Story and Photography by Lori Ross
As I was growing up, canned vegetables were all the rage. My family relished good food and liked cooking, so looking back it’s surprising to me that, although we enjoyed lovely raw vegetable salads, we ate canned vegetables at most meals, and when we brought home fresh vegetables from farm stands, my parents even prepared them to resemble the canned version. What a different era!
When I went to graduate school, a budding chef lived in an apartment near me, and opened my eyes to cooking vegetables to maximize freshness and flavor. Delicious fresh vegetables were such a revelation that I became a vegetarian for two years. In fact, my very first set of cookbooks was The Vegetarian Epicure I and II by Anna Thomas; they still sit on my favorite-cookbook shelf today.
In our early cruising days, I committed the newbie’s error of buying all kinds of prepared, canned, and powdered vegetables. At the end of the season, we found ourselves with the same cans of spinach, peas, asparagus and packages of instant potatoes that we had when we started. I finally learned what more experienced cruisers know: Never EVER buy what you don't like to eat at home.
Shopping for and preparing new and interesting ingredients becomes part of the adventure of cruising. As soon as we arrive in any port, I scope out the local farmers’ markets, grocery stores, ethnic and gourmet shops to find local specialties and seasonal favorites. At these shops I’ve discovered unusual spices and seasonings, elegant jars of peppers, olives, artichokes, asparagus, pickles, and onions. Latino bodegas, Asian and Italian markets offer inexpensive and delicious canned and dried mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes; prepared items such as vegetable spreads, sauces, and soups; as well as exotic ingredients such as cactus paddles, tomatillos, chipotle peppers, chilies in adobo, fresh pea shoots, water chestnuts and beans.
This summer when we cruised to St. Michael’s, Maryland, for a weekend, I headed for the Saturday Farmers’ Market advertised at the marina and discovered one of the finest sources of fresh veggies, eggs, and fruits on the Chesapeake Bay. Thereafter, I often drove the 45 minutes to St. Michaels from our home in Annapolis just to hit this terrific market! In Ft. Myers, Florida, the winter home of our boat, Seaworthy, we discovered a marvelous Thursday market offering beautiful local vegetables, fruits, nuts, jars of pickled and preserved items, and some of the best seafood we’ve ever had in Florida. While the Abacos offered good but limited fresh produce when we cruised there two years ago, we were always able to find interesting foods, terrific “ bread,” and conch at every port.
Here are our favorite fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables that we try to have aboard whenever cruising:
Fresh: avocado, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, green beans, lettuce, spinach and greens, mushrooms, onions, sugar-snap peas, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini.
Frozen: fresh beans (edomame/soy, lima, fava), broccoli, corn, peas, spinach.
Cans and Jars: artichokes, beets, corn (niblets and creamed) eggplant caponata, mushrooms (pickled, caps, sliced, spreads), olives (black, calamata, green), peppers (sweet, jalapenos, green chilies, chilies in adobo), pumpkin, pickled and marinated vegetables (jardinière, cucumber, lupini beans, cocktail onions, garlic, asparagus, carrots), potatoes (white, sweet), salsa, tomatoes (whole, diced, with chilies, sauce, paste and sun-dried).
Dried: mushrooms (porcini, morel, shitake, mushroom powder), peppers (pasilla, chipotle), tomatoes (sun-dried whole and flakes).
SEAWORTHY’S FAVORITE VEGETABLE SIDE DISHES
What follows are recipes and cooking techniques that may be used for many types of vegetables. I have not included the starchy sides such as legumes and potatoes. I believe they deserve a column of their own. All recipes serve 4 people.
The Slow Roast
2 lbs. cleaned, trimmed vegetables
3-4 Tbsp of olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2-3 tsp fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, ginger) or 1 tsp dry herbs
This takes little prep, hardly any clean-up, and offers terrific flavor. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil and brush with olive oil. Clean and trim whole carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, asparagus, green beans, whole garlic, and new potatoes. Cut winter squash, cabbage, corn on the cob, broccoli and cauliflower into 2-inch square chunks. Thickly slice or halve tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, endive, fennel, summer squash, mushrooms, onions, peppers. Place vegetables (whole or cut in equal pieces) on cookie sheet. Drizzle with 3-4 Tbsps of olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, ginger). Roast until tender, caramelized, and brown around the edges (1 hour or more for whole or halved vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, whole onions and Brussels sprouts, and 30-40 minutes for sliced or halved tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, fennel, endive, broccoli and cauliflower)
Quick-Roasted Vegetables: Prepare as above and cook at 400 degrees for half the time (watch carefully to prevent burning). Quick roasted vegetables will not have the rich depth of flavor of slow roasted vegetables, but they will have a firmer texture and fresher flavor.
Roasting on a grill: Prepare as above, drizzle oil, salt, pepper and herbs on veggies; wrap seasoned vegetables in aluminum foil; seal foil packet loosely around vegetables and place on medium hot fire. Because they are sealed, the vegetables will cook fairly quickly (like quick roasted vegetables) and they will brown nicely in the oil.
