The demise of innovative mag Lucky Peach was recently announced, much to the dismay of everyone who takes food and food writing seriously. Created by Chris Ying, David Chang and Peter Meehan, Lucky Peach broke new ground with its cool graphics and aesthetic of fun à la Mad, Spy, and The National Lampoon. It was the journalistic equivalent of eating at a hip restaurant run by a smart, creative young (mid-to-late-30s) male chef.
Although I raged against the meat-centric attitude of certain contributors, and its noticeably masculine bias, I still found it a reliably good read.
Recently I purchased both Peter Meehan’s Power Vegetables and Rachel Khong’s All About Eggs, the last book to be published under the Lucky Peach imprimatur.
In both books, the Lucky Peach aesthetic is at work. The egg book focuses on documenting the rich traditions of egg cookery in world cultures–a culinary anthropology of the egg, with recipes–and the veggie book is more about drawing on traditional foodways selectively and creatively, to make vegetables fun, easy and desirable. “Power” veggies are dishes with high flavor, especially if they are simple to prepare.
There’s nothing organic or health-foody about Power Vegetables. It barely mentions the “foodie” orthodoxy of cooking in season. Nor is it completely vegetarian. (Peter just can’t help using anchovies and fish sauce sometimes.) A few of the recipes are too complicated for the “Power is Ease” category, and some of the ingredients have to be purchased in specialty stores (once you figure them out: despite the “pantry” section, he does not explain gochugaru or doubanjiang). But there’s still plenty to like. Especially the giardiniera. As Peter notes, there’s something extra good about an oil pickle. The fat makes it more satisfying and boosts the flavor.
Peter says: “The only giardiniera that matters is that which is rendered in the style of the Windy City.” He talks about eating this as a kid, so I figure it’s his recipe. And easy enough. Here is my version, using tips gleaned from the book:
Chop 2 lbs worth of sweet and hot peppers, carrots, celery and cauliflower into bite size bits. (I go easy on the hot peppers and use mostly Anaheim and mini sweet peppers, but the hotties are characteristic of this pickle.) Place in a gallon ziplock bag with a big handful of kosher salt and 8 cups water. Store 24 hours in the refrigerator in a pan to catch any leaks.
The next day rinse the veggies and add some sliced green olives.
Heat 2 cups neutral oil (canola) and 2 cups white vinegar, plus your seasonings (a generous amount of sliced garlic, chili flakes, celery seed, dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, black peppercorns). Add the veggies and simmer a few minutes.
Pack into 3 medium mason jars, top with the pickle oil, and refrigerate at least two days.
These are SO much better than storebought versions. They taste fresh. I drain the oil to use as salad dressing, and serve the veggies with hummus. Thanks Peter!