There’s no need to wait until Halloween to have some carving fun. How about taking a paring knife to a pepper, cranberry bean pod or purple eggplant? That’s just what we did the other day after a trip to the Millburn Farmer’s Market. The kids got instantly excited when they spotted the Gina’s tent (apparently Montclair’s very own Gina’s Bakery is opening a location in Millburn) welcoming them to the market with free samples galore. And sample we did.
Moving on (with full tummies), my daughter eyed the cranberry beans while wandering through rainbow-colored bins of vegetables. Holding one up for us to see, my little one’s face lit up as he recalled the whimsical sea creature from his favorite book One Lonely Sea Horse. Believe it or not, my son has been looking for these red-spotted, camouflage-patterned beans to make into sea serpents. You see, inspired by Joost Elffert’s Play with Your Food, we’ll often create animals and sea life out of various fruits and vegetables. With only a few cloves or beans for eyes, we’ve transformed a banana into an octopus and a ginger root into a big clawed lobster. It’s an excellent activity while waiting for dinner.
It was with this beautiful serpentine cranberry bean that we discovered our purpose at the market this week. And so we roamed tent to tent, looking not for perfect vegetables but for attention-grabbing ones: Peppers with interesting folds (to become a scrunched up mouth on a funny face), u-shaped eggplants (for diving sharks) and bunches of okra (for silly soldiers). In a short time, we had mounds of unusual looking vegetables and we were poised for an afternoon of play-with-your-food fun.
Fear not green-minded Baristaville. . . there was no waste with these misfit veggies. After a few days of displaying our animal vegetable friends in the dining room, to the delight of our guests (and ourselves), we diced them up, along with loads of other vegetables and created a farm fresh veggie chili.
So, next time you’re at the market with the little ones, let their imaginations go wild, turning peppers into playful penguins and you’ll soon be stirring up a big batch of something delicious.
Farm Fresh Veggie Chili
Really this recipe is just a guide since you can use whatever farm fresh veggies you have on hand after a trip to the market. You should also season as you like, making it less or more spicy. (I’ve made it quite mild so that little ones can enjoy it too.) Finally, when serving it, top it off with grated cheese, cilantro or some diced onions — suit yourself!
1/8 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped
3 onions, diced
3 cups multi-colored peppers, diced
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
4 pieces celery, chopped
2 medium eggplants (any color)
1 cup string beans, cut roughly (any color)
1 yellow squash, diced
2 zucchini, diced
4 tomatoes, skins and seeds removed, diced
4 ears fresh corn kernels
2 teaspoons cumin
Few dashes of hot sauce (to taste)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder (any type)
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock (or chicken!)
1 12-ounce can of tomato sauce
½ cup fresh herbs (parsley or cilantro)
Cut an eggplant into rounds and lay on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and set aside. Remove the skins from the tomatoes either by blanching quickly in boiling water or using a soft skin peeler. Cool and then dice into chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Sauté the garlic for a minute or two. Add the onions and cook for a few more minutes. Gradually begin adding the other vegetables, starting with the carrots, peppers, celery, squash, zucchini, corn, eggplant and then string beans. Season the chili with salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock and tomato sauce, stirring well. Add the hot sauce and taste as-you-go, adding more spice if you like. Let the chili cook until the vegetables are tender and not over cooked for about 20-30 minutes. Add the rinsed kidney beans and heat for 10 additional minutes. Serve with cheddar cheese and fresh chopped herbs on top, some sour cream and brown rice.