International Recipes From Your Summer Garden

Veganish author uses backyard ingredients and simple techniques with international flair.

More often than not, I let the region guide my menus. Mama Nature knows how to turn us on, and she already showed our ancestors how to do it with the plants growing in each area.

Menu planning is easier when you learn about international foods and the ingredients and seasonings used in different regions. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when composing a meal or a dish, because indigenous cultures already know how to expertly combine their native foods. Crossovers abound, of course, which allows for plenty of flexibility in combining regional foods and the creation of fusion cuisines. When experimenting with nontraditional combinations, keep it simple and engage just a few variables at a time. Maintain some underlying tone that keeps everything connected.

I am lucky to live in an area that grows a wide array of foods. I usually let the seasonal produce at my local farmers’ market inspire me, thus allowing Earth’s natural guidance to nourish me. In this way, I eat a variety of wholesome foods over the course of the year, which is an important aspect of good health and creative menu planning.

A healthy plant-based meal typically features one or two protein-rich foods (presoaked legumes, grains, nuts, or seeds), with several vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats, and a fermented food or other digestive aid. Take care not to overdo starchy foods. Strive for a variety of colors, which ensures an assortment of nutrients, and give attention to the textures on the plate, noting qualities such as crisp, crunchy, smooth, chunky, or tender.

Seek a balance of the five basic tastes in your menus, and sometimes even in an individual dish or sauce. These are salty, sour, sweet, savory, and bitter; Asian cultures add spiciness to this list.

Finally, try to match the cooking method with the weather. Cool days call for longer, hotter cooking to warm us, such as oven roasting. In hot weather we need fresher, quicker methods such as steaming or even raw foods to cool us down.

Whatever you do to plan your menus, always prepare and present your food joyfully and confidently. Your food will reflect your intentions and your guests will appreciate your offering.

Try these special techniques to make your summer meal prep even easier.

To separate cauliflower florets, cut the head into quarters through the stem. Lay each on its side on a cutting board and cut the stem off diagonally. The florets will come right apart.

To zest a citrus fruit, use a vegetable peeler if you don’t have a Microplane or other type of zester. Zest is the super-flavorful, out colored layer of skin on a citrus fruit. Shave off the zest and then use a sharp paring knife to trim away and discard any bitter white pith underneath.

To juice a citrus fruit, press and roll the whole fruit with firm pressure, then cut it in half and use a reamer or a fork to release the juices.

To supreme a citrus fruit, cut the sections away from the membrane for a delicate salad or dessert. Begin by slicing off the top and bottom of the fruit. Stand the fruit upright and use a paring knife to cut away the peel and pith, following the curve of the fruit. Next, hold the fruit over a bowl and slice each wedge of citrus section away from the membranes.

When using raw garlic or onion in a recipe, I always refine the sharp flavor by marinating it briefly with salt and vinegar or lemon juice. It needs as much surface contact as possible, so a good garlic press or Microplane is indispensable. Alternatively, you can finely grate or crush, then finely mince the cloves with a knife.

To dice an onion, peel and slice off the top, leaving the root intact. Make four or five parallel lengthwise slices into it, but not all the way through the root, so that it holds together. Turn ninety degrees and cut the onion in half through the root, across the slices. Lay each half on a cutting board and cut crosswise across the slices; the small cubes will magically fall away.

To peel a tomato for a very smooth sauce, slice an X in the end of the tomato opposite the stem and drop it in boiling water for 30 seconds. Shock in a bath of ice water and then slide the peel off easily. This also works for peaches.

To handle a hot chile pepper without burning your fingertips, use a fork to hold it while cutting or removing the seeds with a small, sharp paring knife. Taste each chile pepper for your recipe, because even if one is extremely spicy, the next may have no heat at all. Always wash your hands and utensils after working with hot chiles.

To finely chop leafy herbs and greens like parsley or kale, keep the bunch attached with the rubber band or tie. Wash under running water or swish in a water bath and shake off excess water. Holding the bunch together at the tips with one hand, begin to cut, moving your holding hand down the bunch as needed. If the herbs have a lot of stems, pluck off the leaves, roll them into a tight cigar, and slice into thin ribbons, called chiffonade.

To fix or balance flavors in a dish or menu, use these guidelines to add something to the dish itself or to inspire a harmonizing condiment.

