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.