Make cookery special with one little thing

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Green beans take on a new attitude when tossed with butter-browned pearl onions.

Do you ever get tired of “same old-same old” at the dinner table? Often, even sauces or a sprinkle of herbs or spices just doesn’t do the trick of tantalizing the taste-buds when dinner is served. That’s where “one little thing” comes to the rescue.

It takes no effort at all to sprinkle some capers into the potato salad, for instance; or to sauté some pearl onions in butter and toss them with the green beans — as per our picture. Or perhaps a handful of toasted chopped walnuts on the beans (or beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.); make it candied walnuts if you wish or other good nuts like pecans, cashews and such.

How about chopped red bell pepper or celery or green onions chopped with their tangy tops? I buy red bells when they’re on sale, seed them and then slice or chop them into plastic bags to freeze for whenever they’re needed; thawed and raw in salads or sautéed in butter for any number of veggies from beans to turnips.

Crunchies such as canned French-fried onions, Chow Mein noodles — ready to eat and great with much more than just Chinese food — and even garlicky croutons can serve over veggies or salads with equal success. Cook and crumble some bacon (real or soy) over many a vegetable for a savory fillip.

Herbs and spices are a must in any kitchen for not only enhancing, but completely changing the character of the dish, i.e., simple rice, lightly buttered and tossed with cinnamon for a sweet-tangy accompaniment to ham, for instance — or with curry for an Indian-themed dinner. Either spice choice lends itself to a stir-in of pineapple tidbits, raisins, chopped green onion — one or all as you wish.

Chicken loves tarragon; salmon and other fish love fennel fronds, rosemary sprigs and dill weed for a plethora of taste sensations; hash browns love a crumble of sage leaf as does cooked cauliflower-add some bacon too if you wish!

Veggie and/or fruit combos work well , too, especially unique ones. My Moroccan salad of mandarin oranges and sliced radishes was a favorite of dear, departed friend, artist Doris Adams. Another comes to mind of our “old-timey” use of pasta as a vegetable dish.

Back in the ‘40s and ’50s pasta wasn’t the ethnic show-off that it has been for the past 20 years or so. It was simply a convenient meal base when spuds were not around. Here’s a happy transition dish from that war-time era.

Spaghetti W/ Red Bell

Peppers And Peas

(Serves 4)

12 ounces spaghetti, fresh-cooked, covered to keep warm

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, sliced into thin rings, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 7-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, sliced thinly*

1 ½ cups frozen petite peas, thawed

¼ cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh grated Parmesan

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in peppers, peas and broth/water, lower heat and simmer till heated through, 3-4 minutes. Transfer mixture to heated pasta bowl, add pasta and toss well. Season with salt and pepper; pass Parmesan separately.

* In the ‘40s, there were no canned red bell peppers, and with roasting for easy peeling still a future feature, we simply used the peppers cleaned and sliced — and I still like them that way since it gives a more flavorful, crunchy texture.

Peas were super-popular in the ‘40s and into the ‘50s, when as a young working wife, I attended many a luncheon showcasing the standard “elegant” dish of the period: Chicken a la King (chicken and peas creamed together) on toast. Our family had always loved creamed peas, but Grandma Davidson prepared them in her own inimitable way — still my favorite — as follows.

Creamed Peas w/ Radishes

¾ pound red radishes, washed, sliced about ¼-inch thick

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

½ teaspoon salt

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup whole milk or ½&½

1 cup (or more as needed) shelled peas

Snipped chives or parsley

Place radishes in water to cover in a 2-quart saucepan; bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer for 4-5 minutes or till crisp tender. *

Drain, reserving ½ cup liquid. Melt butter in skillet over low heat; whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until mixture is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in milk, peas, and reserved ½ cup of liquid. Return to heat and simmer 1 minute, stirring, then add radishes and cook until just heated through, only a few minutes. Pour into serving dish, sprinkle with chives or parsley. Serves 4-6 people.

Tip: You needn’t cream this dish; it’s delicious simply cooked and tossed with butter, salt and pepper.

Note: you can sprinkle a little grated cheddar cheese over top for a rich flavor.

Our final dish presents another unique pairing inspired by a dish offered at a vegetarian gathering a few year ago.

Potatoes with Chickpeas

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

3 medium potatoes, peeled, parboiled, cubed

2 peeled, chopped tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes)

1 ½ cups cooked (canned) chickpeas, drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of lemon juice

Heat oil in heavy pan over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and onions. Stir and fry until onions are translucent, lowering heat as necessary.

Add partly-cooked potatoes and the chopped tomatoes. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add all remaining ingredients plus water, if too dry. (If using canned tomatoes, use juice for part of the water). Bring to boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Note: I use Italian-style canned diced tomatoes for a great burst of flavor. You can offer grated cheese for this if you wish.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688.

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