilt and also brings out their flavor.
BLOCKS: And how do you know when they're done?
Ms. KATZEN: You can tell by the visual. They're going to wilt down. You know, it's kind of your own judgment call. When they look done to you, when they look like something you really want to just, you know, stick your own fork, you know, just start eating, then they're done. This is one of those dishes that you want to have - you want to serve it just straight off the stove. And I have a plate ready. And I am using a yellow plate. Want to make this look really nice and - the yellow plate with set off the dark greens and it'll also bring out the yellow stems of the rainbow chard.
Here comes the truly fun part is I'm taking the cooked stems and onions in that vinegar reduction and I'm adding it to the top of the leaves so it's this pile of beautiful colored units, gems on top of the leaves.
BLOCK: So the leaves are on the bottom, the stems go on top and you say, if you want to, if you feel inspired, you could put some toasted pie nuts on top.
Ms. KATZEN: Absolutely.
BLOCK: Mollie, do you want to taste the leaf, do some crunch?
Ms. KATZEN: I would love to. I cooked on the radio, but I have to say, I've never eaten on the radio before. This is a new experience here.
(Soundbite of eating)
Ms. KATZEN: Hmm. Wow. It's actually quite wonderful. Love it. The vinegar became very sweet. Excuse me, I'm talking with my mouth full.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: You're allowed. You're allowed.
Ms. KATZEN: And Melissa, I wish you could see this. It's so great and colorful.
BLOCK: Well, I feel like I can see it.
Ms. KATZEN: Oh, good, which is - chard is a very subtle green. Some of the dark leafy greens are pretty - how shall we say, you know, serious tasting? But chard has more of a sense of humor than, say, (unintelligible) or color. It's a very subtle flavor, kind of sweet, especially sweet with this balsamic reduction and the barely cooked red onions on top.
BLOCK: Can we talk briefly about the Brussels sprouts.
Ms. KATZEN: I love Brussels sprouts.
BLOCK: I do too.
Ms. KATZEN: I'm so glad you want to talk about them.
BLOCK: Well, you know, I was looking at your recipes and you have a bunch of them and some are a little bit fancy, nothing too fancy, but I think the one that appeals to me the most just has Brussels sprouts and olive oil and maybe, if you want it, maybe some salt. But that's it.
Ms. KATZEN: You know, it's amazing that you mentioned that because I actually made this for dinner last night and I'm going to go to my refrigerator now and take it now and describe to you what it looks like.
Ms. KATZEN: Because, in fact, it's fantastic when it first comes out of the oven. But it's also really great colder, at room temperature. And for people who are opposed to Brussels sprouts and just - are just, you know, can't quite warm up to them…
BLOCK: Who are these people?
Ms. KATZEN: …this is a great way to start because roasting them in a very hot oven - I like to use a 450-degree oven - it caramelizes them and they get sweet and kind of singed around the edges. You know, these little leaves of Brussels sprouts that kind of tightly packed little ball of leaves that they are, they kind of fall off a little bit, and crisp them in the oven and become like little chips. And I like to roast just about any vegetable. But Brussels sprouts especially are a revelation, especially for people who just don't think they could ever like them.
BLOCK: Yeah. And most of the recipes in the new book are pretty much pure ingredients, pretty simple stuff and you would be hard pressed to find a whole lot of cream or cheese or certainly marshmallows.
Ms. KATZEN: No marshmallows, although when I was a child I used to enjoy them on my sweet potatoes, I have to admit. But I really - it's really important to me that these recipes be simple, that do not have too much dairy or not be too masked in sauces, just a few very simple and accessible touches. Any kind of roasted nut oil is good, touches of fruit, nuts and herbs, different uses of garlic, but really straightforward. These recipes are really my attempt to attract as many people as I can to having a lot of vegetables on their plate and to really enjoy that.
BLOCK: Well, Mollie Katzen, have a great Thanksgiving.
Ms. KATZEN: You, too, Melissa.
BLOCK: Mollie Katzen, talking to us from her kitchen in Northern California. And at npr.org, you can find three recipes from Mollie Katzen's book, "The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without," recipes for ruby chard decorated with itself, crispy edged roasted Brussels sprouts and vanilla maple sweet potatoes.
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