Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine in a small saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, seeds reserved
We go through a lot of vegetables in our kitchen. Apart from my firm belief that everything is better when it starts with onions and garlic, we received a juicer for our wedding, and when the crowded fridge starts to get to me, I have been known to chop every vegetable in sight and roast it.
We're also devotees of herbs and aromatics, and our refrigerator is rarely devoid of parsley, cilantro, fresh bay leaves, and lemongrass stalks. The only problem with being an equal opportunity vegetable-lover, apart from never having enough fridge space, is that you end up with a lot of scraps.
Throwing out scraps just feels wasteful to me. Potato peelings, tomato seeds, carrot tops, and chard stalks have a rightful place in the kitchen, but it takes a little more finesse and creativity to figure out how to use them to your advantage. Many scraps have tendencies, flavors, or textures that most of us find unappealing, and while I might actually enjoy my butternut squash unpeeled, I think I can say, judging from all the blogs with articles about how to peel a butternut, that most people find the skin a bit off-putting.
The key is to manipulate the ingredient. Treat it differently. Most scraps are not actually things that should be thrown away, but rather, misunderstood components of the vegetable as a whole. Not unlike the pricklier parts of ourselves that need a little smoothing over before we can present them to the world.
It is also a pleasant enough challenge to puzzle over the fragrant tassels of a fennel plant or to make a quick stock from shrimp shells. These are activities that can leave you feeling resourceful and sly, like the cat who ate the canary, presumably feathers and all.
Sometimes my experiments with scraps are ill-fated, but mostly I have been successful enough to think this pastime worthwhile. If it keeps produce out of the compost bin and saves money, I'm generally on board.
One of my biggest successes with using scraps is also one of the simplest and perhaps most obvious. Green rice. We use a lot of herbs, especially cilantro and parsley, and as a result, we end up with lots of herb stems left over once the leaves have been pulled off and used. Herb stems are decidedly un-sexy, and they usually wind up in the garbage without a second thought.
However, herb stems contain lots of flavor, and a little whirr in a food processor or spice grinder renders their stringiness smooth. Combined with a tablespoon or so of oil, a pinch of salt, and a splash of citrus, the resulting pesto-like substance can be easily stirred into a pot of rice for added flavor. You can use more herbs for an even more verdant rice, or you can opt for less to attain a more subtle result. Either way, this is an easy and economical way to add flavor and interest to a pot of rice.
Since we usually make this preparation to go alongside tacos or huevos rancheros, we tend to use cilantro stems, but any succulent herb stem will do--parsley, dill, tender basil, and watercress stems are good options. Of course, as these herbs are strongly flavored, I advise against using them in tandem.
I've included the directions for cooking long grain white and brown rice. I give thanks for the Grains Cooking Chart in JOY almost every day, as I can never seem to remember the proper ratios and times for cooking all those diverse grains.
Sometimes, when we're feeling saucy, we purée a jalapeño and a green onion with the herbs for added spice.
Bring to a boil:
2 cups water or 2 1/2 cups water for brown rice
Add and stir briefly:
1 cup long-grain white or brown rice
Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 18 minutes. Let stand, covered, 10 minutes.
For brown rice, simmer for 35 minutes and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, blend in a food processor or spice grinder until the mixture is a paste:
Stems from one bunch of herbs (cilantro, parsley, dill, or basil)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
(1 scallion, sliced)
(1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped)
When the rice has finished cooking, stir in the herb paste.
For added color and texture, stir in:
2 tablespoons chopped herb leaves (whichever herb you used in the paste)