Seven ways to eat your summer veggies

In my house, the dog days of summer are more like the rabbit days of summer.

Between our garden, our friends’ gardens, and our weekly CSA box from a local farm, we are absolutely swimming in vegetables. Each day feels like a race to consume or preserve whatever we didn’t get to the day before … because tomorrow, something new will be ripe in the garden.

Right now, I’ve got a dozen each of Anaheim, jalapeno and bell peppers in my refrigerator. Plus a couple pounds of green beans, a few dozen okra, two or three butternut squash. In my garden, 10 eggplants are ready to be picked. We simply can’t spare a meal away from home—there are peppers rotting in the fridge! Must… eat … peppers.

But really, it’s not a bother. It’s a joy. Eating seasonally means that when a certain fruit or vegetable comes in, you’d better gorge on it—because once it’s gone, it may be months before you see it again.

So, we happily add chopped peppers to our scrambled eggs, to our tomato sauce (did I mention the row of tomatoes on the windowsill?), to our cornbread and stir-fries. We rationalize our overindulgence in fried okra and fried green tomatoes with the refrain, “It’s only for a few weeks.” And I pickle okra and beets and can tomatoes and fig jam like a madwoman, sometimes into the wee hours, because I know that not long from now we’ll be very happy to pop open a Ball pint jar of summertime.

Needless to say, dinners during our rabbit days of summer are unfussy, improvised affairs. Who has time to cook when there’s all that canning to do? So just in case you, too, are up to your ears in vegetables—or feel inspired to stock up at your nearest farmers market—here are some of my favorite quick recipes that use up lots and lots of late-summer vegetables. All measurements are approximate; just throw in whatever you’ve got.

Stewed green beans: Saute 1/2 chopped onion in oil. Add about 2 cups chopped tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes) and 1 to 2 cups trimmed green beans cut into 1-inch pieces. Cover and cook until tomatoes break down and beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over cornbread, grits, rice or pasta. Variation: Add any of these: chopped garlic, chopped eggplant, chopped peppers, fresh basil and/or thyme.

Grilled veggie pasta: Grill sliced eggplant and seeded red peppers, tossed in a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, until tender. Cook penne pasta al dente. Combine pasta and grilled veggies in a bowl with sliced cherry tomatoes, soft goat cheese, chopped basil or pesto if you’ve got it, salt and pepper.

Winter squash soup: Roast halved, seeded acorn or butternut squash, cut side down, in 350 degree oven until tender. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook thinly sliced onion in a little olive oil until deep brown (do not let burn). Scoop the cooked squash out of its shell. Puree in a blender with the caramelized onion, 1-2 fresh sage leaves, and vegetable broth (enough to create your preferred thickness). Season with salt and ground white pepper. Reheat on the stove before serving.

Oven roasted okra: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss okra in a bowl with a drizzle of oil, ground cumin, ground cayenne pepper, ground turmeric, a little garam masala if you’ve got it. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Sweet potato and greens stir fry: In a lightly oiled sauté pan over medium-high heat, cook 1 large peeled, cubed sweet potato until nearly tender. Add 1 can rinsed and drained chickpeas, chopped garlic, thyme, 1 diced apple or a handful of quartered figs; cook 1 minute. Add 1 large bunch washed, drained and rough-chopped sweet potato greens (or kale) and a splash of white wine. Cover and cook until greens are just tender, about 5 minutes.
Mixed grill veggie tacos: Toss any of the following in oil and lime juice: halved, seeded peppers or chiles, sliced eggplant, halved tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, halved okra, green beans, thick sliced onion, sliced sweet potatoes, par-boiled sliced potatoes, corn on the cob. Grill. Cut into bite-size pieces, season with salt, and serve on a platter with corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, fresh oregano, lime slices.

Eggplant/pepper dip: Grill a large, whole eggplant until sunken and very soft. Grill whole red peppers until blackened. Place the peppers in a bag to steam. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the eggplant flesh and place in a food processor. Peel skins from the peppers, cut away stem and seeds, and place peppers in the processor. Add two or three cloves of garlic and juice of half a lemon. Puree. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil. Salt to taste. Serve with pita bread.