Tip: Use leftovers for roast-veggie sandwiches on toasted buns with melted cheese, or chopped and warmed in olive oil or tomato sauce as a topping for pasta, rice or grains.
The Grilled Vegetable
2 lbs. cleaned, trimmed veggies
½ cup olive oil
3 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp dried)
Salt and pepper
These veggies are fine warm or at room temperature, so grill them before the main course. Prep as in recipe above. Mix olive oil with minced garlic and thyme, salt and pepper. Brush veggies with oil mixture. Place on medium-hot grill and arrange to avoid losing any through grill grate. Cover grill and turn vegetables once, about half way through cooking, until everything is tender and browned -- usually 5 to 6 minutes for onions, corn on the cob, tomatoes, asparagus; 8 to 10 minutes for zucchini, eggplant, and pepper; and 15-20 minutes for potatoes, squash, carrots and other hard vegetables. As each vegetable is done, transfer to large platter. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. (Veggies can be covered and kept at room temperature for several hours.)
* To stop small veggies from dropping through the grate, lay a rack with smaller grid on the grill. Or, lay aluminum foil on grill; although your veggies won’t have the attractive “grill” marks.
* If you want vegetables to cook more quickly, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces and thread onto skewers. Brush generously with olive oil and grill for 4-8 minutes (depending on vegetable type).
* Use kosher or sea salt instead of table salt, and sprinkle on after cooking instead of before. These salts add little bursts of flavor that enhance foods.
* Leftover grilled veggies also make great sandwiches and pasta topping.
* Greens, spinach, peas -- 1-2 minutes per cup
* Broccoli or cauliflower florets, asparagus, mushrooms, bok choy, sliced summer squash, sliced cabbage, snow peas, sugar snap peas,
sliced onion or pepper -- 2-3 minutes per cup
* Brussels sprouts , sliced carrots, trimmed green beans, corn on the cob (per ear), fresh beans -- 3-4 minutes per cup
* Medium whole potato, sweet potato or yam, whole onion -- 4-5 minutes
* Whole small winter squash or pumpkin cut in pieces, seeded and sprinkled with ¼ c. water -- 10-13 minutes
If you don’t have a microwave oven, you can steam the veggies on the stove top in a steamer (just add water to pan, top with steamer, add vegetables and cover to cook (about double the time listed above), or by sealing cut up vegetables in parchment or aluminum foil packets (without oil, just a little water) and placing them on the grill or in the oven (cook for double the time listed for microwave).
Sauces For Steamed Veggies
French cooks say that every dish needs a sauce to finish it off, so here are some of my favorites:
Oyster Sauce: Heat small pan on high for one minute, pour in 2 tsp sesame oil. Heat for one minute. Add 2 Tbsps shredded ginger; cook for 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup oyster sauce, and heat through.
Asian Chili Sauce: Combine 2 tsp sesame oil, 3 chopped red chiles, 2 sliced garlic cloves, ½ tsp cracked pepper, ½ tsp Salt, and cook for 2 minutes.
Hoisin Sauce: Combine 1/3 cup hoisin sauce with 2 tsp chopped garlic or shredded ginger, and heat for two minutes.
Warm Vinaigrette: Combine 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 Tbsps red or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, 1 tsp mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Heat on low for 1-2 minutes until just warmed (or in microwave for 30 seconds). Add minced garlic, herbs, or crushed red pepper if you wish.
Also see previous columns for other sauces: hollandaise, béarnaise, aioli, rouille, chimichurri and charmoula
Quick sautéing keeps veggies crisp, brightly colored, and results in a sharp fresh flavor. Sautéing requires a skillet or wok large enough to hold veggies in one layer or they’ll “steam” rather than quick fry. This recipe is perfect for whole green beans, but can also be used for broccoli and cauliflower florets, shredded cabbage, spinach or other greens, and sliced summer squash. Follow the recipe exactly for best results.
2 lbs. fresh vegetables cut into bite sized pieces
4 Tbsp sesame or peanut oil
8 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
Crushed red pepper to taste
Heat skillet on med-high for 1 minute. Add oil, cook one minute. Add veggies and turn heat to high. Stir fry 5 minutes until well seared. Add garlic, salt, crushed pepper, and stir fry 3-4 minutes more. If veggies are not cooked enough, cover and lower heat for 3 minutes more, until cooked but still brightly colored and crunchy. Spinach and cabbage will cook in half the time suggested; cauliflower and broccoli may need an additional 3-4 minutes to cook al dente.
Garlic Spinach Timbale
This is an easy dish that offers an opportunity for beautiful presentation.
20 oz. frozen spinach (or 2 -10 oz. packages.) or 2 large packages of fresh spinach steamed
2 chopped cloves of garlic
1/8 tsp each of nutmeg, salt and pepper
1 small onion or large shallot chopped
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup grated parmesan
Set oven to 375 degrees
Defrost frozen spinach in a colander, and press on spinach with back of a wooden spoon to remove excess liquid, and then discard liquid. Add cream, garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to saucepan and boil gently until reduced to half, about 5 minutes. Add spinach to cream mixture, tossing until coated. .
