My parents traveled a lot when we were growing up and I cannot even begin to describe the excitement we felt each time when we sneaked out of our room well after midnight, after Njanja was sound asleep and snoring in her bed; we were eagerly awaiting their return on the living room couch. We learned very fast that Mother spent her free time wisely, looking for unusual gifts for us, and could not wait until the morning to watch her unpack and hand out carefully picked toys, crafts and books.
We were the first kids in school to make watercolors using more than twelve shades and the only ones in the neighborhood who had a set of beautifully crafted and detailed medieval army, complete with horses, their riders, and infantry. We spent hours playing with miniature traffic signs aligned along the imaginary streets, learning the rules without even trying. We loaned our friends thick coloring books and could not even imagine going to a sleepover without toting the game of “Life”.
After these trips our pantry and refrigerator would fill out with stinky cheeses, shiny olives, mysterious patÃ©s, delectable chocolates, and unusual liqueurs. They mostly shared their spoils with their friends, but we had the first dibs, and in time our curiosity won and we started to enjoy these exotic products still unknown in our town. New and unusual food products stopped to scare us and we embraced the unfamiliar tastes and learned how to appreciate the foods that were not ordinary and common.
When we traveled together as the family, the meals were almost always something we looked forward to. Eager to sample the best an area had to offer, we all usually ordeded different dishes in order to share and experience as much as we could. We never picked the wiener schnitzel and pommes frites (aka french fries), a staple that can be found in any European restaurant, just like we never stayed in Holliday Inn-type hotels. We wanted adventure and yearned for challenges, leaving comforting, standard and known to less intrepid travelers.
It is only natural that my girls never found children’s menu exciting. I chuckled when my ex-husband complained about Nina’s love and appreciation of more choicy types of seafood when she visited him in Florida as a first grader. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy when Zoe wanted mussels for her fifth birthday party, even though I had to intervene and convince her that her friends might prefer pizza. And when I ask for dinner suggestions, one of the first things Anya would shout is Chicken Livers!
When I received a copy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet from Melissa’s Produce, written by Cathy Thomas and photographed by Angie Cao, my mind went into the adventure-seeking mode and I chose to make recipes that went against my comfort zone. I don’t know anyone in my home town who ate Savoy cabbage besides my family, thanks to Mother, who incorporated her Central-European culinary influences into our daily lives. Her dish paired this unusual cruciferous vegetable with pork, celery leaves, potatoes and garlic, making a soup/stew kind of dish, very satisfying and warm, perfect for chilly nights that we have been experiencing lately.
But Cathy Thomas offered a drastically different approach and I knew instantly that we would accept the challenge and enjoy the outcome. Mother would be proud that I tackled Savoy cabbage in a new way, testing my girls’ palates and pushing them towards culinary adventures. As I have bookmarked almost every page, we are in for a great culinary trip.
This gorgeous book is available for purchase at some selective grocery store chains (Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres) and online on melissas.com. The hard cover edition will be distributed to most bookstores throughout the nation in April.
SAUTÃ‰ED PEPPERS WITH SAVOY, RAISINS AND QUINOA
Recipe courtesy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet by Cathy Thomas (Chronichle Books, San Francisco); reprinted with permission.
- 1 cup dry red quinoa
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
- 2 yellow red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
- ½ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cup coarsely chopped Savoycabbage
- 1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1. Combine the quinoa with 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil on high heat. Cover and decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Gently stir and set it off heat, covered.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the peppers and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the raisins and fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the peppers are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and vinegar. Stir to combine and cook until the cabbage is limp, about 4 minutes.
3. Divide the quinoa between eight small bowls. Taste the pepper mixture and adjust the seasoning with vinegar, salt, and/or pepper. Spoon the cabbage mixture over the quinoa. If desired, top each serving with some feta cheese. Serve.
Thanks, Robert Schueller and Melissa’s Produce for your beautiful, fresh edibles!