Chat Leftovers: Summer-Fall Bridge, Vegan, Soy-Free Supper and Cheap Tricks

Downtown D.C.: The weather is starting to get a bit chilly around here. Any bridge-the-season ideas for summer produce, but fall weather?

With the autumnal equinox fast approaching (Sept. 22), there’s indeed a chill in the air after the sun says goodnight. This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to soup, stew and other warming potions, but as you mention, using the best of the summer harvest.

Have a look at the details for this roasted red pepper puree, a light-to-medium bodied potage that still has one foot in summer, with all those sun-kissed peppers. I’m also partial to this creamy tomato soup, a perfect companion for grilled cheese or a hunk of crusty bread. (I’ve also added cooked rice just before serving, and I feel like I’m back in kindergarten.)

Speaking of rice and companions, there’s no better time to whip up a pot of eggplant curry, when eggplants are having their swan song. Talk about warming up the bod -- this one’s a keeper -- plus you’ll use up end-of-season basil and have enough leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. Giddyup.

I would be remiss, however, if I neglected to mention
ratatouille, the quintessential summer-fall transition dish. You’ve got all the jewels of the season: tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, peppers, onion, garlic and plenty o’ leafy herbs.

Grad school, Midwest
: It's my turn to host and make dinner for three fellow starving students this week. However, one of us is vegan, and one of us is allergic to soy. We're getting a little tired of curry, but there's still LOTS of good stuff at our local farmer's market. Any suggestions? (Bonus points for budget-friendly.)

Have you ever played with either quinoa or couscous? These should be part of your meatless repertoire, if they aren’t already, and they are decidedly curry-free. Best part of all: Couscous requires no cooking, just a little freshening up in boiling water, off heat. Both couscous and quinoa are flavor chameleons and can be seasoned however you wish with little chance of screwing up. Creative and improv cooks, please apply! These couscous guidelines will get you set up, then you can go wild with flavor.

Your vegan pal may appreciate the high protein content of quinoa, which also translates really well into salad, either hot or cold. Check out this variation, spritzed up with mango and black beans. Nice!


Annandale, Va
.: I'm very poor and on my own for the first time, and I don't really know how to make small portioned, inexpensive meals. Can you recommend any recipes or recipe books?

Don’t get up hung up by small and portioned meals, dear; instead, think of one-pot numbers that will last for several days and can be reheated and edited over time. Earlier this year, I asked a handful of MA readers for their budget-stretching kitchen tricks, which spawned an amazing list in the comments section. Read it and feel your wallet expand: Getting Thrifty: Reader Tips and Tricks

The last word from LeDroit Park, Washington, D.C.:
Hey Kim! On the molcajete (Mexican mortar) -- my Mexican mom and cook extraordinaire, says it does have to be cured. Mexicans would typically do this by grinding lots of corn before using it for salsas. She suggested putting in some popcorn kernels or something. This will help to cure the bowl. Hope this helps!

This week's What's Cooking transcript in entirety.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 17, 2008; 6:00 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Cooking on a Budget , Vegetarian/Vegan
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For the cheap food, I wanted to holler bout pickles. If you make brine pickles, you can buy produce in season when it's cheap and preserve it.

It doesn't take very long -- just chopped vegetables, salt, and occasionally a little spring water. The natural flora on the surface of the veggies does the rest, and the mason jars I store pickles in are cheap and reusable.

It's a great way to add probiotics to my diet too. And it's wicked safe.

I love homemade sauerkraut -- it has a spring texture and an effervescent flavor that makes it entirely unlike anything from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Also, carrots done with ginger are divine, and a quick side dish I can pull out of the fridge. My fiance makes kimchi and eats it with nearly every meal.

I'd write an ode to pickles if I were a poet.

Posted by: Pickles | September 17, 2008 7:49 AM

I think we need a recipe for homemade sauerkraut. Thanks!

Posted by: Dave Marks | September 17, 2008 7:52 AM

Take a cabbage, slice it thin. Add some salt. Sea salt is better. 1.5 TB to 2TB is about right for a whole cabbage. Put the cabbage in a jar or mason jar. You can add spices if you choose.

Caraway is traditional, although I prefer bay leaf, pepper corn and juniper berries -- a few is enough.

Pack the salted cabbage into a crock or mason jar, or clean mayo jar or whatevery you got, pushing it down. Let sit from a few hours to a day then push it down some more. Water will come out of the cabbage, and you want that water to just cover the top of the cabbage.

