Every fall at harvest time, I write about the Michigan farmers markets which are bursting with colorful fruits and vegetables. Throngs of people converge on the markets to join in the harvest bonanza. The vibrant orange, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, pure green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash and deep green kales, collards and chards entice the eye like a Jackson Pollock art exhibit. My readers know how much I admire and respect the men and women who work so hard to grow this food as free from adulteration as possible.
I’m never sure what I’ll find this time of the year at the market. The ripening of each vegetable is totally up to the predictably unpredictable Michigan weather. There are always pleasant surprises–tender young okra from Cinzori Farms one week, baby fennel from Nature’s Pace Organics the next. I realized early on in my cooking career that planning the week’s meals around seasonal crops is how life was lived before modern commercial farming–a rewarding and healthy way to nourish body and soul.
For me, shopping is only the beginning of the journey. Upon arriving home, it is a pleasure to prepare dishes from vegetables harvested within twenty-four hours of reaching the market. I then embellish the creations with tender herbs and greens right from my kitchen garden.
My dishes are prepared using simple techniques to allow the incredible flavor of each ingredient to speak for itself. The meal reflects the colors and textures of the market and is contemplative and energizing to consume.
Below is a recipe good at any time of year, but best during the peak harvest of tomatoes and corn. It is a whole grain corn cake made in the style of a South Indian Uttapam or a Gujarati Poodla.
Freshly Harvested Corn, Hemp and Chia Cakes with Fresh Tomato Relish
1 cup ground whole cornmeal with the germ
1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup corn off the cob
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped fine
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Coconut oil for cooking
For best results, mix the cornmeal, hemp, chia and water, let stand for at least one hour. Then, mix remaining ingredients, except oil, in with cornmeal mixture. In a preheated cast iron skillet on medium-high heat, add 2 teaspoons coconut oil and 1/2 cup batter. Using a spatula, push in the sides to form a 4 inch disc. Cook until nicely browned and carefully turn over. When other side is brown, remove from the pan and repeat until all are cooked. Serve hot.
Fresh Tomato Relish
1 cup yellow pear tomatoes, halved
1 cup candy red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup San Marzano tomatoes, diced in 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup tropea red onions, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and allow the flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes.
Note: Cornmeal, hemp and chia mixture can be made the day before.
Once all ingredients are mixed together, immediately begin cooking in skillet.
Best to make Fresh Tomato Relish before making the corn cakes.
I recommend Hampshire Farms certified organic cornmeal, fresh ground, whole and fresh ground.
I love spring in Michigan. During the first warm days, it seems that all of us are happy and celebrating the arrival of the earth’s transition as it awakes from its long winter slumber. Delicate flowering buds suddenly appear on trees which looked dormant only days earlier and bright green shoots begin to push through the soil as they reach for the sunlight.
For those of us who love to cook, these signs of spring let us know that soon the farmers are beginning to show up at the markets with the first of many tender harvests.
Like precious gems, the first baby greens, sweet and succulent, are quickly snatched up by those of us who treasure the flavors and textures which only occur this time of year.
Certified Organic Farmer Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms in Ceresco, Michigan, has become a good friend over the years. This Spring Equinox week, his booth is my first stop at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, where I quickly survey his stall which is full of baby greens and a variety of potatoes, radishes and onions from the root cellar.
He directs me toward his wheat grass and soil-grown sweet pea sprouts–a sign that Michigan pea season is almost here
There are three kinds of peas commonly found in the local markets: Sugar Snaps, Snow Peas and English Sweet Peas. Sadly, the English peas are grown less because it is inconvenient to shell them and it seems to take forever to get enough for one or two people. Thus, most of our experiences are canned, frozen or dried split peas. To add insult to injury, when we finely muster up the courage to shell some peas, they come from a grocery store and were harvested at least a week or two before.
To appreciate the magnificience of fresh peas, grow your own or buy them from a local farmer, like Don Cinzori (Know your farmer, know your food!), who has brought them ripe and fresh to market that morning. Cook as soon as possible, as the the sugars in peas turn into starch only hours after they have been picked.
This versatile legume can be prepared in so many ways that there is no possibility for boredom: fresh pea soups, in salads, sauteed with other vegetables, in whole grain pilafs and pulaos as well as in pasta dishes. The recipe below is a little different and highlights the green flavor of the peas with fresh Indian spices and rich flavor of Lacinato kale. Easy to prepare with simple spicing, a sure crowd pleaser!
