Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Gastronomy – Cream, Caramel, & Fries

Posted on: May 4, 2011

Baked French Fries

If I don’t see another squash for a while, I’ll be a pretty happy girl.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff, but in the spirit of spring, it’s time to embrace the fresh produce that has finally come to surface.  Warmer weather brings back crisp and colorful vegetables, most of which are outrageously delicious, even with very little tending to—and really, when they’re super fresh, the less attention the better.  The following recipes (if you can even call them that) are super simple.  They let the produce speak for itself, proving that all you really need for a great veggie side dish are fresh produce, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If these ingredients aren’t in season near you yet, keep these ideas in your arsenal.

Creamy Bok Choy

Creamy Bok Choy

This method works with pretty much any thick stemmed green (kale, chard, etc.), but bok choy is extra special because of how creamy the stems become.  You can use baby bok choy too; the stem to leaf ratio is a little lower.  Keep in mind that the leaves shrink down tremendously, so buy more than you think you need.

To prepare, cut the end off the bok choy stem, and then rinse (it will be easier to clean out dirt when each stem/leaf is separated).  Chop the stems into 1 inch thick pieces and separate from the leaves, which you can tear into smaller pieces or leave whole.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil (per pound of bok choy) in a large skillet over medium heat.  I like garlic, but it is optional to throw in some minced garlic cloves at this point.  Once the garlic is fragrant and yellow, toss in the stems.  Add about ¼ cup of water or stock and let the stems simmer until tender.  This will go faster if you cover the pan, but make sure to remove the lid and cook off the liquid before you add the leaves.  Once the stems are tender, add the leaves and cook until wilted and stems are soft, about 10 to 15 more minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

You can also use this method to cook leafy greens, like mustard greens, which are just about in season.  They’ll be sharp and peppery, unlike the sweet bok choy, and they taste great over polenta and a little melted cheddar or parmesan.

Carmelized Onions

Caramelized Onions

Most of my favorite recipes are of the instant-gratification variety, but some things are worth waiting for.  If you allow onions to cook down long enough, they release their natural sugar and become amber-brown, soft, and super-sweet.  In order to caramelize onions, you need to cook them low and slow: low heat, for as long as it takes.  There’s no hard and fast rule about just how long it will be, but 30 minutes is a good estimate.  I find that the pan you use makes a big difference.  I’ve had the most success (and shortest cook times) with stainless steel pans, rather than Teflon.  All you do is slice a yellow onion into thin slivers, heat about a tablespoon of oil per medium onion, and drop ‘em in.  Move the onions around often, making sure not to let them brown or burn (browning is different than becoming caramel-brown).

Baked French Fries

The only substitute for French fries?  Baked fries.  Ok, fine, “fries”.  But really, they’re just as good, if not better, than the real thing.  I especially like sweet potato fries, but any kind of potato will work.  For this healthier version of the original, preheat the oven to 425º.  Slice potatoes into sticks (or rounds) no thicker than ½ inch.  Toss with olive oil (enough to coat generously), and salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, flipping once about halfway through, and then in 5 minute intervals until browned evenly and crispy.  Play around with flavors by sprinkling paprika, pimentón, garlic powder, and/or chili powder when you add the salt and pepper.

Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Crostini, Risotto, and Tapas.

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