Listen up! Your vegetables are talking

Chef Sarah Grueneberg spotlights veggies in new cookbook

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Before you start peeling, chopping, and sautéing your vegetables, Chef Sarah Grueneberg wants you to spend some time listening to them. Yes, you read that right, listening to them. 

"It all starts at the grocery store," said the James Beard Award winner, who also owns Monteverde Restaurant and Pacificio in Chicago's West Loop. "I want people to think about it and listen to those vegetables because they really are saying, Hey, pick me up, take me home, and let's be in the kitchen."

Grueneberg shares her unique perspective on vegetables in her new cookbook, Listen to Your Vegetables: recently published by Harvest, an imprint of William Morrow.  It features Italian-inspired recipes for just about everything you'd find at the produce stand, including artichokes, beans, and peas; roots and bulbs; and leaves and greens.  

"If you don't have vegetables, cooking would be very boring and unflavorful," she said. 

Sprinkled throughout the book, you'll find illustrations that bring the vegetables to life and give them the voice Grueneberg wants you to hear to make sure you understand them. The artichoke, for example, is dressed in medieval armor holding a flag with a heart on it.  

"If you understand that picture, you understand the artichoke. They have some defense armor around them. The leaves are a little tough, but inside is this incredible heart. If you can get to it, it will change that meal or that bite or what you're making at that moment," she said. 

Coach Kale is seen leading lettuce heads in aerobics to prove "greens are the key to a fit and healthful lifestyle," and broccoli rolls in on a motorcycle as a "fridge warrior" with a long shelf life. 

Grueneberg discovered her love of vegetables in her grandparents' garden in rural Victoria, Texas, a couple of hours from her hometown of Houston. "Meals were centered on what was fresh from the garden," she writes.

As a young chef at Houston's historic Brennan's Restaurant, Grueneberg learned to turn the fresh produce picked from the local farm into the nightly special.  Her career eventually brought her to Spiaggia, once known as Chicago's finest Italian restaurant.  In that kitchen she met her husband, Jaime, and Meg Sahs, the co-owner of Monteverde, which the two opened in 2015. 

Cooking is not just Grueneberg's profession--it's also her hobby, and vegetables are always her starting point.  "I could have nothing in the fridge except a cabbage. With my pantry, I know I can make dinner, and that's the goal," she said, explaining that the book is truly designed for the home cook with recipes for the beginner and those with more experience.   

"I really tried to think and use people in my life that aren't avid cooks," she said, noting she asks herself, "Is it going to work for my mom in Texas or my friend in Arizona?"

In addition to the recipes, Grueneberg offers tips to troubleshoot any challenges under headings called "Get it, Get it," a phrase she uses in the kitchen when dishes are coming together.

Grueneberg encourages home cooks to start with vegetables when planning a meal and then feel free to customize her recipes. "I hope people see vegetables and cooking in a different way, and enjoy putting a few things in their basket that they hadn't before, and take these recipes as a guide and then slowly add their own spin."

Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media.     

 

RECIPE  

Chef Sarah Grueneberg recommends this acorn squash recipe from her cookbook, Listen to Your Vegetables, to complement latkes for your Chanukah dinner.  

Pomegranate-Glazed Acorn Squash with Mint 

2 whole acorn squash (1 to 1¼ pounds each)

3 to 4 tablespoons everyday olive oil

Coarse sea salt (like Maldon) or kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1½ teaspoons fennel seeds, cracked  

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (see Get It Get It)  

½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves  

¼ cup fresh pomegranate seeds 

 

  1. Using a sturdy Y-peeler, peel the curved ridges of each squash. Using a heavy, sharp knife, trim ½ inch off the stem ends. Halve each squash lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds. Place the squash halves cut side down on your cutting board and slice crosswise 1 inch thick (almost like half-moon slices).  

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add half of the squash in an even layer and season with salt. Sear until golden and just beginning to soften, 6 to 7 minutes. Flip the squash slices and season with salt. Add a little more olive oil to the skillet (about 1 tablespoon) and cook until golden, another 5 minutes or so. Gently swirl the pan to rotate the squash pieces so they cook evenly. Transfer the squash to a plate or a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and squash slices; transfer to the plate. 

  1. Place the skillet back over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the fennel seeds and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Tightly nestle the squash slices back into the skillet. Add ½ cup of water and the pomegranate molasses and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cook until the squash is tender and the glaze has thickened, flipping the squash about halfway through, about 6 minutes total. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. 

  1. Add the mint leaves and gently toss the squash. Transfer it to a platter and garnish with the pomegranate seeds. You can serve the squash immediately or at room temperature as a salad. 

Get It Get It: Show off that peel yo! To serve, I like to nestle the squash slices with their peels facing up. 

Can't find pomegranate molasses? Skip the water and use 2 cups of pomegranate juice, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for the glaze. Reduce it to about 1/2 cup before adding the squash back into the pan in Step 3. 

 

 

From Listen to Your Vegetables by Sarah Grueneberg and Kate Heddings. Copyright © 2022 by Green Mountain Collection, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 

 


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