Standing next to my mother’s side when I was a child, it was easy to understand how to make a dish she was teaching me, as she showed me with her hands over mine to knead dough or roll out pie crust.

Learning shoulder to shoulder from my mentors at various stoves in numerous kitchens, the look and feel of a dish was absorbed through all of my senses. What I have discovered, however, after years of writing my own recipes (and this being my 200th column) is that they aren’t effortless.

Recipes are easy to demonstrate. They are not easy to write, as I have only the skill of my fingers on a keyboard at my disposal, drawing an imaginary picture for you to follow.

I would much prefer to have you all in my kitchen, showing and telling you what “until onions are translucent” or “until golden brown around the edges and cooked through in the center” really looks like. Unfortunately, my kitchen isn’t that big, and you — well, I understand if joining me in my kitchen is somewhat inconvenient.

We are left with the next-best thing, which is the written word. Turns out, it’s a challenge to describe what something should look like when one is duplicating directions with only words as a guide.

The people who edit my recipes don’t see me making them beforehand, which is perfect, because when they read a recipe, they have to visualize with the words I paint on the paper what my craft should look like in your home. Sometimes it looks like Kandinsky and sometimes, I hope, Monet.

Over the past five years, how I write recipes has also changed. As farmers markets and local meat purveyors explode across our state, “1 diced tomato” has much less meaning now than it did 10 years ago. Now that same recipe needs to read “1 cup diced tomato, about 1 medium tomato,” so that those using vegetables of varied sizes and shapes know how much is required and there is still a guide as to what one might purchase at the grocery store.

The following is an entirely vegetarian meal that satisfied the meat lovers in my family. The cakes are hearty with the tamari and tahini substituting for the low, rich notes that meat can provide. If you have some diehards in your family, the addition of a grilled chicken breast wouldn’t hurt this meal a bit.

SALAD WITH KALAMATA OLIVES, FETA AND MINT

4 cups mixed greens or mesclun mix

1 1/2 cups sliced endive leaves, about 1 endive

1 1/2 cups romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped, about 2 to 3 large romaine lettuce leaves

1/4 cup kalamata olives in oil, pitted and halved

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about 1/2 cup

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves, julienned

1/4 cup orange juice, about 1/2 orange

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

Serves four to six.

GARBANZO BEAN AND PARSLEY RICE CAKES

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups cooked jasmine rice

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained

1 cup minced parsley

2 tablespoons tamari

1/4 cup tahini

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Measure the rice into a medium-sized bowl. Pulse all ingredients except rice and oil in a food processor. Combine with rice and form into golf balls, then press into patties. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add half the oil to the pan. Place the patties carefully into the skillet and fry 3 to 4 minutes per side in 2 or 3 batches, adding a little more oil for each batch.

Serves four to six; makes about 12 cakes.

CHIVE AND TOMATO GARNISH

Hopefully, those of you who have gardens still have chives that haven’t blossomed. To keep some coming all summer long, trim the clumps with flower buds or spent flowers at the base. The next tender crop will come up strong within a week or two. Chive flowers can also be used for garnish. Clip them when they first open, separate the petals from the base, and sprinkle the bits of purple as a garnish.

1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

1 tablespoon chives

1/4 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lime juice

Pinch cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together and serve with the rice cakes.

Makes 1 1/4 cups

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]