  • Sweetness: sugar, honey, agave, fresh/dry fruits, stevia. Balance with something sour, spicy, salty, creamy or bitter.
  • Sourness: vinegar, citrus, tamarind, pickles, berries. Sour can reduce the salt needed in a dish. Balance with something sweet, salty, bitter or creamy.
  • Saltiness: tamari, miso, sea veggies, celery. Balance with something sour, sweet or creamy. If you’ve oversalted a soup, dilute with a little water or boil a raw potato in it, peeled and quartered to absorb the salt. Discard the potato after about ten minutes.
  • Bitterness: dark leafy greens, lettuce, basil, cumin, coffee. Bitter often denotes healthful, alkaline foods/herbs. Balance with something sweet, sour, creamy or salty.
  • Spiciness or pungency: chilies, garlic, ginger, mustard, onion. Balance with something sweet, sour or creamy.
  • Creaminess: coconut milk, oils, nuts, avocado, dairy. Balance with something sour or dilute with liquid.

Mission Pickles

Yields about 25 ounces

Named for the jalapeños en escabeche served at every taqueria in San Francisco’s beloved Mission district. This spicy pickle is the perfect accompaniment to any Latin-inspired meal.

Combine in a small saucepan:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 jalapeños, sliced lengthwise
5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
4 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1/4 tsp whole peppercorns

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add:
1 lb carrots (4–6), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch on the bias 1/2 yellow onion, sliced

Simmer until cooked (5–10 minutes), then allow to cool in the brine overnight. Place in a jar with a tight lid and keep refrigerated up to 3 weeks.

Variations

  • Use this method to pickle any variety of vegetables in seasoned vinegar: cucumbers, beets, green beans, radishes, cauliflower, onion, etc.
  • Different seasonings can vary the flavors of your pickles, such as coriander, cardamom, allspice, fennel, mustard seeds, dill seeds, and black peppercorns. Experiment and enjoy!

Summer's Glory Gazpacho

Yields 3 cups

Use tomatoes at the height of their season for this delightful soup. If you are using less-than-perfect tomatoes, roast them first to bring out their sweetness. This recipe is worth splurging on a high-quality, fruity olive oil.

Combine in a blender:
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
3 Tbsp lime juice
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
2 lb fresh in-season tomatoes (about 5 medium)
few grinds black pepper
1 sprig fresh oregano leaves
1 1/2 -2 tsp salt, to taste
1 small red bell pepper (optional)

Begin to purée, while slowly drizzling:
1/3 cup quality olive oil

Adjust lime and salt to taste. Serve chilled.

Angry Sauce

Yields 4 cups

I borrowed this name from the spicy Italian sauce called Arrabbiata, meaning angry. More a ragout than a sauce, this recipe can be served with pasta or polenta, or as a bruschetta topping.

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine in a casserole dish:
2 lb Roma tomatoes, quartered or smaller
2 red bell peppers, sliced (optional)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp capers, rinsed, or kalamata olives
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1–2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2–1 tsp crushed red pepper, to taste

Roast about 40 minutes, until saucy, stirring occasionally. Before serving, toss with:
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, etc.)
extra drizzle of a quality olive oil
splash of balsamic or lemon (optional)

Serve as is or purée for a smooth consistency.

Variations

  • For a very smooth sauce, peel the tomatoes before cooking
  • Add Tempeh-Apple Sausage

Omnivorous Variation

  • If you want animal protein with this vegan sauce, add a little bit of cooked and crumbled organic, pasture-raised sausage.

Indonesian Fruit Rujak

The unexpected flavors of this spicy fruit salad will wow your guests and make them feel very worldly. It also makes a nice condiment for savory meals.

Make a peanut sauce with the following ingredients:
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp sugar, honey, or agave syrup
1–2 Thai chile peppers or up to ¼ tsp cayenne, to taste

Combine well. Toss with:
6 cups single or mixed fruit, such as pineapple, mango, banana, papaya, apple, watermelon, or citrus supremes. Although they are not fruits, jicama and cucumber also compliment this dish nicely.
1/4 cup peanuts or almonds, toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp shallots or garlic, thinly sliced and fried crisp

Omnivorous Variation

  • Indonesians traditionally add terasi, a strong-smelling fermented shrimp paste. You can substitute a dash of fish sauce, which you can find in Asian markets.

Mielle Chénier-Cowan Rose has been a natural foods chef and advocate for natural living for over 15 years. Her latest book, Veganish: The Omnivore’s Guide to Plant-Based Cooking, can retrain any person to enjoy healthier cooking and eating. Visit pieceofmyheartkitchen.com.

See also:
A Closer Look At Animal‐Based Foods
Veganish: How Plant-Based Foods Can Work for Everyone