Versatile Vegetable Marinade

Although the cellular structure of many fruits and vegetables is more difficult to penetrate than that of meat, it is still possible to marinate produce.  As with marinating meat, typically, the longer the better so that the produce can absorb as much flavor as possible. My marinade formula could certainly be used for meat, but of course, I prefer it on virtually any vegetable and some fruits.

In American cooking, marinating usually leads to grilling (or roasting), and today’s asparagus dish is no exception!  While I prefer to eat the majority of my produce raw, there are some items that are simply unpalatable in a raw state.  For me, asparagus is one of those, in most preparations.  I have had thin shavings of raw asparagus atop a salad before, but there’s quite a bit of work that goes into such a preparation and with the two littles always eat my feet, there isn’t always the time.  🙂

Thus, I’m using asparagus as the vehicle for my pre-grilling vegetable marinade.  When prepared al dente, asparagus—which comes in green, white and purple—is just delightful.  Too mushy and too raw = no bueno.  This fibrous vegetable is high in vitamin K and most notably, folic acid, which may ring a bell if you’ve ever taken prenatal vitamins.  Asparagus is a true super food!

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Hands down the best part of this marinade is that it need not be tossed once your veggies hit the grill.  Marinating meat leaves you with contaminated leftovers; marinating veggies leaves you with a delicious salad dressing.  Waste not, want not.

Lastly, while I use this marinade primarily on vegetables, you could also soak hearty fruits like pineapple to add a little sweetness to your kabobs.   Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  VEGETABLE MARINADE

Yields 1 cup marinade

  • 2 pounds raw vegetables (or fruit) –>  I’m using green asparagus.
  • ½ cup acid (i.e. freshly squeezed citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) –>  I’m using the juice of three lemons and one heaping tablespoon of whole grain mustard.
  • ¼ cup oil* –>  I’m using extra virgin olive.
  • ¼ cup liquid sweetener (i.e. agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.) –>  I’m using pure maple syrup.
  • ¼ fresh herbs** –>  I’m using rosemary.
  • Salt, pepper, spices, and/or dried herbs to taste –>  I’m using several grinds of black pepper and ½ tsp each garlic powder, onion powder, and pink Himalayan sea salt.

*When it comes to heating, not all oils are created equal.  Ideally, when grilling (or sautéing, frying, or roasting), you want to use an oil with a higher smoke point.  This allows you to optimally maintain nutrients and flavor when the oil is subjected to heat.  In addition, it is safer to cook with oils that contain primarily monounsaturated fats, although occasionally cooking with those primarily composed of polyunsaturated won’t hurt.  Today is one of those days for me as olive oil is not preferred for grilling, but it has the deeper flavor that I want.  Nine times out of ten, I use refined coconut or avocado oil.

**If you don’t plan to save excess marinade, it doesn’t really matter how finely your herbs are chopped.  (The bulk of my rosemary fell away in the grilling process and any excess leaves in the leftover marinade were easy to pick out.  Rosemary, in my opinion, does not have an enjoyable texture, even when finely chopped.)  If you do want to save the excess, however, finely chop your herbs so that you’ve got a more texturally appealing salad dressing when all is said and done.

Prepare your vegetables (peel, chop, etc.) and line them up in a 9 x 13 baking dish.  You can toss them right in or skewer them.

Mix together all marinade ingredients, starting with the wet.  I like to layer the ingredients in a single measuring up so that I don’t have to dirty multiple measuring cups.

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Pour the marinade over your veggies and let them soak for several hours, turning occasionally.  Once your vegetables are on the grill, drain any excess marinade and save in the fridge for salads.

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New Formula: Simple Marinara Sauce

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On my mom’s side of the family, I grew up eating authentic Italian cuisine. Buying premade, jarred sauce was sacrilege, and I am not going to be the one to disappoint.

I have clear memories of my mom’s red sauce bubbling away on the stovetop for hours before topping a pasta or filling up a lasagna. Her traditional sauce includes ground beef and although it is delicious, even as a child, I remember picking out the meat.

Today, I have my own totally vegetarian marinara recipe. When I met my husband of nearly four years, he expressed to me that he prefers his Italian cuisine without meat, too. I knew we were meant to be. 🙂 While he likes a sauce that is tarter, I have come to enjoy it best on the sweet side, as my mother adds a little bit of sugar when she’s making hers.

I used to make this recipe with canned tomatoes, simply because it’s quicker and will yield a slightly smoother sauce. After reading an article about the most dangerous foods you can put in your body and seeing canned tomatoes on the list, I have since opted for the path of more resistance. What’s so bad about canned tomatoes? Cans are lined with BPA, and while some canned products do not contain enough acid to leach very much of this chemical into the food itself, tomatoes do and they will.

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So, I now puree my own tomatoes and the cooking process takes me a little longer. What’s the expression…Nothing that is worthwhile is easy? Something like that. Trust me, your sauce will be delicious and even though you are really really really starting from scratch, this recipe is still quite simple and will be ready in no time. Use this sauce with your favorite Italian dish or try it out with my vegan pizza. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MARINARA SAUCE*

  • 1 ½ pounds tomatoes –> I’m using a combination of vine ripe and roma.
  • ½ of a small yellow or white onion –> I’m using yellow.
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp sweetener (optional) –> I’m using turbinado sugar.
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried fennel fronds (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using dried.
  • 1 tbsp dried basil (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using fresh.
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using fresh.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*Today, I’m making a double recipe, so don’t be discouraged that the amounts listed above don’t match the pictures. I’m just doubling everything. 🙂

Thoroughly wash your vegetables so that you can save the scraps for homemade veggie stock. Coarsely chop your tomatoes and onion. Throw them into a blender with your garlic, herbs (not the bay leaf), and seasoning and puree until smooth.

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Pour into a pot on the stove, add your bay leaf, and simmer on medium low for 1-2 hours, or until your sauce reduces by approximately one third.

When I am just over the halfway mark, depending on what I’m going to be using the sauce for, I finely dice vegetables that I don’t anticipate my two-year-old being eager to eat and throw them in the pot. Today, I’m sneaking in some asparagus.

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I’ve pulled one over on Nolan a few times with great success. 🙂 You can skip this step if you want to keep this recipe extra simple.

Remove the bay leaf and your sauce is ready!

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If you’re feeling adventurous and like to plan ahead, quadruple the recipe and freeze in containers the perfect size for a box of pasta. When “there’s nothing to eat” strikes, you’re ready for a quick pasta dinner!