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Farm-fresh flavor

Kohlrabi, sweet and hot peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach, cucumbers, summer squash, radishes, skinny green beans, wax beans, beets, turnips and assorted onions.

Oops. I just typed in my farmers market shopping list for the week.

All to be supplemented by the lettuces, herbs and tomatoes plucked from our garden. Oh, and a CSA (community supported agriculture) box later in the week.

This is the time of year vegetable lovers embrace. The challenge now is to enjoy everything while the produce remains in top-notch condition with peak nutrients. For me, that means cooking most of what I buy a day or so after my splurge. Then, containers of vegetable sides and mains are at the ready all week long — or until the next market trip.

The first thing I love to assemble: Veggie toasts. No recipe required. Simply top hearty slabs of toasted whole grain bread with a smear of soft cheese, thick slices of tomato and a shower of chives. Or, smear the toast with a nut butter and quickly sauteed sweet onions and spinach.

Speaking of quick sautes, most summer vegetables take well to this fast, high-heat cooking. A few tips I’ve learned: Prep the vegetables first; use a heavy pan and heat it thoroughly; add flavorful oil and heat it; add veggies in an uncrowded layer to promote browning; turn off the heat a few seconds before the vegetables are done — residual heat will finish the cooking. If working in advance, spread the cooked vegetables out on a sheet tray to cool before spooning into storage containers.

Sauteed vegetables make great additions to weeknight pastas, cooked brown rice and scrambled eggs. Spoon them over a hearty green salad with fresh cheese and a sprinkling of nuts.

All summer long, I’ve been enjoying a wide variety of radishes. Thinly sliced, heavily salted, they add great crunch to a piece of buttered baguette. Lightly sauteed tiny striped radishes make a crunchy side for grilled fish. Quartered and tossed with ribbons of carrots and a lemon Parmesan vinaigrette they make a great summer salad. When it’s too warm for radishes to thrive in the garden, I turn to tiny turnips or crunchy kohlrabi as in the recipe below.

I love garden-fresh broccoli and usually blanch it to keep it bright green and crisp for weekday enjoyment. I detest the smell of burnt broccoli — it reminds me of my early days learning to cook. However, a bowl of charred broccoli salad with cashews at Superiority Burger in New York changed my thinking. This summer, I enlist the help of my cast-iron skillet to sear broccoli pieces without burning. I’m adding an equally flavorful balsamic dressing (seasoned with capers, anchovies and fresh basil) to complement the dark char flavor. With a sprinkle of nuts, you have a great vegetarian main.

Curry and vegetables make the perfect match. For fast cooking, I puree a can of unsweetened coconut milk with some bottled Thai curry paste (red or green works) and keep the blend on hand. Then add a few splashes of the sauce to a panful of sauteed vegetables. Chilled, the mix keeps for several days. Reheat and serve warm over steaming hot brown rice or cooked udon noodles.


Makes 4 to 6 servings

Use multicolored carrots and radishes for an attractive salad. Small turnips can stand in for the kohlrabi.

Lemon Parmesan vinaigrette:

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons creme fraiche or heavy (whipping) cream, optional

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


4 small kohlrabi bulbs, about 1½ pounds total, trimmed

2 medium orange or yellow carrots, trimmed, peeled

6 radishes of various colors, trimmed, very thinly sliced

4 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced

Chopped chives

For the vinaigrette, turn on the blender and drop in the garlic. Add the lemon juice and zest and the pepper; blend. With machine running, stream in the oil and creme fraiche through the lid of the blender until smooth. Add the cheese; process until smooth. Refrigerate, covered, up to several days; use at room temperature.

Peel the kohlrabi bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half. Cut each half into thin slices. Put into a large microwave-safe bowl. Add 3 tablespoons water. Cover with plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100 percent power), stirring once, until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.

Use a peeler to make shavings of the carrots. Add to the kohlrabi, along with the radishes and green onions. Toss to mix. Add dressing to taste; toss to coat everything nicely. Garnish with chives. Serve at room temperature.


Makes 4 servings


1 clove garlic, peeled

3 anchovy fillets or 1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy fillet

1 small serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed

1 tablespoon dark raisins


1 pound fresh broccoli (about 1 bunch)

½ cup blanched hazelnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for high heat cooking, such as expeller-pressed canola or safflower oil

1 small red onion, halved, cut into wedges

For dressing, turn on the blender and drop in the garlic to chop. Add anchovies, serrano and vinegar. Process until smooth. With machine running, stream the oil in through the lid of the blender until smooth. Turn off the blender; add the basil, capers and raisins. Process with on/off pulses until you have a coarse puree.

Peel the broccoli stalks. Slice the stalks into ½-inch thick rounds. Cut the florets into bite-size pieces. You’ll have about 6 cups.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a drop of water evaporate on contact. Add the nuts; toast until golden, about 1 minute. Do not walk away or they will burn. Transfer to a small plate to cool.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the hot pan along with the onion. Cook over medium-high, stirring often, until onion is nicely tender and charred, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add another ½ tablespoon oil and half the broccoli in a single uncrowded layer. Cook until crisp-tender and slightly charred on the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the onions. Cook remaining broccoli in remaining oil until charred. Return all the broccoli and onion to the skillet. Turn off the heat.

Stir the dressing into the pan; toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with toasted nuts.

Note: You can substitute green or wax beans (or a combination) for the broccoli; cook them in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, then drain and pat dry. Then continue with searing the beans as directed in step 5.


Makes 4 servings

This dish is great served over cooked brown rice. The extra coconut milk-curry mixture will keep several days in the refrigerator. If you wish, add peas, edamame or diced green beans to the mix. Green curry paste is equally delicious here.

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk or coconut cream

¼ cup Thai-style red curry paste

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large sweet onion, quartered, thinly sliced

4 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, about 1½ pounds total, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, sliced ¼-inch thick

½ each, yellow and red bell pepper, seeded, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Several pinches crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 cup cooked shelled peas, edamame or lime beans, optional

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Mix coconut milk, curry paste and salt in a blender; process until smooth. (The mixture can be refrigerated, covered, up to a week or so. Use at room temperature.)

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and heat. Add onion; cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, until golden and tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes; cook, 1 minute.

Stir in ½ to 2/3 cup of the coconut milk mixture to taste. Add peas if using. Simmer gently to reduce the sauce somewhat and blend the flavors, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for salt. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with cilantro.


Unsweetened coconut milk mixed with Thai curry paste flavors an easy sauce for sauteed vegetables. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Broccoli charred in a hot skillet combines with a tangy dressing and toasted nuts. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)