Kale Wrapped English Peas
1 teaspoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ginger root, minced
1 teaspoon green chile, minced
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
½ cup sweet onions, minced
½ teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons water
1 ¼ cups English peas, podded
¼ teaspoon sea salt
8 large Lacinato kale leaves, stemmed
½ teaspoon ume plum vinegar
In a small sauce pan, heat the coconut oil on medium high and cook the cumin seeds until they start to brown, Add ginger, chile, cilantro, onions and curry powder. Turn down to a simmer, add the lime juice, water, peas and sea salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring periodically then check to see if the peas are soft. When soft, mash the peas and onions. Separate into eight portions, place a portion on a kale leaf and roll until the entire leaf is wrapped around. Carefully place in a steamer and cook for 5 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Place 2 to 3 drops ume vinegar on top of each. Serve hot.
If it’s Saturday morning, odds are I’m at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Back in the days when I was chef and proprietor of Inn Season Cafe, the market was our main source of seasonal produce. Three days a week I rolled flatbed carts stacked with produce through the aisles and into my truck for the short journey to the restaurant. Sometimes at the end of the market day, farmer friends would pull up to our back door with their extra corn, squash, pumpkins and zucchini which we gave to customers and local soup kitchens. Sharing this connection with the farmers who work the land was a foundation of what we did at Inn Season Cafe. The Cafe was farm to table from its inception in 1981. The current owners remain committed to this now-popular approach to food in restaurants and homes.
Since its establishment in 1929, the Royal Oak Farmers Market has played a key role in the community. Like the venerable Eastern Market in Detroit, it supplies chefs, serious cooks and canners with a wide variety of local produce and agricultural products. Anchors such as Cinzori Farms, Hampshire Farms and Nature’s Pace Organics make it the best market for certified organic produce in Metro Detroit.
Today, each visit to this bustling market continues to fuel my culinary passions as they did during those Inn Season Cafe years. Every Saturday exciting discoveries await me on the rows of tables that stretch from one end of the market to the other–fresh produce picked only hours before: Jimmy Nardello peppers, okra, corn, beans and heirloom tomatoes–just to name a few.
September is the final hurrah of the Michigan summer harvest and watermelons of all kinds are plentiful providing an opportunity to squeeze in refreshing beverages–ok, pun intended. Remembering the Agua Frescas I enjoyed so much last year in San Diego, I felt inspired to make a local Michigan version with a Cuban Mojito accent. This week, Don Cinzori helped me pick a beautiful yellow watermelon which I used along with the abundant mint growing in our kitchen garden to make my version of Agua Frescas for dinner guests that evening.
In hotter climates, tradition has long embraced a variety of fruits and spices for thirst-quenching drinks. Like the limonatas of Italy and the Sharbats of India, the Agua Frescas help balance the intense flavors in the often fiery cuisine of Mexico, but this drink is so refreshing, it goes well with any food any time of the year.
Yellow Watermelon Agua Fresca
Serves four to six
Cut rind off yellow seeded or seedless watermelon. Cut into large chunks, place in blender and grind until smooth on slow speed without breaking seeds. Strain into a bowl using a coarse wire strainer with holes large enough to stop seeds. A juicer will also work for this. Yield depends on size of melon-10 inch diameter will yield 4 to 6 cups of strained juice.
Simple lime syrup
1 cup water
1 cup organic cane sugar
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime
In a 2 quart sauce pan, simmer sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Cool and then add lime juice.
Option: Substitute sugar syrup with organic light agave syrup.
1 cup mint leaves
2 cups ice
Place 2 cups watermelon juice, 2 tablespoons fresh mint (8 large leaves), 2/3 cup ice and 2 tablespoons lime syrup in blender. Pulse until ice and mint leaves are crushed. Pour into two 8 ounce glasses, garnish with a fresh mint leaf and serve. Repeat as desired.
As I step through the sliding doors of the San Diego Airport, the intense heat of the fall sun reminds me that San Diego is indeed a desert despite the numerous efforts to turn the ecosystem into one that is temperate and green. This is readily visible in any patch of land left to fend for itself without the aid of water and it plays into the seasonal abundance, or sometimes lack thereof, at the local Farmers Markets. Wherever I travel, I practice the burgeoning art of farmers market tourism. Each market reflects the pulse and flavor of the neighborhood it is in. Markets are places where people bond over food with spontaneous discussions and interactions without pretense. I’ve arrived in San Diego at the peak of the late summer harvest.
