No boring veggie dishes, only boring cooks

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Here, I pick up where I left off yesterday. I split one piece into two because 800-words-plus is more than too many readers will put up with in one post.

4) Flavorings: As many choices as you have in vegetables, you have even more here. The obvious ones, not only useful but practically required, are chopped onion and garlic. The food maven Mollie Katzen used to say that every recipe of her grandmother’s started with, “chop and saute an onion,” because even if it wasn’t needed in the recipe, it just made the kitchen smell so nicely.

For some people, the hurdles to garlic is how to get the husk off and the smell it leaves on hands. I get around that by buying hulled garlic in bulk at a superstore. Then I run it through a processor, cover it with olive oil, and refrigerate. Whenever I need garlic, I can just grab a teaspoon, or whatever. As long as the garlic is covered by the oil (and refrigerated! otherwise, it could turn poisonous; no, really.), it will last for weeks.

Another favorite, for me, is ginger, with which I do almost the same thing as with the garlic. Buy a few roots, peel the skin off, process, and cover with oil. Using a spoon is the best way to get the skin off — you lose none of the root.

Then, of course, you have all the spices, fresh and dried, in a bunch of forms — the seed, the leaf, the seed but ground up, etc. In addition, there are spice mixes like curry powder, which come in hot, mild, etc. There are tastes that are considered to go well together, but in my opinion, you don’t need to know any of them. Just try one. If you like it, use it again with a different vegetable. If you don’t, try a different one.

There are also a bunch of liquid flavorings, beginning with soy sauce, but including veggie stocks (purchased, or left over from some other cooking foray), lemon juice, and vinegars. When I do cabbage, for example, (something else I was sure I’d never like), I start by sauteing it in a wok with some onion and some caraway seed but then I add a bit of white vinegar and cover it to steam the rest of the way.

You can go the other way, too, starting with both a liquid and an oil (make sure they begin at the same temperature, or you’ll get spattering), bring to cooking temperature and add your veg. The liquid will steam the veggies until it burns off, then the oil will put some brown flavor on it.

For even more variety, you can combine veggies into medleys, or combine two kinds of heat — steam the parsnips, then saute them, for example.

Even if you use only a handful of veggies, a handful of heat sources, and a handful of flavorings, you’ll end up with enough combinations that by the time you get through every permutation, the second round will seem fresh and new.