Hearty Vegetable Recipes from Midwest Chef Abra Berens
Comfort food now
In 2009, chef Abra Berens was working on a 2-acre farm, a venture she had started with a friend. To save cash, they ate what they grew, which sounds romantic but translated to a ceaseless parade of carrots, kale and eggs. Out of necessity, Abra learned to coax different flavors and textures from each ingredient, to season them simply, to unlock and maximize their potential. “I was broke as hell,” she writes in Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables (Chronicle, $35), “but I was eating some of the best meals of my life.”
After she put the farm to bed for the season, she took a job at a pie shop and traded veggies for all the rich, sugary, indulgent foods she’d missed—and lasted just two weeks before fleeing to the produce aisle. She remembers roasting a pile of root vegetables to eat with greens and lemony, garlicky mayonnaise. “Popeye after a can of spinach never came back so strongly,” she recalls. “I love meat and dairy and sweets, but [now] I know that it is the vegetables that keep me together.”
That year shaped Abra’s career. Today she is resident chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, creating menus for farm dinners and recipes to share with Granor’s CSA shareholders. That work fed her cookbook, a hefty tome organized by vegetable. Abra’s techniques are simple, her ingredient combinations surprising and her recipe variations endless. Some dishes are fully plant-based, but many include cheese, eggs, chicken, pork or fish.
And olive oil flows (or glugs, to use her onomatopoeic measurement of choice) like water. Abra isn’t interested in demonizing any food groups. She just knows most of us feel happier and healthier when we eat our vegetables. It’s not macaroni and cheese, but it’s comfort of a different flavor—and we’re all in.
Winter Squash, Mushrooms and Arugula with Parmesan
Roasted Broccoli with Wheat Berries, Blue Cheese and Cranberries
Peperonata with Potatoes and Egg
This classic Italian braised-pepper stew freezes beautifully. Abra Berens suggests heaping it over potatoes (or even pasta, polenta or couscous) and topping it with a poached or boiled egg. This recipe is from her book Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables.
Green Salad with Chicken and Marinated Peas
Shaved Cabbage Salad with Apples, Ham and Mustard
Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes with Olives and Garlic Breadcrumbs
The details that elevate this recipe from a typical roasted dish are the briny olives and crispy breadcrumbs. Any olive works, but chef Abra Berens, author of Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables, uses a bright green Sicilian variety called Castelvetrano.