Tip #12: Get to know an ingredient

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Before I started growing most of the vegetables we eat, it was easy to pigeon-hole an ingredient: this goes with breakfast, that goes with dinner, etc. But with a store of food I have grown myself, a loathing of letting things go to waste, and a pathological aversion to boredom, I am often looking for different ways to use the same ingredient. The internet is a great source for finding a multitude of recipes that use a specific ingredient, and thereby exploring all of the different ways it can be featured.

This weekend’s featured ingredient was beets. They did fairly well in my garden last season, so I have a few pounds of them to use. This month’s Martha Stewart Living magazine has a chocolate cake made with beets, and it was that recipe that made me start looking for other ways to use this vibrantly colored vegetable. I chose three different preparations: chocolate cake, a smørrebrød-type recipe with gravlax, and a beet salad (also from the Martha Stewart collection, this time from the now-defunct magazine Everyday Food).

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In the cake, the beets add an earthiness that marries well with the cocoa powder (you do not taste the beets as a separate flavor), and they provide a moist, dense crumb. In the salad, that sweet earthiness marries well with the spicy, earthy taste of ginger, and the two of them are balanced by the brightness of the balsamic vinegar. Pistachios add a welcome crunch. Finally, in the open-faced sandwich, the flavor of the beets contrasts with the green, fresh tastes of the lettuce and dill, and together they balance with the rich fattiness of the salmon. These recipes highlight ways to utilize the unique flavor of beets, which are also good boiled, peeled, and tossed with butter and salt, or peeled and shredded to use raw in a salad. Another favorite is to cut peeled roasted or boiled beets into wedges and combine them with orange segments, chopped parsley, chopped pistachios, and an orange vinaigrette.

Another vegetable I am always looking for a variety of uses for is butternut squash. One squash is usually a few meals for the two of us, so there are often sections of the squash waiting to be cooked up. A velvety pureed soup is always welcome, and I also like to use it in risottos (see Tip #11) or chili.  A less expected and slightly sweet option is a squash muffin recipe by Jamie Oliver.

Looking for a variety of ways to use an ingredient helps you get to know the attributes of it. Once you have a repertoire of ingredients in your head, you are better able to cook on the fly, based on what you receive in your CSA or find in your refrigerator and cupboard.

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The smørrebrød is more a method than a recipe. I used a Danish-style rye bread, spread it with butter, added a layer of thinly sliced, peeled, roasted beets, a layer of gravlax, a layer of thinly sliced cucumber, a layer of shredded green leaf lettuce, and a topping of small diced beets. A sprinkle of Maldon sea salt finished it off.

Beet Salad with Ginger Dressinghttp://www.marthastewart.com/947113/beet-salad-ginger-dressing
Chocolate Cake with Beetshttp://www.marthastewart.com/857644/chocolate-beet-cake (I used a chocolate ganache to ice the cake.)

Butternut Bisquehttp://www.marthastewart.com/312603/butternut-bisque
Butternut (or Pumpkin) Chilihttp://www.thekitchn.com/vegetarian-recipe-pumpkin-chili-recipes-from-the-kitchn-196046
Butternut Squash muffinshttp://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/butternut-squash-muffins-with-a-frosty-top/(You’ll want a kitchen scale handy to measure out grams; or you can use the internet to help with converting the measurements. I’m pretty sure I did not frost the tops, and we loved them just the same.)

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