Sometimes I find myself with an assortment of small quantities of food. A couple of carrots, an ear of corn, a piece of cabbage, a few tomatoes. It can be a challenge to find ways to use these miscellaneous items when there’s not enough of any one to carry a dish on its own.
For most of the summer, this was the output of my garden. Slow and steady with a little of this and a little of that. Just when I think I’ve used up the last of the cucumbers, I go out the next day to find yet one more. It’s another story at the moment. Every available vessel is holding tomatoes of all shapes and shades. Meanwhile, good-sized eggplant and peppers are popping up and the herbs are beyond control. Anyone need some oregano or lemon balm?
If you’re a gardener and you’re worried about how long your vegetables are taking to ripen or get big right about now, just have patience. We have high — and somewhat unrealistic — expectations. Grocery stores have corn and tomatoes out as early as May, as if it that were the height of summer. When in reality, they’re shipping food here from somewhere far away. Local farmers are also ahead of the home gardener. They often grow, or at least start, their crops in greenhouses to capture extra heat. And don’t forget, we had a wet spring and many of us planted later than usual. Unless your plants look diseased, I wouldn’t worry yet.
Even when my counter and fridge are overflowing, it can be just as difficult trying to strategize how to use everything up at once. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good problem to have. However, aside from canning, freezing, pickling, drying, tea making and infusing, I do like to eat normal dinners most nights of the week.
I’ve tested out all kinds of vegetable-heavy recipes to come up with reliable dishes. Soups are a good idea when you have a random assortment of ingredients. Though I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get into soup in the summer. Standing over a boiling pot of liquid is the last thing I want to do. Stir fries are another good idea, as is pasta primavera. What makes these recipes work so well is that you can swap out various vegetables for what you have available.
This summer I added a new go-to dish to my arsenal: Korean vegetable pancakes. You can’t go wrong with pancakes, and their simplicity never fails. Even when you load them up with vegetables, they remain a crowd pleaser. Easy enough to double or triple batch, they seriously could feed a crowd while putting to use your vegetable assortment.
There’s just enough batter in these to offer the crispy, slightly doughy texture of an ordinary pancake. The inclusion of rice flour helps add to the crispness, but you could use all all-purpose flour if that’s what you have. As for the vegetables, I’ve used, in various combinations, cabbage, kale, corn, zucchini, beets, carrots and several different herbs. I think almost any vegetables would work as long as you grate or chop them small enough. Some recipes say to cook the vegetables ahead of time, but I’ve never bothered.
Served with a simple green salad, these pancakes make a light dinner on a warm summer evening. Or even a cool summer evening, as we seem to be having. Now that tomatoes are plentiful, they go perfectly with a tomato chutney I originally made a few years ago to pair with zucchini fritters.
Korean vegetable pancakes
Adapted from “How to Bake Everything” by Mark Bittman
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup rice flour (white or brown)
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups water
- 4-5 scallion greens, cut into 3-inch pieces and sliced lengthwise
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives, parsley or cilantro
- About 2 ½ cups grated or finely chopped vegetables
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, eggs, salt and water. Stir until smooth. Fold in the scallions, herbs and vegetables.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When hot, ladle ½ cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet. Use a spoon to spread out the batter. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter and adding more oil, if needed.
You can serve warm or at room temperature with a dipping sauce made of equal parts soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Or give the tomato chutney a try.
Makes about 4 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons grated or powdered ginger
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavoring as you like.