If you’re like me, you spend the summer chasing all the fun you can fit into those long days: trips to the beach, communing with nature in the woods or in the garden, floating in whatever body of water you can access.
And once the end of the season rolls around, there’s the inevitable turning inward as we prepare for fall, stepping back to catch our breath and replenish our energy before cooler weather and less daylight mark autumn’s true beginning.
This post-season reset gives me a chance to catch my breath—and to refocus on home cooking. (When hot weather comes around, I revert to a diet of mostly fruit, cheese boards and grilled cheese sandwiches with in-season tomatoes.)
In the mid-Atlantic where I live, that summer-into-fall transition is the most exciting time of year at the farmers market: shiny eggplants, voluptuous heirloom tomatoes and peaches sit side by side with kabocha squash, sweet potatoes and cabbage. This year, a warm start to the official fall season is extending that overlap even further.
So when my veggie CSA dropped off a box that included big, red slicing tomatoes, bunches of Swiss chard and broccoli rabe and the only okra harvest we’d get all season, I knew I had the foundation for a week of healthy, plant-based meals for my partner and me. What grows together goes together, as the saying goes.
I did a quick rummage in the pantry for spices, pulling out turmeric, cumin, and a few bulbs of homegrown hardneck garlic, using this excellent recipe as my guide.
I chopped onions, tomatoes, poblano peppers and okra, bloomed spices in grass-fed ghee and set the ingredients to simmer. My hope was that the acid in the tomatoes and the, er, mucilaginous quality of the okra would cancel each other out, giving the stew body and flavor, but leaving the okra pods tender and the texture pleasantly stew-like.
While the tomatoes simmered away on the stove, I set to work on its accompaniments. A batch of short-grain sweet brown rice went into the Instant Pot. The greens I stemmed, chopped and blanched, then squeezed dry and chopped some more before adding to a pan of fragrant garlic and olive oil to finish.
The result was a bright, pleasantly thick stew with tender veggies and a lot of flavor from the spices and aromatics. Alongside the rice and greens, I couldn’t think of a more ideal seasonal, plant-based meal (and if I’d swapped out the ghee for olive or coconut oil, it would be vegan—a rare thing indeed in this cheesemonger’s kitchen).
And what to pair with the tangy acidity and heady spices of this dish? I wanted a cider with a nice fizz, something to cleanse the palate after the okra and garlic, but not something so dry and light it would vanish under the stew’s big flavors.
Kurant Cider’s Bees, an off-dry cider spiked with a touch of local honey, was the match. It’s got enough flavor and brightness of its own to compete with the stew’s tomato-y acidity, plus a floral quality—do I detect a hint of jasmine?—that complements the spices so well. Plus, this Pennsylvania cider’s got the bubbles to stand up to rich textures.
While it’s a tad on the sweet side for me to consider it a go-to universal pairing, Bees’s lightness and well-balanced flavor might just make it my go-to for other veggie-based dishes as summer finally, really cedes to fall.
I can imagine sipping it with this foolproof Smitten Kitchen butternut squash and chickpea salad recipe with red onion, or serving it with a flaky caramelized onion-fromage blanc tart. Or maybe with a pork roast stewed with big chunks of Mutsu apple. Autumn is nothing if not cider season, after all.
- Feature photo: Alex Jones
- Okra photo: Bigstock