During a recent dinner at a restaurant known for its fine entrees, it was the veggies that stole the show. I especially liked the multilayered scalloped potatoes - the creamy, peppery potatoes were scrumptious. A similar thing happened at a family celebration at a backyard barbecue. Although the grilled foods were delicious, my favorites were the dill-flavored zucchini and the savory stewed mushrooms.
What these vegetable dishes had in common was creaminess. Their smooth, velvety sauces lifted the vegetables to out-of-the-ordinary deliciousness. Cooking creamy vegetables is not for everyday menus but when you want a side dish for a festive meal, it's useful to know the techniques for achieving this effect.
The easiest thing to do is to top cooked vegetables with a dollop of sour cream. This is fine on a hot baked potato or a steaming vegetable puree. For vegetables cooked in pieces, you can make a sour cream sauce by combining sour cream with the vegetable's cooking liquid. This kind of sauce, popular in Eastern Europe, can be very tasty but you need to know how to make it properly.
If you add sour cream directly to the liquid and heat it, you'll most likely get unattractive, separated bits of sour cream. Instead, some of the hot liquid should be whisked gradually into the sour cream in a separate bowl and then returned to the remainder of the liquid and heated very gently while being stirred so that it won't separate. The same is true when adding thick yogurt, the Middle Eastern favorite for making sauces creamy.
Heavy cream or whipping cream is another option for giving a vegetable a luxurious creaminess. Unlike sour cream, you can add whipping cream directly to a hot vegetable cooking liquid and cook them together to the desired thickness, and the sauce will remain smooth. Whether you're using sour cream or whipping cream, it's best to combine the cream with only a small amount of the cooking liquid to make the sauce; otherwise, the sauce will be too thin.
The most common way to prepare creamy vegetables is to use bechamel, or classic cream sauce. In spite of its English name, it's actually made from milk, and cream is only an optional enrichment. Composed of three basic ingredients - butter, flour and milk - along with various seasonings, it can create delectable vegetables.
Cream sauces can be enhanced just before serving with sour cream or yogurt, and because of the flour that stabilizes the sauce, it is much less likely to separate. For a parve alternative, you can make the sauce with oil instead of butter and with soy milk or rice milk, as long as you choose a brand that's not very sweet; or you can use broth as the liquid, and then the sauce is called veloutÃ© or velvet sauce. To make scalloped vegetables or vegetable gratins, you spoon the sauce over vegetables, sprinkle them with a little cheese and brown the surface lightly in the oven or broiler.
Some people find creamy vegetables too bland but usually this is the consequence of inattention to the seasoning. Once vegetables have been combined with cream or a creamy sauce, taste them and make sure there is enough pepper to give a pleasing zip to balance the cream. In traditional French cooking, chefs use white pepper to avoid black specks in the sauce, but this is a matter of personal preference.
CREAMY KOHLRABI AND VEGETABLE STEW WITH DRIED MUSHROOMS
In this Eastern European-style medley of vegetables, including kohlrabi, carrots, potatoes, onions and dried mushrooms, the flour is added from the beginning to create a light sauce as the vegetables cook.
Makes about 6 servings
4 42 to 55 gr. dried
4 450 gr. kohlrabi
4 450 gr. carrots, peeled
4 450 gr. boiling potatoes
4 1 large onion, chopped
4 Salt and freshly ground
4 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 1 tsp. sugar
4 21â„2 Tbsp. flour
4 21â„2 cups vegetable broth
4 1â„2 cup milk
4 1â„3 cup sour cream (optional)
4 1â„4 cup chopped parsley
Soak mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain well. If using shiitake mushrooms, discard tough stems. Slice mushrooms.
Peel kohlrabi and cut into
2-cm cubes. Halve carrots lengthwise if they are large. Cut into 1-cm slices. Peel potatoes and dice into small pieces.
Heat oil in a heavy stew pan. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add kohlrabi cubes, salt and pepper. Saute, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar and then stir it in. Sprinkle with flour and saute for 30 seconds. Taking it off the heat momentarily, slowly stir in stock.
Add carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. Bring to a boil while stirring. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in milk and bring to a simmer while still stirring.
If you would like a thicker sauce, simmer the stew uncovered for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring often, so that excess liquid evaporates. Remove from heat.
To thicken the stew with sour cream, spoon sour cream into a separate small bowl and gradually stir in about 1â„2 cup of the sauce. Pour this mixture into the pan of vegetables in sauce while stirring. Bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat. Add chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and plenty of black pepper.
CREAMY SQUASH WITH FRESH DILL
Paprika-seasoned sauteed onions and dill lend a delicate accent to this creamy squash stew. For a light vegetarian supper, I like to spoon it over brown or white rice and accompany it with a salad of baby lettuce, fresh ripe tomatoes and a topping of roasted peanuts, almonds or cooked chickpeas. It also makes a terrific accompaniment for broiled fish.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 900 gr. white squash,
Mexican squash (kishuim)
4 1 to 2 Tbsp. butter or oil
4 1 large onion, halved and
4 11â„2 tsp. sweet paprika
4 Pinch of hot paprika or
4 Salt and freshly ground
4 2 to 4 Tbsp. vegetable broth
4 1â„4 to 1â„3 cup heavy cream or
4 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill or
2 tsp. dried dill
Quarter each squash lengthwise and cut each quarter in 3 crosswise pieces.
Melt butter in a nonstick or heavy saute pan. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes or until golden. Add squash pieces, sweet paprika, hot paprika, salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute, stirring to coat.
Add 2 tablespoons of broth to pan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until squash is crisp-tender. If pan becomes dry during cooking, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of broth.
When squash is tender, gradually stir in cream and bring to a boil, stirring. Cook over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes, or until thickened to taste. Add dill and toss.
Taste and adjust seasoning.n
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and of Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook.