Yummy but what is it?

produce inside a grocery bag

the last of the tomatoes & peppers

My neighbor saw the weather report last week and harvested her whole (large) garden all at once. It was panic city for her, but for me it was a boon — I got a huge amount of produce that she just couldn’t process, including about 1/3 of a paper grocery bag’s worth of tomatoes, with a few peppers thrown in.

So now there was panic time for me, soon as I realized I couldn’t eat that many tomatoes before they were over-ripe. I didn’t feel like dehydrating them, and canning them was out of the question because I’m suspicious of all home-canned food. I know, that’s stupid, but I just don’t trust it — especially when it’s my canning. 

What to do?

I found a recipe online for making green tomato sauce, that’s what. Yay!  I adore tomato sauce over pasta of any kind! I figured that a mixture of green, less green, orange, and ripe red tomatoes would make for a fine tomato sauce.

But wait!

First you must know an important fact about me: I’m not so good at following directions. That includes recipes. I feel that recipes are merely suggestions — I mean, who doesn’t experiment with food combinations? I think I’ve always been free of constraints when it comes to preparing food. I mean, if I didn’t then would I ever have discovered the delights of root beer floats with chocolate ice cream? Of course not!

Okay, sure, there are failures. I’ve baked more than my share of sourdough hockey pucks and doorstops. But on the other hand, cooking is always an adventure, and once you’ve got the basics down some fabulous taste treats can be discovered.

And so it was with the tomato sauce.

I actually did read the recipe for making the sauce. Well, I read most of the recipe. Once I got the general idea I was off and running. Er, cooking. Come on — sauce is sauce. Just keep adding stuff in the right category and cook until it’s done and voila!  Sauce!  A matter of sautéing some onions and adding more ingredients, including a hefty amount of garlic, keeping it all within the flavor range I’m looking for. Simmer a while, then taste and decide what else would make it taste like I want it to taste.

On the wood stove

tomato sauce

Tomato sauce, first stage

Yesterday I started with dehydrated onions I had dried last winter, letting them mellow in hot (but not too hot) extra virgin olive oil till they had more or less reconstituted.  Then I added as many tomatoes as I had patience to chop up, plus garlic. I simmered that on the wood stove for a few hours and gave it a first taste. Interesting, kind of raw and undeveloped. Nowhere near done.

I added some fresh basil, a bay leaf, some coffee and powdered chocolate (secret ingredients that I put into practically every sauce or stew I make), a splash of red wine for richness, and soy sauce for that je ne sais quoi that regular people call umami and which makes up for not using any meat.  I let the concoction simmer for a few hours, then chilled it overnight.

You of course know that chilling almost any sauce or stew makes it way better afterwards, right?

Today I reheated the sauce and gave it a taste.  Hmmm.  Not yet done. Oh right, I was going to add oregano.

And that’s when it changed from cooking a sauce to diving into a cooking adventure

Because I absent-mindedly dumped dill into it instead of oregano. Quite a hefty amount of dill, as it happens.  I stirred it before I realized I wasn’t smelling oregano.  Oops.  So I gave it a taste.  It was… interesting. Not bad, but… interesting.  So no problem. I live in New Mexico. Chili can go into almost any dish to make it better. Right?

red jalapeno pepper

jalapeño pepper gone red

I added some ancho chili powder (wishing I had chipotle but I seem to be out), a spice mix a friend makes for me called Land of Enchantment, a small fresh jalapeño gone red, and some cumin because I love cumin. There isn’t much that isn’t improved by adding cumin.  Hey, you don’t have to eat at my house, okay?

I let it simmer away on the wood stove for a while and knew I was getting close when I couldn’t help but taste it every few minutes. I also couldn’t help but think about other teensy tweaks to make the sauce even more perfect. I realized I’d been thinking about how good the sauce would be if there were beans in it (kind of wow since I think most beans are pretty icky), so I grabbed a can of organic black beans and emptied it into my concoction.  I stirred it, let it cook, and decided I needed more beans. I know, amazing!  But it turned out I didn’t have any more black beans so I dumped a can of organic red lentils into the sauce or whatever this was turning out to be.

sweet potatoes

sweet potatoes or maybe yam

After a while, which included many tastes to see how things were developing, I decided there needed to be something even more. All I had that seemed like a good idea was sweet potato — or yams. I never can remember which is which. Whatever, I chopped up about a third of one of those orange things that aren’t potatoes and dumped that in.

More cooking, more tasting.  The sauce has developed a mild burn — perfect, actually — as well as the richness I was aiming for. Probably I should cook some rice, but I’m kinda full from tasting so much taste testing. 

dehydrated corn

dehydrated corn

Hmmm.  I bet some corn would… yeah, I think I’ll add some dehydrated corn from this summer. Darn, that’s going to take a while to rehydrate and cook. 

No matter.  The sauce needs some time to chill. Maybe after I reheat it tomorrow it’ll finally be ready to eat!


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