Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Valley Cafe Vegetables

Some of you who grew up in the age of strip malls, Applebees and P.F. Changs will not remember when most restaurants had narrow street fronts and were long and thin, stretching through to a back alley. The Valley Cafe in Ellensburg continues this grand tradition of narrowness, but this venerable establishment had foresighted designers, and is blessed with a row of ancient skylights to alleviate the inevitable darkness of this building design.  The experience of walking back in time is very strong at The Valley Cafe, especially as the booths, counter, and most of the furnishings are original.

Ellensburg makes a great day trip from Pasco.  The day we were there was chilly and windy, but sunny, and we were glad to get in out of the jacket-piercing breeze to see what we could find on The Valley Cafe's menu that would be friendly with our way of eating.

We decided on the Steamed Vegetables and a separate order of Spicy Asian Shrimp.  After we ordered, I asked the server if any bread was involved in this meal.  We're getting used to heading bread off at the pass so it won't be wasted.  She hesitated a moment, but said "No."

It took quite a while for our order to be prepared, and when the vegetables arrived, they were a delightfully colorful and flavorful mix of vegetables I'd never seen combined before.  As well, they were topped with a little cheddar-jack cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds, something I'd also never considered doing to vegetables.  Naturally, I took notes.

As it happened, the chef himself brought the rest of our order to the table, and I told him how remarkably tasty the vegetables were, and how unusual was the combination.  He said, "Well, you didn't want broccoli, so I just put together some other vegetables."  Turns out, the server thought I'd asked if any broccoli were involved in our meal, thinking we didn't want it!

I never fail to be intrigued by the happenstances that result in new dishes.  This one is a new favorite of ours, and it goes particularly well with the cafe's Spicy Asian Shrimp, so I concocted an easy-peasey version of that, too, and it'll be up next.
Cook gently so your vegetables will retain their color and flavor.  

2 tablespoons ghee or butter

4 carrots, peeled and cut into coins
1/2 pound asparagus, snapped and cut into 1-inch lengths
1/3 of a small red cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 jar (6.5 ounces) marinated (or plain) artichoke hearts

Pumpkins seeds lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Shredded jack or cheddar cheese (optional, of course)

In large skillet, melt ghee.  Add carrots and stir fry for a couple of minutes.  Add asparagus and cabbage, and continue cooking until all is just beginning to soften.  Add red pepper pieces, and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are crisp tender.  Don't overcook.

Remove to serving platter or individual plates, and tuck artichoke pieces here and there evenly.  Sprinkle with cheese and pepitas.

Makes 4 generous servings.