Mix 1 beaten egg and 1/2 the cheese into the spinach. Pour spinach mixture into small buttered timbale*, ramekin or casserole dish and top with the rest of the cheese. Dot with butter if you wish. Bake for 10-15 minutes in oven, and then let rest for 5 minutes. If you wish, you many unmold ramekin onto plate and garnish with cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and a little more cheese. Microwave Version: The timbale may also be cooked in microwave, on high for 4 minutes, then unmolded.
*(A drum shaped mold that has high sides generally a custard based dish that is unmolded)
This recipe makes frozen and canned ingredients taste fresh and bright. I have made this recipe with fresh, canned and frozen (corn, limas) and used fresh cherry tomatoes in each – and they were all good. Some people also add a few tbsps of cream (New Englanders) and Southerners add okra (about 1/4 lb. sliced canned, frozen or fresh).
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c corn kernels
1 c frozen lima, fava or soy (edomame) beans (or canned lima or fava beans)
1 c cherry tomatoes halved (or 1 c. “fresh cut” canned tomatoes)
¼ c chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
In skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter, add onion, and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic, beans and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until vegetables are heated through, 3-5 minutes. Stir in parsley and serve. Optional: adding 1/4 tsp powdered ginger gives it a subtle kick (even if added after cooking the succotash).
This recipe makes even old starchy corn taste great! I have made this recipe with frozen white corn and canned white and yellow corn. All were good but the best was yellow canned niblets corn...it caramelized beautifully like really fresh corn and had a nice bite to it. The frozen corn was softer and less intense. I also liked a mix of yellow and white corn too.
1 Tbsp butter for fresh corn; add two Tbsps for frozen or canned corn
3 cups corn (fresh or frozen or canned yellow or white corn)
4 shallots or one medium onion minced
Pinch sugar for fresh corn; add almost a tsp to canned and frozen corn
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp thyme
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter; add corn, shallots, salt, pepper and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning until corn is browned (about 5 minutes). Stir in thyme and cook 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
Great Aunt Lucy’s Savory Tomato Ring
This is easy and impressive aspic that is cool and refreshing. My mother-in-law serves it every Easter and at all our summer parties. Even children like it!
1 small package of Lemon Jell-O
1 can whole stewed or diced tomatoes (14 oz. can)
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp vinegar
Pour boiling water into lemon Jell-o, and stir for 2 minutes. Add stewed tomatoes and vinegar. Stir and pour into mold (you may want to double the recipe for large decorative molds.) Chill until firm. To serve, run warm water over mold until aspic gently releases. Turn upside down onto platter and slice like a cake. If you wish, add minced raw vegetables and herbs (peppers, onions, scallions and chopped chives, basil, thyme or rosemary).
I like to use a combination of dried, canned and fresh mushrooms mixed together. It’s the best mushroom recipe I’ve ever had!
1.6 oz. dried exotic mushrooms (shitake, morel, cremini, porcini)
1/2 c. sherry
4-5 slices of bread; toasted, buttered, and cubed
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped or 1 t dry
1 c. heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Cut mushrooms into thick slices or in half lengthwise, cover bottom of 1 ½-quart casserole dish with 1/3 of the bread. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper. Add 1/3 of the mushrooms. Repeat until all the mushrooms and bread are used up. Pour cream over top. Bake for 35 minutes, then add sherry and bake for 5 more minutes.
Fresh Vegetable Storage Tips:
Now that we have a full size refrigerator/freezer aboard, instead of a small ice box and freezer, we have ample room for fresh produce. These vegetable storage tips help us reduce waste and ensure we have fresh vegetables through an entire cruise. For more info on food storage, see The Cruising K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple System) Cookbook by Corinne C. Kanter
* If you can’t eat fresh peas, beans, and corn on the cob within a day or two of purchase, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes and freeze them so they don’t lose their flavor.
* If you wash, trim and dry lettuces and greens then seal them (wrapped in paper towels) in an airless Ziploc or "long life" bags (available in some supermarkets, and at marine stores) they will stay crisp and fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week.
* Vegetables that tend to turn brown when trimmed (eggplant, endive, fennel) are best left whole, refrigerated, and used within a week.
* Mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts that soften quickly tend to absorb moisture, so should be stored in paper, NOT plastic bags in the fridge. Leave them whole, unwashed and stored in refrigerated vegetable bins in their paper bags.
* Tomatoes and avocados will continue to ripen at room temperature for a week before you have to eat them. For longer life, wrap green tomatoes and hard avocadoes loosely in tissue paper or newspaper and store in a cool, dark place. Take them out as you need them and they’ll ripen on the counter for a couple days.
* Green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, and hearty greens (kale, collards) and lettuces (iceberg, romaine) will last more than a week unrefrigerated if placed unwashed in paper bags and stored in a cool, dry place. Broccoli and celery wilts if unrefrigerated unless you stand them upright (like flowers) in a container of water; every few days, cut the bottoms of the stems off.
* Root vegetables, squashes, onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes, cauliflower, radishes, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage last for a couple weeks un-refrigerated, and longer if kept cool or cold. Placing them in paper bags or long-life bags may also help.