March 13, 2012

Farewell Alfred

It’s time to say goodbye to Alfred.  It’s so hard to let go and my heart is so heavy, but I know I have to do it.  I postponed it for far too long and things are still not improving.  Before I get into more depressing details, I’ll spare you the pain and anxiety of the unknown and tell you that Alfred is our bamboo potted plant. 

A friend of mine gave me Alfred as a birthday present in my freshman year in college.  At first, I was very excited and happy with the bamboo.  I even gave it a real name, Alfred.  However, the excitement diminished when it hit me that I would have to take care of this thing, a thought that was terrifying to say the least.  I was actually proud of myself for keeping it alive for five years especially since I just don’t do well with potted plants.  But Alfred was doing quite well – it was green, leafy and healthy before its unexpected and irreversible decline.  It was like it got the five years itch and started to bail out on me.  It turned yellow, lost its leaves, and its poor skeleton stems were invaded by these horrifying black dots.  Truth be told, my Alfred has been looking anemically pale and quite depressed for more than a year now.      

Frankly, I don’t really know what else I could do for Alfred.  I watered it, I kept it in and out of sunlight, cut off its dead leaves, changed its pebbles, added more pebbles, changed its soil, changed its pot, fed it fancy plant food that cost a small fortune.  So, after so many attempts you would think that it came back to life and flourished like there’s no tomorrow.  But no, it became weaker and weaker and now it looks deader than ever.  The sad thing is that a so-called plant expert at Home Depot told me once that it’s virtually impossible to kill a bamboo.  Well, I think that I managed the unmanageable and killed mine.  I just don’t think that potted plants agree with me.  C’est la vie… you can’t win’em all.  And now I have to let it go!

So, in Alfred’s loving memory, I decided to make a vegetarian stew and share it with you and all of you, who experienced difficulties raising potted plants.  I hope someone can understand my frustration.  The Rice and Vegetable Stew is my all-time favorite vegetarian dish that my Grandma Vicki makes.  This is one of those simple and super easy things to make.  The funny thing about this recipe is that it calls for fresh tomatoes and I have to tell you that I don’t like raw tomatoes at all.  I love ketchup (in fact, I could eat tons of ketchup, and as a child I would add extra ketchup to pizza, spaghetti and anything that I thought would need ketchup), tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and even tomato juice, but don’t give me fresh tomatoes.  I can’t explain why.  Sometimes I feel like celebrity chef Scott Conant, who can’t stand raw onions.  If you happen to compete on Chopped and he’s one of the judges, don’t give him raw onions – he’ll chop you! 

My relationship with fresh tomatoes is very limited and when I say limited, I mean it; I don’t even get near them.  On the other hand, Adrian loves tomatoes and sometimes I even forget to buy his San Marzano tomatoes that he loves so much.  But things change when I buy fresh tomatoes for this vegetable stew.  Then, I look for the best tomatoes out there.  I look at their color, their skin, their firmness, and I squeeze them gently to get an idea of how juicy they really are.  By the way, this is how you have to buy your tomatoes for this recipe.  Make sure they’re juicy!  

What I like most about this stew is how well the flavors blend and work together.  The sweetness of the pepper and the onions together with the sourness and juiciness of the tomatoes form a welcoming base for the rice, which adds body and texture to the mixture.  In the end, you’ll get the perfect balance of savory and sweet, and you’ll capture tasty bright flavors in a simple yet bold and brilliant dish.

Ghiveci – Rice and Vegetable Stew
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: 4 servings


·         Vegetable oil
·         2 medium onions, julienned
·         1 large yellow pepper, chopped
·         5 medium tomatoes
·         Salt
·         1 ½  – 2 Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ cup white rice


Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the tomatoes and leave them in boiling water for a couple of minutes until the skin becomes soft.  Take the tomatoes out, peel them and chop them.  Set them aside. 

In a medium pan, heat up 4 Tablespoons of oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and season with salt.  Cook the onions until translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the yellow pepper and stir.  Cook together with the onions, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and their juices.  Season with more salt and stir well.  Bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and add the sugar.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the liquid has reduced and the stew has thickened.  Season with more salt and sugar to taste to obtain a perfect balance between sweet and sour.

While the vegetables cook down, in a medium saucepan, heat up 2 Tablespoons of oil over high heat.  Add the rice and 2 cups of water.  Season with salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked.  When the rice is cooked, cover with a lid for 5 minutes. 

Add the rice to the vegetable stew and stir well over low heat and cook together for 5 minutes.  Season to taste.  Serve with egg omelette.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)    

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