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When I tell people I cook, most folks tell me they don’t have the time or that it’s less expensive to eat out for one person. Quality ingredients aren’t cheap and time is precious, but cooking can be a rewarding and precious entity for the aching soul. After you acquire the essential basics, cooking is cheap. A few goes at the stove, cooking is easy and the results are fantastic, especially when the greatest seasoning is hunger.

This easy dish reveals the simplicity of combining ingredients to accomplish a flavorful conundrum of culinary delight. Anybody can cook. Heat food. Creating a meal is more of a task that requires time. Multitasking seemingly complex procedures can feel intimidating to the novice chef. The terms, sauté, deglaze, simmer, reduce… these can be confusing and tiresome terms. The elements I want to express are the easy sort. Prepare, then eat. Preparation is the cornerstone. One step leads to another.

Start out with fresh ingredients.

  • One large eggplant or two small or three to four Asian eggplant. The skin of the eggplant should be tight, purple and free of brown bruised spots or wrinkled skin. The top should be green and firmly attached.
  • Ten cloves of garlic. I prefer large cloves, but any will do. Just make sure they haven’t sprouted or are rubbery feeling, these can get fishy tasting or bitter. Remove the skin, cut away the stem end and blemishes.
  • One small yellow squash or green zucchini or one of each.
  • Two small yellow onions or a large red. Or any onion. Peeled.
  • One large tomato or a few Roma tomatoes. Skin on.
  • Large red bell pepper. Green,yellow or orange do good too, per taste.
  • Any other veggies like carrot, asparagus, canned quartered and drained artichokes, potatoes or even some legumes.
The important thing is that it is fresh. Farmer’s Markets and specialty food stores often have the best stuff at the cheapest prices. Use your favorites and omit anything you don’t like. Remember to keep it easy.

Dry ingredients and fresh herbs can be a little more intimidating. Most folks don’t like the fresh because they are expensive and perishable. Fresh herbs like cilantro, basil and parsley can be kept fresh in a few different ways. The best way is to wash the herbs and pat dry. Remove any sulking or discolored parts and put in a Ziploc bag with a dry paper towel. They should keep in the fridge for a week. Or, cut the bottoms of the stems and put them in a glass of water as you would flowers, cover with a clear plastic bag. This way is handy, but won’t last more than five days unless they are fresh to begin with. Wilted herbs can still be used, but their flavor might diminish. Dry ingredients are more reliable, but less flavorful and may be stale remnants from years past. You need to use more dry ingredients for flavor, but if old, omit.

For the dish:

  • Half tsp of fennel seeds.
  • small pinch of dried Thai chili. Fresh chilies like Serrano, jalapeño, Anaheim or dried chili flakes are good too. Remember to taste before adding, chilies vary in hot factor, two of the same kind can be vastly different.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Extra virgin olive oil. Folks always wonder about the wonders of olive oil. Don’t skimp or keep it in the fridge. You should use it at every meal. It tastes good and stuff cooks good in it.

To finish the dish off, you need brown rice, fresh feta, a splash of beer and some water. You can often get feta cheese at your local grocery prepackaged but check out the deli of your specialty stores, they often have a few varieties of fresh feta often at a significant discount and you don’t have to worry about waste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Take a 9X13 inch casserole dish and drizzle a bit of olive oil in it. Chop veggies in roughly one inch pieces, smaller will cook faster. I quarter the vegetable, and dice it. Leave the garlic cloves whole. Mix in dish. Drizzle with more olive oil and toss with your hands. Make sure all pieces are coated. Sprinkle salt, pepper, fennel and hot pepper over the top. Put in hot oven for fifty minutes.

Heat a one quart pot over medium heat for thirty seconds, add a tablespoon of olive oil. As oil begins to heat and becomes lucid (about fifteen seconds, don’t let the oil start to smoke), add one cup of brown rice. Stir the rice with a spoon or shake the pan. Wait three to four minutes or so, shaking or stirring frequently. You may start to hear the rice “Pop”. Add some black pepper and then deglaze with a quarter cup of beer any light colored lager or pilsner will do. It should sizzle and steam. Reduce heat and stir the rice and beer mixturefrequently and gradually add a cup and a half of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover with a tight fitting lid. Let simmer for twenty five to thirty minutes. Let stand for an additional ten minutes covered. Do not take the cover off. Ever.

Mix rice and veggies well and top with some crumbled feta. Serve with some seared or broiled or grilled trout or crappie or any old white fish. Use any cheese you want too. The important thing is giving it a go and balance. Use what you have or fresh. Mostly fresh.

Roasting vegetables takes time and patience. The preparation of coating the veggies with olive oil is a tiresome chore, but the oil prevents it from getting burnt and the time makes all the flavors come out with a smoky taste. The rice adds balance with a spicy sweet twinge of beer and peppers. The feta gives you salt and a flat base to quench the spice. Experience and thought give anything you cook or write worthwhile.

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