Search This Blog

Monday, January 11, 2016

Des Fruits et des Légumes en Hiver (Of Oranges and Green Beans)

On the rue des Martyrs, Paris, France

Well, we are not in Paris, France, but still here in northern Michigan, and we have now entered the long, glistening white tunnel of winter. We will be in the tunnel for many weeks to come, barring another stretch of unseasonably warm weather, so on a cold, wild Sunday of blowing and drifting snow it’s a great comfort to have the luxury of staying snugly home, with pot after pot of hot tea and fresh-cut sections of juicy oranges. I tell David we must eat citrus fruit while we can, since depredations of alien insects in the Florida and California groves, not only spoiling crops but actually killing trees, may put the price of oranges and grapefruit and lemons beyond our reach before too long. I hope not. Anyway, for now we have oranges in winter -- oranges in the snow, as it were. A princely delight!

On a cozy day at home in winter my food thoughts yearn toward the foods of Africa. Quite honestly, though? I’d prepared well in advance for today’s kitchen adventure. For one thing, I had to make a trip to the specialty spice shop in Suttons Bay for fenugreek seed, and then it took several visits to the grocery store before Tom’s Market had green beans nice enough to satisfy me.

Here is the inspiring cookbook: The Africa News Cookbook: African Cooking for Western Kitchens, published by Penguin in 1985. The recipe that caught my eye over a week ago is called green bean atjar, or green bean pickles, but these are not at all like pickles my mother and grandmother made. No vinegar. They are, rather, spiced green beans, packed in oil and refrigerated before serving. According to the book, they will last up to a month in the refrigerator without processing, and so I imagine my beans as one dish in an African dinner sometime in the near future.

Two notes from my kitchen: 
(1) You might think I would want to make this dish in summer with fresh beans from garden or farm market. But why sacrifice the freshness of summer vegetables to oil and spices? No, to my mind this is a perfect winter dish. 
(2) The recipe does not specify what kind of oil to use. I decided on peanut oil, because it is used all over Africa and, also, the oil in this recipe is brought to a boil – not a happy fate for olive oil, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Here is an odd kitchen tool. I have no idea what it is called or where this one came from, but I use it all the time. It is so much easier than a pot lid when water is to be drained off vegetables and quite handy on occasions when a big colander would be overkill.

Sometimes, of necessity, kitchen activities expand beyond the confines of the tiny kitchen. This is another reason for making certain dishes ahead and not trying to do everything on the evening a dinner is to be served. The dining table, tablecloth whisked away, becomes a staging area, especially important as Sunday is bread day, too.

The proof of my South African spiced green beans will be in the eating, a story for some future post. Meanwhile, “Bundle up, campers! It’s cold out there!” Now who recognizes that movie quote?


  1. I don't remember the quote...but I HAVE seen that kitchen tool somewhere before. Either I have it in my own kitchen, or maybe it's down at the lake's kitchen. I should look for it. The beans sound good. We will need to know what you think when you serve them!

    1. Dawn, please let me know if you dig up the name for this tool. Thanks!