On page 1 of her treasured book, Tamar Adler tells us, “Cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine. It has in recent years come to seem a complication to juggle against other complications, instead of what it can be - a clear path through them.” I know that on busy weeks and tired evenings, your crisper drawer full of VRDNT produce can sometimes feel like an agenda item, ticking tomato time bombs that must be used before they start to spot, and your money is wasted. The Thai place down the street’s to-go food somehow seems a simpler solution than actually cooking something.
This week’s recipe roundup focuses on easy summer recipes involving a VRDNT vegetable, and 5 ingredients or less. (Most of the recipes below are truly 5 ingredients or less, though if you count salt and pepper, a few bump up to about 7 ingredients.)
Hopefully, these recipes will help you connect with the vegetables in your crisper drawer in a heartful, undemanding way. In the summer when produce simply doesn’t last as long and dinner might not happen ‘till 9pm, you must adopt this easeful attitude with your food, else you’ll end up mad and hot, belaboring dinner for no reason other than your media, or childhood-influenced belief of what a proper plate should be.
Or, maybe I’m just speaking to myself? Am I the only one who has to actively challenge the idea that dinner isn’t dinner unless you have to pull out at least two pots?
My good mother, working full-time and raising us 70% of the time by herself, somehow managed to have a 3 piece meal on the table every night. I’m not actually sure how she did it, I don’t remember the mechanics of her preparing the food, and instead just remember the good, delicious food itself. Dinner usually followed the meat, veg, and starch formula, with few exceptions. And because we never really had a garden growing up and weren’t raised on a Tuscan hillside, having just a plate of tomatoes and a hunk of cheese for dinner wasn’t an obvious choice to feed 3 kids in between dance and soccer practice. Plus, who wants to eat a full, watery plate of mealy grocery store tomatoes? Not me. But a spread of juicy, vine-ripe Cherokee Purple tomatoes, served with good grassy olive oil and mineraly salt? Yep. I love you Mom, and most of the time I’m here for the full, starchy plate, but also, it’s 105 outside. As Tamar Adler suggests, this summer I’m here to eat what I “feel most able and like best”.
Adler would probably roll her eyes at this list of “recipes” that maybe overcomplicate the simple task of slicing open a warm tomato and dressing it with olive oil and salt. Sure, you don’t need a recipe for that. But then again, if you’re not thinking this way about how to eat your CSA produce, about how to say yes to an afternoon swim and not worry about what you’ll eat for dinner because you know you have cucumbers and squash waiting at home, perhaps a list of recipes can help enliven your delight with the fruits of summer, and the joy that it is to eat farm-fresh food that is grown with such care.
p.s. If you’ve never read An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, please do. It is my forever favorite cooking book, and while flipping through the pages to write this post, I thought that it should perhaps be required reading for all CSA members struggling to make their way through a haul of vegetables.
Summer Recipes with 5 Ingredients or Less
If you choose to include the (optional) garlic, technically this recipe has 6 ingredients, but for garlic, we’ll make the exception. Here, fresh and raw diced or grated tomatoes are mixed with olive oil and garlic, the flavors melding easily in your warm summer countertop. If you choose to eat this sauce with bread instead of pasta, you don’t need to turn on the stove at all.
Did you know traditional mozzarella is made with water buffalo milk? This fatty, sweet cheese is the perfect pair for tangy, caramelized tomatoes.
Not including oil and vinegar, this recipe is simple 5-ingredient fare. Tomato, onion, and sweet peppers are rolling out of the VRDNT fields and are all you need to make a complete meal. Need something more? Add a tostada, an egg, or cheese to the equation.
Cucumbers, red wine vinegar, thinly sliced red onions, a bit of honey, and dill, if you can manage to go to the grocery store and buy some. Otherwise? Toss the cukes with ribbons of basil or torn mint instead. This salad is as simple as it is delicious.
Technically this recipe is about 7 ingredients, but that includes salt and cukes so it gets a spot on the list, anyway. Rice vinegar, chopped peanuts, and cilantro plus cold refreshing cucumbers make this a delicious light dinner, or easy side.
These pan-fried fritters have a short enough ingredient list to keep them from feeling like too much of an effort. If you’re dealing with a backyard zucchini bumper, consider making a large mess of fritters, and freezing some for another day.
Peanut butter, lime, and sriracha make this easy sauce which is tossed with zucchini ribbons made with a vegetable peeler. We’ve got a slight peanut allergy in our house, so usually make versions of this sauce with tahini, instead.
These tiny okra bits, hot roasted and well spiced, might as well be a bowl of popcorn. You just can’t get enough. Make this okra on its own, serve it over rice, in an omelet, or fold it into a bowl of well-dressed fresh tomato wedges for a summer salad.
“Onions and anchovies are cooked down until the anchovies melt into a sauce that provides a rich, punchy coating for the bigoli pasta – a specialty of Veneto.” This is the perfect recipe for when you’re looking to cook a vegetable but seemingly have none. Go ahead and let your sweet VRDNT onions have a moment in the spotlight.
Make these carrots and eat them warm or at room temperature on day 1. Then, put the leftovers in a glass Tupperware and dress with a bit of red wine vinegar and more olive oil so they turn into a marinated carrot situation for day 2. Eat these marinated carrots cold, as-is, or incorporate them into a salad of sorts.
Unlike more tender vegetables, carrots hold their own in your crisper drawer for a few weeks. On a day when you need fresh, light food but have run out of all your other vegetables, make this salad. This is a great base recipe, but feel free to fold in other nuts, chopped-up kimchi, more herbs or thinly sliced celery and onion. To make it more filling, rinse a can of navy beans, and carefully fold in the creamy beans for a bean and carrot salad that makes excellent leftovers.
Of all the summer vegetables, eggplant seems the fussiest. But like zucchini or even a bunch of kale, you can simply cook your eggplant with a bit of spice - like sesame and soy - to render something delicious. Don’t overthink your eggplant, beginning with this recipe.
The name of this recipe says it all. Open-face eggplant, topped with all the best parts of eggplant parmesan - tangy tomatoes and salty cheese.
The limits to what you can stuff into a pepper are endless. Not in the practice of stuffing your peppers? Here is a great starter recipe.
These spring vegetables do us endless favors by holding up well to storage and feeding us hearty meals during the hottest summer days with other crops are struggling to survive. I don’t think there is any hunger that a potato can’t fix, and this humble recipe is an excellent decision. See also, Karin’s German Potato Salad.
My favorite part about making potato cakes is that they’re best made with leftover mashed potatoes, and are the perfect reason to make an obscene amount of mashed potatoes to begin with. Enjoy your potato cakes with cool plain yogurt and thinly sliced raw onions. Microgreens on hand? Lightly dress with oil and vinegar, and toss those on top, too.