Food & Drink

October 30, 2013

Grab a knife and carve out some love for these scary veggies

How to overcome your fear of cooking these monsters in the kitchen

“pumpkin, rutabaga, beets, cauliflower, butternut squash, turnips, okra”

The above list of vegetables scares me because I don’t normally cook with any of them.

Well, that and the steps needed to prepare some of them sound like stage directions from a horror movie: gut (and/or carve) the pumpkin; watch out for the blood red juice from the beets that will stain your hands (and everything else); scoop out the seeds of the squash; don’t let the okra turn to slime...heck, cauliflower even looks like a human brain (at certain angles).

So, how do I overcome my fear of these scary veggies?

With some good recipes, that’s how. Because even scarier than some of the prep work is the injustice done to some of these veggies by way of poor execution in cooking.

One sure-fire cooking process for all of these veggies (for most, really) is to just slice or dice them into same size bits, lay them on a sheet tray, toss them with some good olive oil and salt and pepper (maybe a hint of garlic) and then roast them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Roasting is fast and easy and brings out a lot of the flavor from the vegetable...even okra.

Beyond roasting though, there are options. Let’s start with the pumpkin.

You may have bought one for Halloween or for fall decoration. What do you do with it (food-wise) after Thursday?

You could make your own pumpkin puree to use in other recipes (pies, cakes, soups, etc.) or try your hand at this sweet treat.

Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling

makes 12 whoopie pies

For cream cheese filling

3 cups confectioners sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For pumpkin pie whoopie cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cloves

2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mat.

Make the cookies: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves; set aside. In second large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk to combine. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about one inch apart. Bake in oven until cookies are just starting to crack on top, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.

Make filling: Sift confectioners sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.

With a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. (Filling can be made one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate, then let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)

Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Using either a disposable pastry bag or a spoon, pipe or place a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies.

Place on baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.

Pumpkin Puree

makes 3 1/2 cups

1 sugar pumpkin (about 4 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks

Set a steamer basket in a sauce pan filled with 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add pumpkin. Cover and cook until very tender, about 15 minutes. Puree in a food processor until smooth.

Rutabaga and turnips

Let’s lump these two root vegetables together because, quite frankly, there’s not that much difference between them. In fact, you can pretty much use them interchangeably in recipes. Turnips may be slightly smaller and taste ever so sweeter, but that’s about it.

You can eat the greens of both turnips and rutabagas (boiled, steamed, baked or raw) or shave/thinly slice the veggie part raw for salads. You can even boil and mash these veggies as a substitute for potatoes.

Mashed Rutabaga (or Turnip) with Sour Cream and Dill

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

2 to 3 pounds rutabagas (or turnips), peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1/4 to 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream (to your taste)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or chives

In a large pot, cover the chopped rutabaga (or turnip) with about 1 inch of cold water and bring to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and boil until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain and return vegetable to pot.

Reduce heat to low and let the vegetable steam for a minute or two. Mash with a potato masher. Add butter, sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped chives or dill just before serving.


Beets can be pickled or made into borscht (a bloody red soup). Whatever you do with them, make sure you wear an apron and/or kitchen gloves because beet juice will turn everything it touches a beautiful shade of scarlet (I speak from experience).

Use beets in salads, wrap them in aluminum foil and place them on the grill, pickle them or simply steam them. Here’s a recipe I found that takes advantage of the innate sweetness of beets (from

Beet, Goat Cheese and Hazelnut Tart

serves 4 as an appetizer

1 pound puff pastry

3 large red onions, finely sliced

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

salt and pepper

12 ounces cooked beets (steamed), cut into quarters

9 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons hazelnuts (or walnuts), roughly chopped

extra olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Roll out pastry, either square or round, no thicker than 1/8 inch, and place on floured baking sheet. Prick with fork and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and turn oven temperature up to 400.

Make the topping: Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and stir to coat in the oil. Add 2 tablespoons water, season with salt and pepper and cover pan. Turn heat to low and sweat onions about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft.

Add rosemary to onions. If mixture is wet, turn up heat to evaporate excess moisture (you don’t want an overly wet mix going on top of the dough).

Top pastry with onions, leaving a rim of about 1 1/2 inches around the edge. Add beet wedges and crumbled goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, adding chopped nuts to tart about 3 minutes before the end of cooking time. Cheese should be golden in patches and pastry puffed but not browned. Serve warm.


Cauliflower can be cut into bits and steamed or processed smooth for soup (with cream, of course). Try this take on Middle Eastern flavors:

Cauliflower and Couscous Pilaf

Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups finely chopped cauliflower florets (about 1 medium head)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup currants

2/3 cup whole wheat couscous

1/2 cup sliced scallion greens

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cauliflower and salt, cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes. Add broth, orange zest, juice and currants; bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in couscous and scallions. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash, to me, are like pumpkins: slice ’em, scoop ’em then dice ’em. I’m working on liking them (squash and pumpkin). Maybe this recipe will ease my fears...

Squash Pot Stickers

makes 20 pot stickers

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded, flesh cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds

20 wonton wrappers, thawed if frozen

1/4 cup canola oil

Put squash, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to boil over medium high heat. Cook until squash is very soft, about 12 minutes. Drain. Transfer to medium bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Stir in scallions and ginger.

In a small bowl, stir together sesame seeds, 1/4 cup water and remaining 1/2 cup soy sauce; set aside for dipping sauce.

Assemble wrappers: Place 1 scant tablespoon filling in the center of each wonton wrapper; brush edges with water. Bring up corners to make a triangle; press to seal. Place on a baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 10-15 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add 10 pot stickers and cook, shaking pan frequently, until bottoms are golden brown. Turn pot stickers over; very carefully add 1/2 cup water and cover. Steam until most of the liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish; cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining oil and pot stickers. Serve with dipping sauce.

Finally, okra.

My grandfather grew okra in his garden. I remember having to grab a knife to cut the pods off the stalk and running the “harvest” to grandma in the kitchen. She’d usually slice the pods, bread them and fry them.

The latest craze is okra chips: split, seasoned with oil, salt and pepper (garlic or red pepper flakes optional to taste) then and oven roasted. I like to do what grandma did in winter: use sliced okra as a thickener in vegetable know, to take advantage of that slime.

Anyway, here’s Southern Living’s updated recipe for fried okra:

Fried Pecan Okra

serves 6-8

1 cup pecans

1 1/2 cup Bisquick

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

20 ounces of whole okra

Peanut or vegetable oil

Place pecans in a shallow pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until slightly toasted.

Process the toasted pecans with the Bisquick, salt and pepper in a food processor until pecans are finely ground. Place pecan mixture in a large bowl. Add okra, tossing to coat. Gently press mixture into okra.

In a large, deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches and heat to 350 degrees. Fry okra in batches, turning once, 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

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