“Tender,” or How To Make Vegetables Unhealthy

I got a cookbook for Christmas called “Tender.”  It’s all about growing and preparing vegetables. As someone who needs to eat more, and enjoys growing, vegetables, and someone who appreciates unnecessarily fancy cookbooks, this book appealed to me when I first stumbled across it on Amazon.  “Tender” had been sitting on my wishlist for a while because it seemed a little intimidating and because, well, I like having long lists of books. This Christmas, though, I finally decided to just ask for it.

Then it arrived.  It is an incredibly intimidating book in person.

First of all, its size ranks it somewhere between hardcover “Song of Ice & Fire” books and a standard college textbook.  Second, the author’s name is Nigel.  Third, there’s a lot of text.  I enjoy cookbooks that merge anecdotes and recipes – cooking, after all, has a rich sense of community and history and togetherness, whether it’s through learning to cook, sharing recipes, or cooking for a group, and I like to see that brought out alongside the cut-and-dried instructions – but this one is extremely dense.  Even the recipes themselves are written out in conversational paragraphs, as opposed to numbered lists.

Plus, all the recipes have snooty-sounding titles, like, “A pilaf of asparagus, fava beans, and mint,” or “A chilled soup of goat cheese and beets,” or “Sprouting and blood oranges on a frosty May day.”  Yikes.

(One of my favorite names so far is “An extremely moist chocolate-beet cake with creme fraiche and poppy seeds.”)

In sum: it is not a cookbook for beginners.

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At first, I perused it reverently, studying the Instagram-ish photos of his London garden in each season, scanning the table of contents (artistically printed sideways on the page) to see which new kinds of vegetables I could learn to work with.  The recipe titles almost immediately put me off, if they weren’t too long for me to decipher, “hey, this is just a salad,” or “oh, I kind of know how to make a variation of that.”

Even the vegetables themselves suddenly became intimidating.  Apparently what we know as broccoli is technically “calabrese,” and there’s a whole ‘nother variety called “sprouting,” and I don’t even know if that’s the official name or the British name, so heaven help me if I ever want to try to grow or prepare it. And what is a Jerusalem artichoke, anyway?!

I was afraid I’d bought the kitchen equivalent of a coffee-table book – something that sits out on display to impress people, or kill a few minutes with idle reading, but isn’t very useful.

Then I reached the tomato section and found a recipe for simple roasted cherry tomatoes.  It was even called “Roasted cherry tomatoes.”  I can definitely handle that.

Below that was a recipe called “Baked tomatoes with cheese and thyme.”  It contained the sentence “Whatever, just make sure the goat cheese fits inside the tomato.”

Intrigued, I read it, feeling my brain work the same connections as it does to translate a foreign language.  You make the dish by hollowing out large tomatoes, filling them with olive oil, goat cheese, and herbs, and roasting them, then eating them as a side.  Mr. Slater suggested couscous.  Kevin and I both thought this was perfectly acceptable.

So we made them for our Sunday night dinner and they were rich and amazing and we’re going to eat them all the time now.

My translation skills are improving now. For example, that sprouting dish?  It’s just a hollandaise sauce with orange zest over steamed greens.  Now, I have no idea how to make a hollandaise sauce, and I would probably goof up, but at least I know what it is.  Similarly, a snooty-sounding pepper recipe turned out to be a very doable dish of ground-pork stuffed peppers.

I wanted the book in order to build up more healthy veggie recipies, but – and I admit I am actually exited about this – many of the recipes are, in true British fashion, smothered in cream and/or cheese.  As far as Mr. Slater is concerned, the only good way to eat cauliflower is under a blanket of cheese.  Aside from the salad recipes and a few stir fries, almost nothing in this book looks like it’ll be healthy.  Even the cabbage section contains a recipe for a gratin!  And, if Mr. Slater is any judge, Brussels sprouts are to be eaten with bacon, cream optional.  (I don’t think it even occurred to him to just roast them.)

Cauliflower also acceptable with cream and cheese in soup.

Cauliflower also acceptable with cream and cheese in soup.

Still, as long as the recipes contain something that grew from the ground, I’ll be perfectly happy to eat them and pretend they’re healthy, whether they’re filled with goat cheese or not.

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8 thoughts on ““Tender,” or How To Make Vegetables Unhealthy

  1. I’ll have to try the goat-cheese stuffed tomatoes, that sounds great! I’ve been trying to be adventurous with trying new (to me) vegetables. Bok choy has been a great addition to stir fries, and collard greens are a new favorite for us – you just boil them with some stock or ham hocks and garlic, balsamic, and sugar/honey to cut the bitterness (for 20+ min, till they’re tender), and they’re an awesome side.

      • Thanks! The bok choy cooks down, and keeps in the fridge for quite awhile. Or you could have an asian-stir fry dinner party? ;) I do similar things with collard greens and spinach. Spinach is awesome cooked with parmesan and pine nuts, again with a touch of sugar/honey to cut bitterness and maybe some balsamic. Collard greens are hard to throw into other dishes without cooking them first, though, since they have to cook for a long while.

  2. I will argue that you cannot make vegetables “unhealthy” unless you do that thing that southerners in the US do to green beans, which involves adding some sort of fatty pork and boiling them to the death — and then a little more, just to be sure. I think the vitamins are all in the water there. Vegetables covered in cheese or cream? Okay! So long as you can eat cheese and cream. You’re also eating vegetables, and vegetables are awesome! Nutrition isn’t a zero sum game. And it sounds like this cookbook is making you get outside your comfort zone, so it’s working magic, right?

    I like veggie cookbooks because I love vegetables and get in a rut that reminds me of my mother’s “set meals” growing up. It was just that certain things went together in her mind — chicken went with peas and mashed potatoes, pork chops went with noodles and applesauce and lima beans, steak went with salad and baked potatoes. For me, it’s more that all green leafy things go in a pan with olive oil and garlic. Brussels sprouts get roasted. Pretty much everything else gets sauteed, again with garlic. It’s not that it’s bad — just sort of boring. Sometimes I need a professional to remind me that garlic and olive oil are not water and air — not required for living. :)

    • I don’t know…some of these recipes try their hardest to render the vegetables completely devoid of nutrition! I have to admit I am gravitating more towards those recipes than the healthier uncooked salad-type ones, though. Veggies are simply way better than cheese or cream is involved!

      I can definitely see some of those set-meal things in my own cooking! Pork goes with mashed potatoes and maybe a veggie like green beans (which have been roasted with garlic and olive oil, natch). (Nobody says natch anymore, do they.) This book does offer some interesting flavor combos… I can’t remember any of them off the top of my head, but I think citrus and spinach was one? It’ll be interesting to experiment more!

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