The meaning of life is a rutabaga.
            --Garrison Keillor​
By: Chef Joe George

This dog days of summer are a memory. It’s time to batten down the hatches for the cold months. And if you’re a person who likes to cook and eat by the seasons using local ingredients, this may mean getting creative in order to keep meals interesting. The summer months are easier, I think: vegetables seem to have more flavor when the sun is shining (maybe it’s my imagination), and herbs that are almost easier to grow than they are to purchase will brighten any meal. But when the low grey clouds roll in so do the fall vegetables.

Fall vegetables are heartier, and this was a true blessing in days before refrigeration (I know that I’m not the only one whose old house rests not on a partial basement but an original root cellar). Indeed many fall vegetables are roots (beets, turnips, parsnips), and many are inter-related and belong to the cabbage family (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and various cabbages), and others fall into the hard squash category (pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc.). All of these are delicious vegetables but by mid season they can become a little monotonous. 

One of the best ways to offer palate variety is to accent its own flavor in a different way. There are many ways to do this and the most obvious is to simply change the way it is cooked. Instead of using a moist heat cooking method, such as steaming or boiling, use a dry one, such as sautéing, pan frying, or roasting. When cooking with liquid it’s impossible to brown a vegetable, which is what happens when the vegetable’s carbohydrates are converted into sugar and caramelize. Sautéing onions or potatoes until brown is a common practice in western cuisines, but doing this with vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, or turnips is not. The flavors of sliced vegetables of almost any type will become more pronounced when sautéed, and it adds texture as well. If the vegetable is particularly hard, such as squash or turnip, add a little liquid to the pan after the vegetable is browned. A small amount of broth or wine will cook the vegetables quickly while adding flavor as well.

Cooking vegetables with spices is another obvious choice; the spices not only coat but will actually permeate the vegetable. Indian style cauliflower is an excellent example of this: first the vegetables are browned in oil, then spiced in the same oil, and finally cooked in a little broth. The resulting cauliflower is one that is not easily forgotten.

One of my favorite methods to flavor autumn vegetables is one that entails little effort but some advance planning because it takes time. I’m referring to brining, pickling, and fermenting. These were original preservation techniques which ensured homegrown vegetables throughout the season, and the ensuing flavors that are produced are so intense they’ll literally burst in your mouth. Pickled vegetables are soured with vinegar, but fermented vegetables turn sour with the presence of good bacteria that are naturally occurring. Sauerkraut is the most obvious example of this, but its fiery cousin, kim chi, is also a great option. These are so simple to make and when you taste the homemade version you’ll never buy it prepared again.
[h1] [/h1][h1]Gobi Aloo[/h1]
(Indian-Style Cauliflower and Potatoes)​
Yield: About 6 servings

     Vegetable oil for pan frying

   1 head cauliflower, cut into florets   

   3 potatoes, peeled and cut into half-moons   

   1 onion, sliced

   1 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds   

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds   

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds   

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt  

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 vegetable broth  

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the cauliflower and pan fry for a couple of minutes, until it just begins to brown. Remove the cauliflower and set aside. Then cook the potatoes in the same oil, but a little longer, until they are almost cooked through. Remove the potatoes from the pan, and very carefully pour most of the oil to another pan and set aside to cool; reserve for another use.
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Return the skillet to the heat and add the onion; cook until translucent, but not browned. Add the curry, mustard, coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt, and red pepper; cook for a minute or two, until the spices become fragrant and the seeds begin to pop. Add the cauliflower and potatoes back to the pan and stir to coat them with spices. Add a few ounces broth to the pan and cover it with a lid. Steam the vegetables for a couple of minutes, then remove the cover. Cook until the liquid evaporates.
[h1]Lebanese Pickled Turnips[/h1]
      6 medium turnips, peeled and sliced  
      3 beets, peeled and sliced
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
      2 jalapenos, sliced
      1 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups vinegar
Toss the turnips ,beets, and jalapenos in a bowl with the salt, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 12 hours. Then transfer the vegetables, and any liquid that may have accumulated, to a large jar or crock. Add the vinegar and enough warm water to cover the vegetables. Cover the vegetable, but not tightly because they may need to “burp.” Let rest at room temperature for one week.
[h1]Spiced Lamb and Pumpkin Stew[/h1]
 Yield: 4 servings

