Sunday, August 26, 2007

Simply The Best

With food, simple is often best. Sometimes we fuss over preparation and details, when fresh (or very good quality) ingredients are all that's needed for an outstanding dish. Just the simplest of seasonings can then enhance the natural, beautiful flavors of these foods.

Like these tomatoes. We had family over for dinner last Sunday. That morning I picked up gorgeous yellow tomatoes and heirloom red tomatoes at our local farmers' market. Have you ever had yellow tomatoes? They are a little sweeter than red tomatoes, and not as acidic. I love them!

For a side dish with our dinner, I sliced several of these perfectly ripened, fragrant tomatoes and layered them on a plate. Since basil and tomatoes are nature's soul mates, I arranged a handful of fresh basil leaves over the tomatoes. Just before serving I drizzled on my Balsamic Maple Sauce from ED&BV, and a pinch of sea salt and ground pepper. This sauce is thick and delicious, but a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper would be equally wonderful. But... don't dress the tomatoes and basil until you are ready to eat. Otherwise the salt and vinegar will draw the juices out of the tomatoes and wilt the basil (just like how you don't want to dress a salad until just ready to eat).

This fresh tomato salad was a highlight of our meal. The tomatoes and basil were not masked by too many ingredients, allowing their vibrant, summer-rich flavors to shine through.

Try this for your own dinners or when entertaining, and also think of other simple and delicious pairings when meal-planning, including:

- crusty breads and a great quality olive oil. Place olive oil in small bowls with or without balsamic vinegar for dipping. Coarse sea salt is also quite nice for sprinkling.
- selection of olives
- seasonal produce left raw or lightly blanched, drizzled with oil or with a simple dip like hummus or raw aioli (I managed to squeeze my recipe for raw red pepper aioli in ED&BV for you just before going to print!)
- bowl of raw nuts, or...
- buy a big bag of mixed greens for a simple salad with just these greens (maybe a few cherry tomatoes) and some raw pine nuts, pecans, or walnuts tossed in.
- accentuate flavors in your meals with wedges of lemon or lime (ex: lemon juices with legume-based dishes and lime juice with spicy foods and entrees)
- big bowl of guacamole with lightly salted tortilla chips. My guacamole is always a huge hit, and it still surprises me because it is so darn simple! But, I don't think people make their own guac that often. I keep it very simple for guests, adding a good amount of fresh lemon or lime juice and salt to taste, and keeping some chunky texture. Keeping it simply seasoned with lemon juice and salt pleases everyone, without ingredients that might be unpleasant (or offensive) to some (ex: cilantro - you either love it or hate it!)
- grilled/roasted veggies. One of my favorite things to do is roast veggies. In the summer, chop things like zukes, mushrooms, bell peppers, shallots, and fennel and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop it all on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and bake at about 400-450 for 40 minutes or longer until the veg are caramelized and golden brown. The flavors are just magnificent! Then, all you have to do is serve as a side dish, or toss into hot pasta, or into cold grains for a salad. Seriously great stuff!

These are just a few suggestions for quick and simple food pairings... what are some of yours?

Also, just a reminder that this is the last week for voting in the VegNews survey. I'm nominated for favorite cookbook author, favorite veg blog, and favorite column. Please vote for me in any (or all!) categories. Remember, you have a chance to win in this survey too (in case you need that extra push to complete the survey)! And, if you've already voted - my big thanks. I'd love to win, and each and every vote from you is important. Many thanks. :)


Hot Librarian said...

I totally agree with this post! We had a fantastic lunch yesterday -- fresh baked bread from the farmer's market, a tomato just picked from our garden, and basil leaves from the plant I keep on my kitchen counter. So simple, and so delicious!

Judy said...

Tomato and basil just might be the best flavour combination ever. Oh wait, that's after peanut butter and chocolate.

Peace, Love and Veganism said...

That's so funny that you posted this, because after my green bean disaster last week (the dressing overpowered the fresh beans), I had them just slightly blanched then tossed with a little balsamic, olive oil, pepper and sea salt. Sooo much better! Love the basil-tomato combo too ;)

Vegan_Noodle said...

A perfect end of summer dish. I've been eyeing the heirlooms at the grocery store and I just might have to break down and buy some!!

Cherie said...

Those tomatoes look fabulous! I need to have a garden soon.

Dreena said...

Hi hot librarian... that sounds just lovely - can't go too wrong with fresh bread, right?!

Ha, Judy, yes too true!

Peace, love - yeah, sometimes we just need to go with our favorite seasonings and cooking methods to bring out the best in our produce. And since it's familiar, it is that much easier to whip up!

Vegan noodle... go indulge, while the time is right (or should I say ripe?)!

Cherie, I wish I had a garden too! :( I have a few herb plants, but that's all I can maintain right now (and not all too well sometimes)!

Anonymous said...

looks totally great!

laura jesser said...

You're right--simple is often the best, though too often we forego the simple things. Those tomatoes would be the highlight of any summer meal.

I agree with all the food pairings you mentioned... and can I throw in seasonal fruits? Sometimes we don't need a pie or a pudding to enjoy fresh fruit... but just a knife and a fork. I love a little basil on my strawberries with balsamic vinegar.

Almost Vegetarian said...

Oh, I know what you mean about simple. It's not just that it is too hot to cook, but it is also almost too hot to eat. Cool, fresh tomatoes (especially with basil) is perfect, just perfect for this weather.


bazu said...

I totally agree. I can easily make a meal out of a simple salad, or even a few of any one perfect fruit or vegetable. Ok, that was grammatically weird, but I know exactly what you mean!

erica said...

Hi Dreena,
I don't know if you're aware, but as of Sept. 1st all california almonds (including "organic") will be gassed & heat treated, but still marked as raw. The gas is so toxic it is outlawed in Europe.

Just an FYI, to make sure your raw almonds are not from the US.

funwithyourfood said...

sometimes fresh tomatoes, basil and some bread really hit the spot!


Dreena said...

Laura, I fully agree! I love our local organic peaches. Incredibly juicy and flavorful. Growing up our peaches were always mealy and dry and I never understood why people liked them... now I practically weep when peach season is over. :)

Hi Erica, yes I heard about this some months ago but was hoping it wouldn't take hold. I think Erik is talking about it on his podcast this week (haven't listened yet). I'll probably blog about it once I have more info myself. Thanks for the heads up.