Some parents, like my brother and his wife, are wildly successful at raising children who eat their vegetables without complaint. Their kids don’t rebel and sneak off to the nearest burger joint when their parents’ backs are turned.
School’s in session, and stressed parents everywhere are trying to keep up with the continuous round of homework assignments, sports practices and piano lessons –– all the while getting veggies into the kids.
Some parents, like my brother and his wife, are wildly successful at raising children who eat their vegetables without complaint. Their kids don’t rebel and sneak off to the nearest burger joint when their parents’ backs are turned. Instead, they relish a wholesome vegetarian diet enhanced by whole grains and dairy products.
The rest of us settle for using the whole range of time-honored parental strategies short of renting Popeye cartoons. First, there’s cajoling. Then there’s the stealth approach of sneaking vegetables into other dishes, like macaroni and cheese with broccoli. (I don’t know of any kid who hasn’t picked their way around the green stuff.)
How about a system of rewards or points for eating vegetables? And worst-case scenario, forecasting the dire results of a vegetable-deprived diet, like missing that key pass in the soccer game or doing poorly on the math test.
None of the above ever worked for me. Being a cook, the kids expect their mom to just make stuff taste good, no matter what’s in it. Well, maybe not Brussels sprouts, but I do make a mean cauliflower with pasta. I cook the cauliflower in tomatoes until it is the texture of a fat, tubular pasta like ziti. When you bite into it, you can’t tell which is the vegetable and which is the pasta.
I’m also able to replace meat protein with black beans in a chili dish that tastes somewhat like Mexican restaurant food (not a taco chain). I enhance the bean mixture with a little cumin and cinnamon and a sparkly zesting of oranges.
And when I know not every tomato will ripen to a deep, rich red, I pull a few blushing green ones, slice them thickly, dip them in buttermilk and cornmeal and fry them as a filling for a particularly delicious post-game sandwich supper — enhanced with a little bacon.
VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI
2 oranges, juiced, and grated zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed, drained
2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes & juice
Tabasco, sour cream, chopped cilantro
1. Heat oil in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes. Mix in garlic and spices. Add beans, tomatoes, half the orange juice. Simmer over medium heat until heated through, stirring often, about 15 minutes.
2. Mix in orange zest and remaining orange juice. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper. Ladle into bowl. Serve with sour cream and cilantro and extra Tabasco. Makes 4 servings.
ZITI WITH CAULIFLOWER
1 head cauliflower
1/2 to 3/4 of a 1-pound box of ziti
2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, or 2 (16-ounce) cans tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
Freshly grated parmesan
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1. Trim the cauliflower and cut into florets. Puree the tomatoes in a food processor.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot. Stir the garlic through the olive oil with a wooden spoon until lightly golden and fragrant; discard. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Stir in the cauliflower florets and 2/3 cup hot water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook, over low heat, for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.
4. Toss the cauliflower-tomato mixture with ziti and sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped parsley. Makes 6 servings
FRIED GREEN TOMATO ‘SANDWICHES’
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 medium green tomatoes, cored
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil, for frying
8 slices cheddar cheese
4 slices crisply cooked bacon, cut in half crosswise for 8 pieces
1. Mix cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt in one bowl. Mix beaten egg and buttermilk in another.
2. Slice each tomato into 4 slices. Assemble 8 “sandwiches” of 1 slice cheddar, 2 pieces bacon and pinch pepper between 2 tomato slices.
3. Dip sandwiches into buttermilk mixture, then flour mixture. Coat thickly.
4. Heat oil. Reduce heat to medium. Fry sandwiches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towels; keep warm until all are finished. Salt and pepper on tops. Serve right away, hot. Makes 4 servings.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.