      3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds lamb, diced

      2 tablespoons flour

      1 small onion, diced

      2 carrots, diced

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

      2 teaspoons black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger

   3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

   1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

   1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

      1 pound pumpkin, peeled and diced

      3 cups chicken broth

         the juice of one lemon

   1/4 cup raisins

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Dust the lamb with flour and place it in the hot pan. Cook over high heat until it begins to color, then add the onions and carrots, sauté another minute. Stir in the sugar, pepper, ginger, salt, cinnamon, saffron, and pumpkin, sauté 1 minute. Add the broth and lemon juice, simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly and the meat is tender. Stir in the raisins and serve over cous cous or rice pilaf.
[h1]Borscht with Meat[/h1]
Yield: 3 quarts

    3 tablespoons vegetable oil

    1 pound beef stew meat, diced

    2 medium carrots, diced

    2 stalks celery, diced

    1 medium onion, diced

1/2 head small head of cabbage, shredded

    1 clove garlic

 5-6 fresh beets, peeled and diced

    8 cups beef broth

    4 tablespoons sugar

    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

   2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat and add the beef. Sear the meat then remove it and set aside. In the same soup pot, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and cabbage; sauté 5 minutes. Add the beef back to the pot along with the beets, broth, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil then lower to a slow simmer. Cook the soup about an hour, then stir in the dill.
[h1]Butternut Squash Bisque[/h1]
                                            Yield: 6 cups

   2 tablespoons butter

   1 small onion, diced

   2 tablespoons flour   

   2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

   1 teaspoon black pepper

   2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash

   2 cups chicken stock

   1 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat and add the onions. Sweat the onions for 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and diced squash; sauté another minute. Add the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is very tender. Add the cream and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Puree in a blender or food processor.
[h1]Spice Roast Carrots and Parsnips[/h1]
Yield: 8 servings

   4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick disks

   4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into thick disks

1/4 cup olive oil

   2 teaspoons sugar

   1 teaspoon salt

   1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to coat evenly. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat and add the vegetables. Sauté and toss the vegetables for 5 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize. Transfer the vegetables to a medium roasting pan and place in the oven. Roast the vegetables for about 25 minutes, or until browned and cooked throughout. Serve warm or room temperature.
[h1] [/h1][h1]Kim Chi[/h1]
1 head Napa cabbage, cut into two-inch pieces

1 small daikon, grated

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small piece ginger, minced

1 small onion, minced

2 tablespoons chili paste

1 tablespoon sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer to a container that is wide enough to fit a few small plates inside it. Press the cabbage down and weight it with plates. Cover the container and leave at room temperature. After a day it should release enough liquid that it is submerged, if not, add a little salted water.  After about 2 days small bubbles will appear, after about a week or so it will smell and taste distinctively sour. Taste it as often as you like and when the flavor is to your liking transfer the container to the refrigerator to slow its fermentation.
[h1]Broccoli and Tofu Stir-Fry[/h1]
Yield: 4 servings

       4 tablespoons soy sauce

       1 tablespoon cider vinegar

       1 tablespoon sugar

       2 tablespoons cornstarch

       4 heads broccoli, cut into florets

     12 ounces firm tofu, sliced into 1-inch pieces

       1 cup vegetable oil (for pan-frying)

       1 small onion, sliced

       1 red bell pepper, julienned

       2 cloves garlic, minced

       1 tablespoon minced ginger

       1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch. Par-cook the broccoli in boiling water, then drain and cool it under cold water.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Very carefully add the tofu. Cook the tofu, turning once, until light golden brown. Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and transfer to absorbent paper. Allow the oil to cool a little, then pour most of it into a separate pan, leaving just a little oil in the original pan. Return the pan to the heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté until they begin to caramelize. Add the garlic, ginger, and hot peppers. Sauté for another minute or two.

Stir in the chicken broth; bring to a boil, than stir in the soy-cornstarch mixture. Bring it to a simmer. Add the broccoli and bean curd to the pan. Cook until the broccoli is heated throughout but not overcooked. Serve with steamed rice.
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Joe George is a longtime professional chef and frequent contributor to food publications and websites. He owns three ukuleles and five bicycles. To read about his sometimes inept attempts at urban simplicity visit his blog at