I decided that my next Peg Bracken recipe should be a dish I’d once enjoyed, as opposed to a strange science experiment à la Clam Whiffle. Jon, I’m sure, was relieved.
My mother, when I told her I’d bought a copy of The I Hate to Cook Book, reminded me that one of our most-requested meals growing up came from Bracken’s fine text: Dr. Martin’s Mix. What better dish to recreate in my own 21st century kitchen than a childhood favorite?
The introduction to this simple recipe, which appears in the “30 Day-by-Day Entrees” chapter, confides, “It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man.” As usual, Bracken is a woman of few words and zero literary adornment. We don’t learn if Dr. Martin was the family’s general practitioner, a PhD in Sports Medicine—or a crackpot selling snake oil door to door. Did Dr. Martin enjoy cooking, or was he as repelled by the pastime as Bracken? The homecook can only wonder.
What is apparent is that Dr. Martin liked to mix a little of this and a little of that and call it dinner. Specifically, he cooked some sausage; added green pepper (natch), green onions and celery; dumped in rice and bouillon; sprinkled in Worcestershire (natch again) and called it done. No wonder my mom liked to make this, particularly during the high season of teenage child activity in our household: the spring musical. (For months on end, staring in late January, we barely made it home to fly through homework and scarf down food before heading out to evening rehearsals.)
My pescatarian, current self decided I could still make a version of Dr. Martin’s Mix using veggie sausage. So, two weeks ago, I picked some up from Whole Foods one evening with Roxy. It wasn’t the normal, comforting form of veggie sausage made by Morningstar or even Tofurkey, which has clearly extended the brand beyond its namesake faux bird. The version I grabbed from the vegetarian/vegan refrigerated section was Lightlife’s Gimme Lean® Sausage.
I’m no professional namer, but this just feels a bit off to me. Gimme Lean? Other than Hollywood celebutants and the occasional holier than thou exercise instructor, who begs—no, demands like a three-year-old—for meat-like products hidden in strange corners of the grocery store? I think the last time I said, “Gimme” was—ok, I can’t even think of when. Yet there I was choosing this product over the Field Roast fake sausage (due to the latter’s overabundance of eager flavoring—chipotle this and sundried tomato that—which I feared would overpower the recipe) and even the Morningstar products that I assumed were somewhere in the freezer section around the corner.
Several nights later, I decided to make Dr. Martin’s Mix for dinner. No one was headed to play rehearsal, but it still had the feel of a somewhat harried, clock’s a tickin’, weekday night of homework and cleanup and lunch making and dinner deciding.
To start, I grabbed the turgid, plastic-wrapped tube of fake sausage, cut off one end, and started to squeeze out sticky chunks of gray-beige food stuff onto a plastic cutting board. “This isn’t easy,” I said to Jon and Roxy, who were concentrating on their own kitchen-related activities. I coaxed out about half the tube since I’d decided to halve the recipe (just in case). Then I tried to break the somewhat uniform mass into more discrete, crumbled sausage-like chunks. The results were less chunk and more tuft.
I scraped the pile into a pan glistening with olive oil and fried it until brown. The recipe suggests pouring off a bit of the fat at this point, but veggie sausage produces nary a puddle of the stuff, so I actually added a bit more olive oil. Then I dumped in half a chopped green pepper, 1 chopped green onion, 2 chopped celery sticks, 1 cup of veggie broth, ½ cup raw rice, ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and ¼ teaspoon salt, covered the pan with our Lid and let the bubbling concoction simmer on low. Bracken says Dr. Martin allowed the simmering to last for as long as it took to leave the house and set a fracture: approximately an hour. Clearly, Dr. Martin didn’t live in LA.
The results: When I lifted the lid off the pan of Dr. Martin’s Mix, my nose immediately recognized the familiar smell: savory, green-peppery warmth with a browned umami undertone. It also looked exactly how I’d remembered it—essentially, a hot rice dish with clumps of gray-brown and flecks of green. Would it taste as familiar?
As Roxy, tucked into bed, read a final book aloud to herself (a development from last fall that has been a joy to behold), I loaded up bowls with steaming spoonfuls of the rice, alongside servings of fresh green salad. Jon and I collapsed in the living room to eat, talk and relax.
And the veggie version of Dr. Martin’s Mix was…fine! There was nothing terribly mysterious about the dish—it had bits of the somewhat bitter green pepper and pungent celery interspersed with the tangy rice and salty sausage clumps, all as one would expect. It was filling and mostly satisfying as a light dinner, although it was lacking in a richness that would’ve come with the fat from actual sausage. I kept imagining it as a taco filling with roasted chilies and Mexican cheese; or maybe as a substrate for a flavorful, grilled fish.
Maybe I’ll experiment with one of those options once Roxy joins the cast of a musical.