Cabbage...kale...winter squashes...rice and colorful beans...this is how we are supposed to eat right now. Here is the moment to really appreciate the blessings of cold weather crops, those long-lived vegetables at the heart of winter farmers' markets, and the beauty of dried beans with that other preserved crop, rice. They make for eating at its most economical, ecological and exceptional nutritionally. Plus they can make you feel good not just physically but better yet, by knowing you're not destroying the planet trying to have fresh blueberries and bell peppers at this time of year--because you miss them or can't think of anything else to eat.
The red cabbage recipe is in How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from Your Farmer's Market. Here is the butternut squash that will be in this year's edition: roast a whole squash at 350 for about 50 minutes or until it is soft to the touch but not mushy. Cool, peel, seed and dice it. In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsp corn oil and add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds with 2 dried red chili peppers, chopped. Saute 30 seconds and add 1 large red onion diced. Continue to saute 5-7 minutes until the onion is soft and caramelized. Add 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, stir and then add the diced squash. Add the juice of a lime, 1 tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend everything. Keep stirring so nothing sticks to the pan, cooking until the squash is soft to a fork and heated through. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.
If you are a carnivore, now is the time to garnish these great dishes with roasted bits of locally produced meat. Maybe a brisket with the red cabbage and some mashed potatoes. Maybe a roast chicken with the butternut squash. Maybe a pork loin roasted with dried apricots, dried cranberries, prunes and onions served with wild rice and steamed kale. Tiz also the season of the small shrimp that go well with penne, parsley and peas (frozen from last spring).
For vivid color and robust flavor, easy to achieve and economical to serve for lunch or a light supper, try this red lentil soup, which serves 4-6:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 lg onion, diced
2 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh red chili, seeded and minced
1/8 tsp ground chili powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground if you can, no big deal if you can't
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 ¼ cup split red lentils
4 cups vegetable stock and 2 cups of water
½ tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper
½ tsp salt or more to your taste
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley leaves only, chopped
juice of ½ fresh lemon (or lemon wedges for each bowl)
In a heavy gauge medium size lidded casserole or other such pan, heat oil over medium. Add onion, garlic, chili, chili powder, cumin seed and ground coriander, stirring to blend. Sauté over medium heat until onion is soft, 3-5 minutes. Add carrot and cook another 2 minutes. Add fenugreek, celery seeds and tomato paste.Stir in the lentils, blending everything
Pour in the stock and water. Bring to a boil. Immediately cut heat to low, partially cover the pot and
simmer 35-40 minutes.The lentils should now be mushy and the soup thick.
Serve garnished with chopped scallions and parsley and lemon juice or wedges.
If you prefer a smooth soup, puree before garnishing.
You can turn this into a first class feast, by adding the best locally baked bread you can find, creamy local farm fresh sweet (unsalted) butter and high quality sea salt to sprinkle on top. If you don't do butter, go for the best local cheeses--a trio of them with varying textures. You won't believe how stunning a table set like this can be. Simple things done with perfection can serve enough joy to send you sailing into the new year.
Gong hay fa choi, everyone. The water dragon has arrived.
Or as the Chinese used to say: May your rice never burn.