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Cooking with Seasonal Produce

I've been trying out some of the strange and zany vegetables that have shown up in the local markets. I haven't worked my way up to cooking fresh nopales yet (hrm, so spiky!), but I did try purslane. It's a tangy vegetable raw, one of those tender, thick-stemmed vegetables, and makes an excellent addition to scrambled egg, which I used to top rice as a kind of vegetarian donburi. The result is a savoury, vaguely meaty, sweetish-sourish dish, quite appealing when you want something light on rice.

Visits to the revolving cadre of the Mission Community Market have also introduced some happy finds. Torpedo onions! A nearly perfect substitute, I think, for leeks in the leek terrine I keep intending to make. My favourite veggie stall had them cheap for 3 bunches. They're like everything I love about spring onions, in a milder form, and bigger. Baby artichokes -- like an artichoke, just less of the hairy bits. I look forward to sauteeing them in plenty of butter and turkey bacon. Carrots! Fat, organic carrots of moderate heft and girth. As fine as these carrots were, the really exciting part for me were feathery leaves that came with the carrots. I dimly remembered reading somewhere that carrot leaves were edible. After about 20 minutes carefully washing the leaves and peeling off the feathers from the stalks, I had a medium-sized colander full of peppery, hairy carrot greens at my bidding. The market that day had the Home Maid Ravioli Company on board, and Seth was kind enough to come home with a box of lobster ravioli. In the interest of experimentation, I made carrot green pesto to go with the pasta, topped with the youngest carrot leaves (they looked like juvenile ferns). First, Home Maid makes a creamy ravioli -- it was surprising how much cream and lobster was in each bite-sized packet. The carrot greens themselves were very peppery, on par with mature arugula. Blended with garlic, grapeseed oil and walnuts, they made for a pleasing, if again, spicy, paste. I still have a large jar of this lurking in my fridge. They will be excellent on crackers and bland white cheese.

Home Maid's stall is the kind of place that makes you want to take home the whole stall. The nice man there was offering plentiful free samples to passers-by. I got to the market when he was quite busy, alas, but Seth was able to try stuff and generally agrees -- that is one stall that makes you want to buy everything home, so awesome is their tasty. Word for the wise though, their spreads are remarkably salty, and should only be taken with very plain breads and crackers.

Two weeks ago, the mythical Creme Brulee Cart was also at the Mission Street Market, and it looked so lost and forlorn! Friends, this is a great wrong that must be righted. The Creme Brulee Cart should not be lost and forlorn, even if the cart across the street was a giant popcorn popper selling gallon bags of popcorn. At $4 a fist-sized cup, each little spoonful of heaven can seem dear, but it is very good creme brulee, that does not skimp on its dairy products, so rich and creamy and just mildly sweet it is. Since visiting any of the local eating establishments is by far more expensive overall, giving some love to the Creme Brulee Cart is totally worth the visit. Also, there are all these exciting flavours to choose from, even if yours truly is awfully dull and prefers the honey vanilla wonderment.

Summer being the season, the fruit stalls were in full swing. Folks were hefting strawberries by the carton home. I thought about getting strawberries or peaches, but the perennial problem of how to cook them and where to store them kicked in. But some peach and chicken would be lovely one of these days, I think.

One of these Thursdays, I'll actually be at Mission Street Market when the sausage maker is there. The smoked seafood stall was almost always there when I visited, they still sell an exquisite smoked dill salmon. The trout, now that it has been safely stored away in our bellies, is also very good. Delightfully flaky, not too salty but filled with oily fish flavour. The best part of the trout fillet was the skin, which when toasted till crisp in a pan, is a wonderful savoury topping for plain steamed rice. I turned half the trout fillet into an ochazuke supper one night, topped with toasted seaweed and skin and thick green tea. So comforting and light.

Currently, I face a kind of moral food dilemma in terms of my favourite seaweeds. Rising Tide Vegetables, the amazing people I bought sampler and 1 oz. packs of veggies late last year, has had to temporarily halt sales due to overwhelming demand after the Japan quakes. This enables their sustainable wild stocks to regrow. One of their few competitors (at least that I could find from California), the Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company, still offers stocks on some of the seaweeds I want, notably, Sea Palms, which are a local species. I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoy Sea Palms, which make a crunchy snack that fulfills my peculiar salt and iron cravings the way Bovril does, but in a more crunchy manner. Nori pales in comparison to this fine, twiggy trail food. Unfortunately, the Mendocino company sells for somewhat higher than Rising Tide, about $5 more for the 1 oz. packs, and $4 more for the bulk packs. The moral food dilemma I face is thus, do I wait it out, while seaweed regrows, or splurge a hefty amount ($60 is a lot of groceries, or about 2-3 weeks' worth of Mission Street Market splurging) on a bulk bag? The moral answer, to my mind, is to let the seaweed stocks regrow. It is a seasonal produce after all. Local Asian supermarkets carry seaweeds I can cook with, the basic kombu and wakame of the world, and I can always get bulk bags of toasted nori to help stave off the hunger for sea vegetable. It's not like I'm toughing it out with branches and bark here. Also, a little seaweed goes a long way. 1 oz. bags, used sparingly, can last the two of us 6 months as a flavour enhancer for food.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
I love to use chicken with fruits for stir-fry type meals. Chicken-ginger-peach. Chicken-bellpepper-pineapple. Chicken-grape-snow pea. With lotsa garlic and rice. All yummy. :o)
Jun. 14th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
You were the one who taught me about chicken-and-peach, and I still like it too. :o)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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