If it's been a day or so and there isn't enough liquid, add a little spring water. I've used filtered water that's been boiled with some success, what you don't want to use is municipal water, because it's treated with chemicals that kills bacteria, and bacteria is what we want to promote in the kraut.

Put a lid on that sucker. Don't fasten the jar too tight -- as the kraut ferments it produces gas and if you really crank the lid on there it could explode. Mason jars are great because they have a two part lid, and if you fasten the ring losely, the disc part can push up to expel gas when necessary. Some people use an open crock and fill a ziploc with brine and put it on top to serve the same function. If you're old skool (I'm not) you use a small plate with a scrubbed rock as a lid.

Let the jar sit out for a few days to a week. You'll see bubbles form, the liquid will look a little milky, it will fizz when you open it and things will start smelling fermented. If you've filled the jar very full, some liquid may push out of the top.

Eat the kraut, or put it in the fridge and let it ferment even longer. The longer it ferments the more sour it gets. It should keep up to a year or so, if you keep the contents under liquid. You can make new kraut by adding cabbage to your "mother" culture, or you can jump start a new ferment by adding some juice from the previous one.

There are a few interesting sites (http://www.wildfermentation.com/ and http://www.citypicklers.com/) that have more about the science of the thing, and also the possibilities.

Posted by: Pickles | September 17, 2008 8:09 AM

for Annandale: I get tired of leftovers as well. What about meeting friends or coworkers and trading lunches?

Posted by: Michelle in MD | September 17, 2008 9:52 AM

Pickles--Thanks!

Posted by: Dave | September 17, 2008 1:19 PM

Grad student didn't mention any problems with gluten - perhaps a seitan-based meal might be a good option?

Also, depending on the sensitivities of the soy-allergic and vegan individuals, "build-your-own" meals aways seem to work go over well with my friends - build your own pizza, build your own pasta bowl, build your own stir fry... host can precut and precook ingredients, then everyone gets to assemble their own ideal meal.

Posted by: m.e. | September 17, 2008 3:54 PM

The kraut sounds great! Now how about a recipe for the carrots with ginger??

Posted by: Jenny | September 18, 2008 10:33 AM

On the can question, Eden Organics uses a custom BPA-free ceramic lining in their cans.

Posted by: Colleen/FoodieTots | September 18, 2008 1:08 PM

Correction - Eden's beans are in BPA-free lined cans, but the tomatoes may still have trace amounts:
http://www.edenfoods.com/faqs/view.php?categories_id=6#faq48

There's always Pomi boxed tomatoes to be safe.

Posted by: Colleen/FoodieTots | September 18, 2008 1:13 PM

A group of us went camping but were able to use a proper kitchen to cook. That was my job. We roasted 3 chickens and left them to cool and were flabbergasted when two cats pounced on two chickens and gnawed away. The third chicken was ok but what to do when 8 hungry people are waiting? I cooked up a batch of brown rice, de-fleshed the chicken into small pieces, made a roux,(cornstarch brought by a camper rather than talcum powder) added some canned mushrooms and some pine nuts which one camper brought along for nibbling. Well, we nibbled it all. It was a great dish and lends itself to getting all kinds of things added. Yum

Posted by: Zohar Dee | September 18, 2008 2:51 PM

Carrots with Ginger:

Peel some carrots. Julienne them by hand -- I promise it's worth it. I've tried with a mandolin, but the thicker texture of the hand-julienned makes a better pickle, and too thin a julienne will turn your carrots into mush when they become more mature.

About 3-4 hefty carrots can fill a quart mason jar, and you probably need 1 TB peeled and minced ginger root -- more if you like it, there are no rules here -- and 1-1.5 TB of salt to do the trick.

Use the same process as for kraut, above. Pack the comestibles into a jar, let the salt do its work and top up with spring water the next day. A few days on the counter and then a few in the fridge to transform your carrots into silken treats.

Another option, for kraut and carrots, is to put the raw materials in a bowl and pound them with a meat pounder for quite some time until when you squeeze a little handful, liquid runs out. Mainly, this is a way of extracting more juice from the veg, so that they're pickled in their own juices rather than in water. It's very delicious that way, but I've become lazy, so I don't bother.

Carrots are a nice side dish this way and keep at least three months. I've started using half-gallon jars.

And with any brine pickled food -- a harmless but unpleasant tasting white film can form on the surface. Do not be distressed. this is perfectly normal -- just skim and discard, or mix it back in to the solution, if you like.

Posted by: Pickles | September 19, 2008 4:19 PM

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