01 January 2010

New Year Vegetable Plate

This year was my first time spending the holidays without my mother, and I'll admit I was terrified. I pictured myself, the child with no parents, no siblings, no grandparents, lonely and sad on the holidays. And you know what? It was fine. There was Thanksgiving in Texas with my uncle, and Christmas with wonderful friends, and someone even made me a stocking, and gifts of cookbooks, and kobenstyle pans, and novels and jewelry. And it all went by, and I have to say it was pretty fun.

And at the same time I was stuck with this nagging feeling, the feeling that it just wasn't the same. That without my mom, Christmas will never feel like it used to, there will never be all those presents with her handwriting under the tree, or her silly wearing of the those crowns that come with firecrackers at Christmas dinner. And what I felt wasn't so much sadness, but rather this clear delineation between childhood and adulthood. This stark black line between 2008 and 2009 that said now you have to fend for yourself. Some people never have this line, some people slip between childhood and adulthood in a series of slow transitions, they go from spending Christmas with their parents to spending Christmas with their own children and a slow natural progression. They do not have the black line.

I think of 2009 as the year I spent mirred amidst the headlines. As the news droned on about the housing crisis, I fought with mortgage companies to sell my mother's house, perplexed at how the act of giving them their money could be so confoundingly complex. I filed claims with health insurance companies while 3 blocks away the House and Senate debated much needed health care reform. And in the midst of all this, I packed pounds of body armor into my car, and sent the boy I love off to Afghanistan. I think we need some better headlines.

I'm glad 2009 is over. For the new year, it would be traditional for me to make hoppin' john, and greens, and cornbread. But I went to the store yesterday, and I just bought all sort of vegetables, because I thought this year needs a new start. A healthy, vitamin-enriched way to begin the year. And so I present to you, the new year vegetable plate.

We have pan-roasted brussel sprouts, mashed carrot salad with feta and coriander, braised red cabbage, and okra with apricots and prunes. The okra is a traditional Syrian recipe from Aleppo, a place where ingredients like apricots and tamarind paste are common fare. The most popular Syrian preparation for okra is a simple stew with tomatoes and olive oil (bamia b'il zeit), but I like the sweet-sour profile or this recipe. I chose the tiniest okra possible, which I think reduces sliminess and helps them cook quickly. It's a nice compliment to a plateful of vegetables.

Hello 2010. I'm looking forward to it.

Okra with Apricot and Prunes
The okra you get in Syria are so tiny they can be the size of the tip of your pinky, so we never trimmed the ends. However, if your okra are larger the ends may be tougher, you can trim the tips before cooking, or I prefer to leave them on and just trim them as I'm eating. This is definitely a recipe for okra-lovers, so just keep that in mind.

12 oz whole baby okra, as small as possible
splash of olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pinch sugar
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped prunes

1. Combine the tomato paste, tamarind, lemon juice, water, sugar, and salt in a small bowl
2. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the okra, tossing to coat, and saute until the okra is browned in spots and beginning to soften.
3. Add the water mixture and add the apricots and prunes. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has formed a thin glaze and the okra are cooked through.
4. Serve immediately, perhaps over rice.


Rachelino said...

Oh, your new year vegetable plate looks starkly beautiful, and especially appealing because they are all new preparations to my kitchen....new ways to look at the same veg. I am sorry about the holidays being tougher this year because of the black line. Here is to a wonderful 2010.

claudia said...

one day you will have a family of your own and trust me all the christmas traditions will burst back into life and even those who are no longer here will smile down and enjoy. you will feel their presence and you will feel that kind of christmas sensation again.
take care, all the best for this new year. Claudia

Anonymous said...

Your vegetable plate looks wonderful. I especially want to try your okra recipe as soon as I can find okra again here, a somewhat difficult task. Christmases evolve as the years go by, with all of us missing loved ones gone but definitely not forgotten. Wishing you the best in the New Year and may God keep the boy you love in the palm of his hand.-chrisq

whitneyingram said...

Carrots with coriander is brilliant. I will bet the coriander pairs well with the sweetness of the carrots.

I have enjoyed your reflective writing since the passing of your mother. She seems to have been a delightful, caring mother.

Cheers to a new year and a new beginning. I too am looking forward to putting 2009 behind me.

Anonymous said...

Hi, first-time delurker - this looks delicious! I can't remember exactly how I found you, but I was thrilled to find someone else who loves Syria and Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine as much as I do. I live on Capitol Hill as well, and I'm wondering where you get most of your vegetables and spices. I am new to the area, and I am not having much luck.
Happy New Year!- Andrea

Christine said...

Wishing you the best, this year and every year.

Maris said...

Sounds so great! I usually but frozen okra [ducks for cover] to throw in soups and stews but this looks so good I might have to convert to fresh!

Anonymous said...

I just love, love Okra.. what a fabulous Dish.. thanks so much for sharing.. I've been looking for ways to make Okra.

Brigit said...

I am really enjoying your blog. This vegetable plate is spectacular. You have solved my hummus and baba ghanoush dilemmas.

I am waiting anxiously for your blog on Toum (no egg, yogurt, or mayo)... Mine always separates.

Barbara said...

I thought that when my parents passed away too. But it's been OK. I have grown kids and luckily everyone got down here this year. It was wonderful.
Happy New Year to you!

Keira Soleore said...

Hi! I was recommended your site by a friend. I'm planning on making Far Baton and Olive-Walnut Stuffed Potato bites this weekend. (Substituting lemon zest for sumac.) I'm really interested in attempting our recipes you have on your site, however, since this is my first time cooking this cuisine, I'm running into a whole bunch of spices that I'm not familiar with. Do you have a basic list of spices and where I may order them online? Is Zamouri Spices from Amazon a good place to do so? Your help's much appreciated. And thanks much for sharing your recipes. I'm looking forward to a yummy 2010.

Mark Scarbrough said...

Absolutely gorgeous stuff. And great, on-the-mark writing as well. I love your blog. Really do. And love your recipes as well. It's all so very real. Thanks for being willing to do that.

Mercedes said...

Andrea- I usually get veggies at Eastern Market on the weekends, usually because it's closest. For Middle Eastern supplies, I make the occasional trip to Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria- they've got great bread/spices/yogurt/sweets, etc.

Brigit- I've been meaning to get a toum recipe up here, hopefully you've motivated me!

Keira- If you need a mail order source, I highly recommend Kalustyan's. I used to shop there often when I lived in New York, their prices and selection are great and they'll ship just about anything. I don't have specific "spice list," but I'd recommend making a list of the recipes you want to make, and the spices that are necessary for them.

Vicki in GA said...

Wonderful recipe.

I'm so happy to see you are posting recipes again.

Vicki in GA said...

I have a question. Do you know of a market that will send fresh bread - pita and such? Northern Georgia isn't what I'd call diverse - even Atlanta lacks what I'm use to finding at Middle Eastern stores in California.

Mercedes said...

Vicki- Kalustyan's will ship bread, but you have to pay for overnight delivery. Many stores get markouk bread from Shahinaz-Markouk in Quebec, but I don't know if they ship to individuals. I know there are a lot of Lebanese immigrants in Louisiana, you might try seeing if there are any bakeries there who would ship to you.

Haim said...

Never had bamia with fruit before, I need to try this recipe. My mother, an Iraqi Jew, makes it in a tomato broth with sweet and sour notes, garlic and mint (na'ana).