My first market is the North Park Farmers Market. It reflects a neighborhood which has become a trendy destination and boasts the most vegan restaurants per capita in San Diego. Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics has a table teeming with produce. I purchase some tender wax beans, candy sweet strawberries and a provocative Frog Skin honeydew melon.
Next stop is Moncai Vegan. Donald Moncai tells me about the new vegan restaurant they are about to open around the corner as he plies me with samples of his vegan donuts and a thirst-quenching hibiscus iced tea.
Mel Lions, Wild Willow Farm mastermind and fearless leader, told me last time I was in town that they were selling produce from the community farm at the Imperial Beach Farmers Market. It was the only all vegetarian market I was aware of, abundant with plant-based vendors offering prepared foods. Since then, market management has changed and the direction with it. While the vendors who offered vegan foods are gone, there is now a significant organic produce presence anchored by the Wild Willow Farm. I am immediately drawn to the bright reddish-purple bunches of amaranth.
The location of this market is magical. It is on Imperial Beach right next to the pier. Whenever I’m here, I walk to the end of it where I frequently see schools of dolphins swimming and playing nearby.
The Little Italy Mercato is a must-visit market–a treasure trove of culinary gems located in one of the liveliest districts in downtown San Diego. The first farmer I speak with is Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch, the go-to stall for fresh organic almonds, walnuts and ever-enticing red walnuts. It is easy to become spoiled by the quality of his nuts, I have never found anything that comes close. The news from Jeff is their new mail-order and Farm-to-Office service for their products. I am thrilled! This is a great way for me to get his extraordinary organic nuts and fruits in Michigan. Terra Bella also grows and prepares delicious unsulphured organic apricots, tangy sun dried tomatoes, fresh figs, avocados and a number of other crops.
I continue through the market keenly aware of the shimmering San Diego bay, swaying palm trees and nothing but blue skies smiling at me, not to mention the many wagging and sniffing dogs who are always welcome here. Mark of Happy Pantry: T.G.I.F. Thank God Its Fermented stops me to offer samples of raw krauts, pickles and kimchi. I opt for the Power Krautage, a super-green-food infused kraut with subtle notes and great flavor.
Suzie’s Farm can be found in markets throughout San Diego–always presenting a cornucopia of what the season is offering. Today’s stall is full of micro greens, peppers, beans, zucchini and an abundance of heirloom tomatoes.
The star of the day is their Indigo Rose tomato with a spicy plum-like flavor and a provocative dark color. To my delight, they also have Shishito peppers, a mild Japanese sauteing pepper with tender skin and the wonderful flavor of spicier chiles.
With my remarkable bounty in tow, I head over to the Wild Willow Farm in the the heart of the Tijuana estuary between the Mexican border and Imperial Beach. I have been visiting the farm and participating in events since its 2009 inception (see video here). I’ve enjoyed watching their progress over the years as the people of this community are dedicated and full of energy. I arrive just as a fundraising 5k fun run ends and the volunteers are making their way through the fields to attend to the farm’s needs.
It is a pastoral scene with goats being fed, roosters crowing and amaranth swaying with the cool ocean breeze. The Wild Willow Farm & Education Center works with five school systems throughout San Diego County to help children understand the connections between the land and the food they eat. San Diego is very fortunate to have them.
From here, I drive down the dusty lane to Suzie’s Farm on Sunset, a single 140 acre parcel. Suzie’s has been instrumental in bringing the culture of local organic food to the people of San Diego County. Ideally situated near Wild Willow Farm, Suzie’s has a stand selling produce picked that day from their fields. I stop by, chat and pick up some green beans, a small watermelon and a bottle of Jackie’s Cherry Bomb Jam created from the farm’s spicy cherry peppers–a delicious combination of sweet and hot!
This is the big farmer’s market day in San Diego County with lots of great ones to choose from. I decide on three of my favorites: Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market, La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market and Hillcrest Farmers Market. The Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is sponsored by the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter. Volunteers from the organization walk adorable and adoptable dogs through the market each week. It is a mellow market with understated elegance.
