Have you ever set up one of those “EZ” pop-up nylon canopies in the driving rain on a wintery spring day? As a former farmers market manager, I have, many times. Trust me, it’s not easy. On days like the one we had recently, when the mercury topped out at 45 degrees and it rained all day, I make sure I get to the market and buy from every vendor who honored their commitment to show up.

On the very muddy Brunswick mall that day, I bought fresh nameko and dried oyster mushrooms from Island Mushroom Company; three blooming calla lily plants from Kennebec Flower Farm; and, $64.50 worth of spring vegetables (asparagus, broccolini, broccoli rabe, kale rabe, bok choy, curly kale, spring and spicy mixed greens, leeks and scallions) and also a few over-wintered root ones from Six Rivers Farm.

An ambitious amount of vegetables for just three of us to eat, for sure. But I avoided wasting nary a stem by perfecting the 4S method for vegetable cookery.  Three of the S’s outline the process: sear (to add texture and flavor to the vegetables), steam (to cook them through) and sauce (to finish the dish). The last S stands for “sustainable” because I tap into the residual heat of a cast iron pan to finish the cooking process, and using just one pan saves on the cleaning.

To pull this method off you need flat-sided vegetables, a hot pan with a lid, a bit of fat and a measuring cup full of ingredients that will magically (or using chemistry if you’re the scientific sort) meld into a sauce as the vegetables finish cooking.

The formula is an easy one. Start with 1 pound of vegetables. Cut them to a similar size with at least one flat side on each piece.

Coat a pan large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer (typically this is a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet) with 1 tablespoon of a neutral, high-heat vegetable oil. Lay the vegetables cut-side down. Turn the heat to high and let the vegetables cook until they are slightly browned on one side – typically 3 to 4 minutes.


Create a 1/3 cup of sauce of your favorite flavors like soy sauce, ginger and chili flakes for Asian bok choy; maple syrup, salt, a pinch of cayenne and a pat of butter for carrots; or lemon juice, butter, mustard and honey for an interesting match for broccoli. Top the sauce off with 2 tablespoons of water.

When the vegetables have seared nicely, dump the sauce into the pan, cover the pan immediately and turn off the heat. As the water steams the vegetables, the sauce flavors, thickens and coats them. The thicker the vegetables are cut, the longer they will take to steam. Asparagus, green beans and bok choy take only about 2 minutes to cook through; broccoli stalks, rabe, and broccolini and cauliflower closer to 4 minutes; and root vegetables cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks, about 6 minutes.

Toss the cooked vegetables and serve them from the very pan in which they were sustainably seared, steamed and sauced. I promise you, cooking vegetables this way is much easier than setting up an EZ pop-up canopy in the rain.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The finished dish. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Seared, Steamed and Lemon-Honey-Mustard Sauced Broccolini

This recipe works with broccoli florets, broccoli rabe and broccolini (sometimes called sprouting broccoli). All will require a 4-minute steam time.


Serves 4

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 teaspoon honey


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound broccolini (or other vegetables), cut into 2-inch pieces

Combine the lemon zest and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a spouted measuring cup, combine the lemon juice, butter, mustard, honey and 2 tablespoons warm water. Stir to incorporate the honey and mustard but know that the butter will still be a bit lumpy.

Coat a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet with the oil and place over high heat. Arrange the broccolini pieces, cut-side down, in the pan and let cook, undisturbed until they are golden-brown on 1 side, 3-4 minutes. Pour the sauce into the pan and cover the pan immediately. Turn off the heat and let the broccolini steam until tender, 3-4 minutes. Toss so the vegetables are well coated, sprinkle with the lemon salt to taste and serve immediately. Any remaining lemon salt will keep for several weeks in a sealed container and is delicious on vegetables, pasta, fish, chicken and much else.


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