When the last of Bob and Charlotte's canoe-size zucchini appeared in my car (how careless of me to leave the car unlocked in their driveway), I planned to turn that zucchini, along with a few trimmings of some very ripe tomatoes, into a curry. Along the way, however, cinnamon and cumin called out to me, and just like that, this mildly spicy vegan zucchini and tomato stew veered off toward the Middle East. A few sprigs of mint from my garden gave the dish just the right amount of brightness, without overwhelming the delicate zucchini flavor, and turmeric turned it a glowing golden color. As with all stews, this was even better on the second day, served over fluffy brown rice.
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The term seasonal gets bandied about a lot these days, and for good reason. Seasonal eating means preparing food at its peak of nutrition, and at its natural harvest time. If you visit the farmstands and farmers' markets in my part of New England this week, you'll find eggplant, tomatoes, green pepper, onions, garlic and zucchini. Put them together in this ratatouille soup, with my secret weapon -- a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese -- or go vegan and cheese-free. Add mushrooms, or some local corn, if you wish. Eating doesn't get more seasonal than this.
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Yesterday, the farm stand presented me with all of the key ingredients for this soup -- tomatoes, zucchini, onions and garlic -- except the can of beans and hunk of cheese, both of which are staples in my pantry. My own garden basil, abundant and robust, found a happy home with the vegetables in this tomato, zucchini, white bean and basil soup. I added hardy thyme early in the cooking, and tossed the more delicate basil in at the end. Perfect for a summer lunch or supper, with some crusty bread on the side, this "skinny" soup comes together quickly. After all, with very fresh herbs and vegetables, you don't want to fuss over them.
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What's in a name? If I named this dish pickled cabbage, it might conjure up images of clay jars of fermented, kind-of-smelly kimchi buried in the ground out behind the house, and to some, that's a real turn-off. So, I thought, why not call it pickled cole slaw? And then, go one step further and actually make it with store-bought cole slaw mix? Of course, you can shred green or red cabbage, and a few carrots, and make your own mix, but I let someone else do the work. Buy cole slaw mix in a bag at the grocery store and rinse in very cold water to perk it up. Add the seasonings for a quick brine, and this Asian pickled cole slaw is ready to eat in an hour. No need to dig up your back yard. Serve as a side dish with grilled chicken or meat, or in a fish taco.
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