Bless Your Spoon: On going green — what’s all the fuss? 

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

Going green is not worth all the fuss that’s being made about it — it’s no challenge for a seasoned Southern cook. Recently, I was invited to a party in Boone to celebrate the combined birthdays of two friends, Shivonne and Jim. The invitation called for a potluck, and a subsequent memo encouraged vegetarian offerings. At first, I felt out of my element. But I was going — and going green.

My heart is wrapped around old-fashioned, Southern meaty casseroles that feed a crowd, and taking the South out of this girl has proven nearly impossible. Quickly, I re-envisioned myself as a plant-based, meatless pro. Contrary to my otherwise subtle nature, I’d just have to get more aggressive with the salt and seasonings. When cooking fresh vegetables, we have to remember that seasonings are great flavor enhancers but not flavor replacers. The bare minimum of salt will bring out the best-tasting flavors already present in the food. Additional herbs and spices will add variety.

As it turned out, in classic Southern style, I toted three well-seasoned, plant, bean and pasta dishes. Southerly girls are all about a mess of greens and beans — those earthy sides. The party spread turned out to be a buffet of tasty tossed salads, olive oil-roasted vegetables, and creamy pureed soups.

The following morning, I attended Sunday worship at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church where Jim is the music director. He played piano while the congregation sang the opening hymn “Here in this place.” The third stanza read,

“Here we will take the wine and the water

Here we will take the bread of new birth, 

Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,

Call us a-new to be salt for the earth.”

Some words from Revs. Deacon Greg Erickson and Cynthia Banks came from Eugene Peterson’s book, “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language,” and reflected on why we’re here — to bring out the God flavors of this Earth. If we lose our saltiness, how will people taste godliness? Believers bring out God’s flavors on this earth. We are to flavor — to season the world by transforming human activity so it reveals God.

In Matthew 5;13, Jesus taught about salt, saying, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

Words of our faith should be respectful and full of grace, yet salty — seasoned and tasty as to pique the interest of others. Paul gives these instructions in Colossians 4:6, saying, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Christians are to bring God to the people and light up the dark places. We can best be the light for others by standing for what is right — and pursuing meaning in all we do.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

God speaks to each of us in different ways. The Holy Spirit reveals what He wants us to see. While listening to the sermon, I reflected on the words I’d written on Jim’s birthday card the night before. “If what they say is true, and friends are the spice of life, you’ve certainly added an accent to mine.”

Little did I realize how the card’s sentiment would foretell the message I would receive on Sunday. The sermon was a verbal missive to continue to be the salt and light through words and actions. Seasoning brings out the best flavor in foods, and believers should have the same effect on the world around them. There is no value in seasonings without flavor.

At service closing, I studied the large brass cross that hung over the chancel. I had never before seen a metal one like it. My fingers reached up and touched the combined five brass cross and pearl necklace I’d chosen to wear that day. There are no coincidences — only revelations.

“There is a longing in our hearts, oh Lord, for you to reveal yourself.”

Kyndy’s Red Enchiladas

• 3 cups Red Enchilada Sauce

• ¼ cup vegetable oil

• 12 corn tortillas

• 1 cup grated Monterey Jack/semisoft cheese

• ½ cup crumbled feta or cotija cheese

• ½ cup chopped salted, roasted peanuts

• 1 cup cilantro topping

In a medium saucepan, heat red enchilada sauce until warm. Dip tortilla in red sauce to coat on both sides. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. oil at a time. Place tortilla in skillet and fry on both sides for 1 minute to only soften and not crisp. Spread 1 Tbsp. of grated soft cheese in center of tortilla and roll up. Place rolled-up tortilla seam side down on a serving platter. Continue with remaining tortillas, adding additional oil as necessary until all are filled and rolled. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle top with crumbled feta cheese and peanuts. Garnish with cilantro and serve. For large gatherings, prepare in advance by arranging in a single layer in a baking dish, heat in a 350-degree oven until hot, and serve.

Red Enchilada Sauce

• 6 large stemmed, torn, seeded ancho chilies

• 2 stemmed, torn, seeded dried red chilies

• 3 medium tomatoes

• 4 chopped garlic cloves

• 1½ cups water

• ½ tsp. ground cumin

• ½ tsp. dried oregano

• ½ tsp. salt

In a saucepan, place chilies, tomatoes, garlic and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes or until chilies soften. With a spoon, lift out tomatoes, cool and peel. Set saucepan aside. In a processor, add tomatoes, cumin, salt and contents of saucepan, and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to clean saucepan and keep warm. Keep refrigerated and reheat when needed.

