Every day I enter the kitchen, my temple of food, and prepare meals for the family. I prepare dishes from scratch inspired by fresh produce from the local farmers market. It is a daily meditation which I find energizes me and stimulates my creativity. I am often reminded of the samsara wheel in Eastern philosophies, which signifies the endless cycles of life and death, birth and rebirth that are at the core of living on the planet. The small part I play at the farmers market, in my garden and at the helm of my stove are all part of an earthly process of regeneration which helps me experience vitality and growth.
Each time I visit the farmers market, my creative energy is triggered by the spectacular produce and its infinite potential. This week was no exception. Sage Mountain Farm had fresh butter-like asparagus, elephant garlic shoots, spring onions and lucious red radishes which all came together as an asparagus and radish-green tart.
Barry Koral of Koral Tropical Fruit Farms had bright orange kumquats fresh from his trees which I turned into a sweet and colorful marmalade.
While purchasing my weekly supply of red walnuts, Nicolina Alves of Terrabella Ranch shared a recipe she created for Grapefruit Pops using the two kinds of grapefruit she was selling. An option for the sugar is organic evaporated cane juice. This is Nicolina’s recipe:
The pupusa is a flavorful savory, perfect as an appetizer or addition to a meal. Similar to the stuffed corn arepas of Venezuela and Gorditas of Mexico, they are unique to El Salvador with a two thousand year history confirmed by excavations at the Pompeii of the New World. So basic to Salvadorian cuisine that November 13th is celebrated as “National Pupusa Day.” There are many long-standing traditions around the world which are vegetarian or easily adapted, a number of which can be found in Pre-Columbian dishes. Central and South American societies have provided us with some of the most versatile ingredients and super-foods known to man. Pupusas are made from a masa dough. The dough is flattened in the hand, then gently formed around a filling to make a ball. I fill my pupusas with a cilantro pesto made with pepitas, chiles and lime, and serve them with a zesty Pico de Gallo style salsa made from diced tomato, lime, onion, garlic, green chile, cilantro and sea salt. While making them, I reflect on where the dish came from and the cultural tradition behind it, giving the food a story and identity. The background music in the video below is performed by Santiago Orozco and is a beautiful complement to preparing and serving pupusas.
2 1/2 cups masa harina
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
Mix ingredients together, cover and allow to rest for an hour.
1/2 cup pepitas
1 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
Preheat oven to 375. Place the pepitas evenly on a baking sheet and cook for 9 minutes. Puree all ingredients in a food processor. Transfer and reserve.
1/2 cup water
Canola oil for cooking
Add water to masa dough, knead together and form into 10 balls. Take one ball and use your hands to flatten into a 3 inch wide patty. Place 1 tablespoon filling in the center and gently work the the dough around the filling to form a ball. Flatten the ball back to 3 1/2 inches wide by 3/8 inch thick, rinse hands and repeat. Heat cast iron skillet on medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Cook 4 to 5 pupusas at a time until golden brown and turn over, cooking again until golden brown. Serve warm with salsa.
3/4 cup tomato, diced
1 Anaheim chile, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup sweet onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped and packed
Mix together all ingredients. Serve cold or room temperature.
Last Sunday at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market in San Diego, Phil Noble of Sage Mountain Farm was showing passersby a large shoot of elephant garlic. He was explaining the colossal versatility of the leek look-alike which is only available a few weeks in the Spring when the shoots are young and tender. The mature oversized bulb is usually found in stores labeled as a mild alternative to the traditional garlic bulb. Phil said that every part of the shoot can be used in cooking–from the tentacle-like roots to the top of the dark green shoots.
Back at home, I began lunch preparation, anxious to incorporate my latest find. Since it is mild, elephant garlic can be used in greater quantity without the fear of being the “stinking rose.” I thinly sliced the white portion of the elephant garlic and braised it with some baby beets (also from Sage Mountain Farm), a little extra virgin olive oil, a small amount of water and then I covered and simmered it for about 20 minutes. The tiny beets became tender morsels still attached to the buttery soft beet greens.
I also prepared elephant garlic-herb tofu by sautéing firm tofu with a little extra virgin olive oil. As the tofu turned golden brown, I added dried basil, elephant garlic roots and premium tamari (Nama Shoyu from Goldmine Natural Foods). To serve, I garnished it with slivers of the green top of the garlic shoot. The firm meatiness of the tofu was nicely complemented by the seared herb flavor and the slight pungency of the garlic. The tender roots retained a slight crunch, enhancing the texteral landscape of the dish.
As a third dish, I prepared sautéed red amaranth from La Milpa Organica with minced white elephant garlic, crushed red pepper and coarse sea salt. As the amaranth wilted, I added the Sage Mountain asparagus, covered the pan and turned the heat down to a simmer. Served with freshly baked bread, a Fuerte avocado from our tree and a beautiful salad of Sun Grown Organic sprouts, the meal was at once delightful and energizing.
Vegetarian traditions are as old as humanity and are the key to longevity in cultures where disease is diminished. Central to these traditions are local, fresh and organic foods. By supporting local markets, we bolster our health while sustaining the planet for future generations.
Spring is here in San Diego; the Winter rains have spawned a lush green on canyon hillsides and the mockingbirds are starting their mellifluous Spring rants. Oranges, tangerines and kumquats are in abundance at the farmer’s markets, while the first sweet organic strawberries are beginning to show themselves in the fields like voluptuous damsels in red dresses. At the Hillcrest Farmers Market, the Rodriguez Brothers organic booth offers the first sugar snap peas, reminding me of early Spring in Michigan where they were one of the first crops to show up after the thaw.
At my former restaurant, Inn Season Cafe, we would prep crate upon crate of the sweet pods and serve them steamed as a side vegetable, seared for use as an appetizer or added at the last second to a stir fry, so they stayed crisp on the plate. Today, I am steaming them in a skillet with just enough water to completely steam out within a minute. As I prepare the peas for steaming, I enjoy the melody of the crisp “snap” as I remove each end of the pods before pulling off the string. After steaming, I quickly toss them with a few drops of ume plum vinegar just before serving. Fresh, crisp and full of life, they are one of the Spring’s delights.
Barry Koral, one of the farmers at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego, and I wax poetically every Sunday as shoppers clamor for his avocados, chermoyas, guavas, sapotes, passion fruit, Persian limes, kumquats, blood oranges, Meyer lemons and local macadamia nuts. Although he is not “certified” organic, he describes everything he does at the farm as “beyond organic.” He is a “fixture” at the market, proclaiming to all who pass by the value of his avocados, the life-giving properties of his figs or the “passion” in his passion fruits.
A few weeks ago, he invited my wife and me to an event at his home and orchard in Vista, a community within San Diego County. It was a live-food celebration with about fifty people in attendance. When we arrived, I immediately sensed that this was a “connected” domicile, reminding me of similar homes where the energy of the residents seem to be “one” with the living cycles of the planet. Barry seemed to take enormous pleasure entertaining his guests with his wit, creative spirit and love of life. It was a marvel to see him work the room and share quality moments with each person in attendance. After he delivered a spirited talk and shared poetry with all of us, the crowd took to the raw food buffet like wheat-grass to a juicer. The food was fresh and vitalizing, and everyone seemed re-energized by the association and community spirit.
Raw Ginger-Beet Salad
6 cups raw beets, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger juice
1/4 cup sweet onions, minced
Mix all ingredients in a bowl fifteen minutes before serving.