Sunday, November 2, 2008
Katie at Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk has been posting an "Iron Chef Challenge" every week lately, and yesterday's was particularly resonant for me. In the interest of brevity (which is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, etc.), I'll quote directly: "The first two days of November are when a lot of people celebrate the Day of the Dead. It’s just a day to take time to remember those who have left us...one of the ways of celebrating is by making a dish that your deceased loved one enjoyed! So that’s the challenge. Make or veganize a favorite dish of someone you’ve lost."
My father, who was a professional chef and an amazingly intuitive cook, passed away in early 2007. His parents emigrated to Chicago from Greece circa 1915, and we never knew how old they actually were, since all their village records were burned when it was sacked by Turks. (No, seriously, it was sacked by Turks; you think I can make this stuff up?!) They both lived to be quite old, and I especially remember my grandmother's braid, which reached to her waist and was iron grey at the top but a rich chestnut at the bottom. She also had all her teeth after giving birth to twelve children - all but the youngest delivered at home - and subsisted on a diet composed largely of greens and her own home-made bread (NB they were poor as well as Greek).
Bearing in mind that my Greek father had fallen in love with and married my English mother, when I was growing up it seemed like we ate a lot of potatoes. Baked, mashed, boiled, and even fried on occasion (O, gladsome day!), potato appearances on our dinner table definitely outnumbered other starches by a pretty wide margin. This lingering impression may be due in equal parts to my mother's admitted love for spuds and my own less-than-wholly trustworthy memory, but my older sister bears me out, since much of the peeling and preparation of these tubers fell to her.
As the obnoxious picky youngest child, however, I greatly preferred rice, so I was psyched whenever my father made his amazing rice pilaf. Looking back at a lot of the things my father liked to cook for himself, they were not only pretty healthy but largely veg-friendly: sauteed greens (spinach, chard, dandelions, collards) with olive oil and lemon juice, stewed green beans with tomatoes and garlic, and these incredible spicy baked beans that I have yet to replicate. Of course, he also made a mean Fettuccine Alfredo, but that's another post. Rice pilaf would invariably appear on holidays, especially at Easter, but he'd occasionally make it for ordinary meals, too. So delicious was this rice that my own youngest child, who as a toddler was so picky (what goes around, etc.) that we used to call him, "Little Bobby Sands" and beg to know under what conditions he would agree to eat something, anything, would put away several platefuls at a time. Of course, Dad's pilaf used meat stock and about a ton of butter, and my adult taste buds and sensibilities prefer brown rice and whole wheat orzo to their paler analogues, but this reinterpretation hits damn close to the mark!
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup chopped yellow onions
~ 1 cup diced celery
~ 1 tsp each: salt, dill, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, ground rosemary
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 1/4 cup long grain rice (I like basmati)
~ 3.5 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 3/4 cup whole wheat orzo
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley
~ In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil, then add the onions and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the celery, the seasonings and the tomato paste; continue cooking another 3 minutes or so.
~ Add the rice, raise the heat to high, and cook for a minute or two until the rice is thoroughly coated with the seasonings.
~ Pour in the vegetable stock, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
~ Add the orzo and stir to combine; replace the lid and cook another 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed but the mixture is still fluffy.
~ Remove from heat, stir in the fresh parsley, and serve to the picky eater in your family.