Cilantro Topping

• 1 cup chopped tender cilantro

• ½ tsp. cider vinegar

• 1/8th tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. olive oil

In a bowl, combine cilantro, vinegar, salt and olive oil and toss together. Serve immediately. You can substitute fresh Italian/flat-leaf parsley leaves if you don’t like cilantro.

Jim’s Two-Root Soup with Apple

• 1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 2 thinly sliced yellow onion

• 4 thinly sliced celery ribs

• 1 pound peeled, chopped parsnips

• 8 large peeled, chopped carrots

• 2 peeled, cored, chopped Granny Smith apples

• 4 tsp. curry powder

• Pinch of salt

• 8 cups water

• 3 Tbsp. Better Than Bouillon Veg. base

• 4 Tbsp. maple syrup or brown sugar

• 1 cup coconut cream

• Salt and pepper, to taste

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat oil. Add onion and celery and cook for 10 minutes or until translucent. Add parsnips, carrots, apples, curry powder and salt. Sauté for 5 minutes while stirring. Prepare stock with water and vegetable based, Better Than Bouillon. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until carrots/parsnips are completely tender. Turn off heat and add maple syrup and coconut cream. Blend in processor in batches until smooth or use an immersion blender. Add seasonings per taste preferences.

Guacamole Salad

• 5 diced ripe avocados

• 3 diced small tomatoes

• 2 finely diced red onions

• ¼ minced chili pepper

• 3 juiced lemons

• Salt

In a bowl, dice ripe avocados in large chunks without mashing. Gently fold in diced tomatoes and red onions. Gently fold in minced chili pepper and lemon juice. Salt to taste.

Sweet Potato Salad

• 5 pounds peeled, cubed sweet potatoes

• 1 cup chopped green onion

• 1 cup chopped fresh parsley

• 1 cup toasted pecans

• ½ cup golden raisins

• ½ cup brown raisins

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 5 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

• 5 Tbsp. orange juice

• 5 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

• ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

• ¾ tsp. ground nutmeg

Peel sweet potatoes and cook in water until tender. Place in refrigerator until cold, then cube. Gently fold in onion, parsley, toasted pecans and raisins. In a bowl, combine olive oil, maple syrup, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, fresh ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Gently fold into the potato mixture. Mix well until all is thoroughly coated. You can serve at room temperature or cold. Keep refrigerated.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

• 1 stick melted, salted butter

• ¼ pound finely chopped yellow onions

• ½ pound finely chopped mushrooms

• ¾ cup all-purpose flour

• 1½ quarts hot vegetable stock

• 1 pint hot whole milk

• ½ pint half and half

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, melt butter and sauté onions and mushrooms until soft but not brown. Add flour and stir for 5 minutes and until smooth. Whisk in hot vegetable broth while continuously stirring until smooth. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes until thick and smooth. Whisk in hot milk and cream. Season to taste.

Quinoa, Roasted Pepper and Feta Salad

• 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 1 chopped onion

• 3 chopped cloves garlic

• 3 chopped roasted red peppers

• 1 cup white quinoa

• 2 cups vegetable broth

• 1 tsp. chopped oregano

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• ½ cup fresh/canned chickpeas

• ¼ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ cup balsamic vinaigrette

In a skillet, heat the oil. Sauté onion for 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add roasted red peppers, quinoa, vegetable broth and oregano. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until liquid has absorbed and quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool some. Stir in chickpeas, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

• 12 ounces cooked bow-tie pasta

• 12 ounces marinated artichokes

• 2 ounces sliced black olives

• 1 chopped cucumber

• 1 pint cherry tomatoes

• 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese

• 8 ounces balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Cook pasta per directions on box and rinse well in cold water. In a bowl, combine artichokes, black olives, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese and balsamic dressing. Mix well. Carefully fold in with the cooked pasta until thoroughly incorporated Refrigerate.

La La Land Luscious Lemon Cake

• ½ cup softened salted butter

• 4 eggs

• 8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

• 1 Duncan Hines lemon supreme cake mix

• 1 small package instant lemon pudding mix

• 1/3 cup whole milk

• 1 large juiced lemon

• 1 large zested lemon

• 1 cup flaked sweetened coconut

• Confectioners’ sugar

In a mixer bowl, cream softened butter until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, thoroughly beating between each addition. Beat in yogurt. Add cake mix and lemon pudding while alternating with milk. Mix well. Add lemon juice and zest, and fold in coconut. Mix well. Make sure to scrape bottom of mixing bowl while beating. Bake in a well-greased and floured medium tube pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until cake tests done. Allow to cool 15 minutes, and then turn out on rack to completely cool. Dust liberally with confectioners’ sugar.