Market master Raquel Pena has assembled a foodie’s paradise of vendors. Akram Attie of Thyme of Essence makes fresh Manoushe sandwiches. He deftly toasts flatbread on a Mongolian-style grill and fills each sandwich with slices of Persian cucumbers, vine-ripened local tomatoes, his personal brand of za’atar and a touch of his self-harvested California extra virgin olive oil. I follow this culinary treat with Emilio’s Andalusian blended gazpacho. It is bursting with a rich tomato flavor and has undertones of olive oil and spicy garlic–one or two spoonfuls will not do as it is deliciously addictive.
I pick up a loaf of naturally fermented whole grain bread from the Prager Brothers Artisanal Bakery stall. Handcrafted the way bread is supposed to be, this alone would be worth the drive to the market.
From here, I drive down the coast past the vista of surf rolling against the bluffs of Torrey Pines to the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market. This market has greatly expanded since my cooking-demo days here. Nicolina Alves has nurtured the market into a wonderful community center full of dedicated farmers and delicious food from a variety of vendors. I find amazing Barhi dates from Futterman Farm which are dried right on the palm and taste like juicy caramel candy. Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms is selling large, succulent figs and giant bulbs of strong and spicy Georgian garlic which are begging to be sautéed.
Next stop is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, which is the closest market to our home in Mission Hills and widely considered the go-to market in San Diego. People commonly compare it to the Santa Monica market and those of San Francisco. One of my favorite farmers, and certainly the liveliest, is Barry Koral of Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm. This week the sweet-incense of guavas and vibrant deep red pomegranates attract people to his small, but formidable, stall.
The market is open from 9 to 2 and he talks the entire time with passion about the health and vitality his fruits and raw foods provide. I buy some Fallbrook macadamia nuts and set up a mail order shipment of his unparalleled Reed avocados.
The farmer’s markets of San Diego are festive and full. They are the new town centers, combining people and food into social sustenance. The market energy is transferred home because market day meals are the best and most inspired meal of the week.
Wild Yam Soba Noodles with Indigo Rose Tomatoes, Amaranth and Walnuts
1 cup yellow wax beans, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pimiento pepper, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups red amaranth leaves, coarsely chopped
4 cups Indigo Rose tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 package (4 ounces) Eden Foods Wild Yam Soba noodles, cooked per instructions and drained
In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add wax beans and cook for approximately 30 seconds. Drain in strainer then rinse beans with cold water. Reserve. Heat large skillet on medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. When sizzling, add the wax beans, amaranth, tomatoes and sea salt. Saute until the tomatoes are tender and beginning to break down, then balsamic vinegar and oregano.
Place the noodles into a large serving bowl and gently stir in the tomato mixture. Serve immediately.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 cups Shishito chiles, wash but don’t remove stems
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Heat a 6 to 9 inch skillet on medium high heat (a cast iron skillet works well). Add the oil, chiles and salt. Saute and turn the chiles until blistered. Serve immediately
Japanese Cucumber Salad
1 cup Japanese cucumber, sliced into thin half moons
1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup fresh figs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons red onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
As my readers know, I love to frequent farmers markets to shop for vegetables, talk to the farmers and participate in the age-old traditions of community marketplaces.
Here in Michigan, the heavy June rains have delayed the summer harvest. So, in a recent visit to one of my favorite markets, the Royal Oak Farmers Market, I was delighted to see the abundance of produce. Jacob Bach, of Nature’s Pace Organics, had young lacinato kale, hearty green kale, a variety of radishes with beautiful green tops and purslane–rich with omega-3s. Don Cinzori of Cinzori Certified Organic Farms had a profuse selection of arugula, young collard greens, kale, young zucchini, english peas and the first broccoli shoots.
I made my way around the market juggling the heavy bags bursting with the treasures of the earth and musing over what to prepare with this wonderful bounty. It came to me when a elderly woman brushed past me with her arms full of produce. She reminded me of my Greek relatives, bringing back wonderful memories of eating traditionally prepared greens with them on the island of Crete.
Aunts and cousins would harvest their kitchen gardens to prepare Horta –freshly picked greens simply cooked. Some nights it seemed as though they invited the entire village to join us for dinner; for those large events, they journeyed into town to the agora in Chania, an early 20th century structure built to resemble the ancient Greek marketplaces. They filled their baskets with dandelion greens, lambs quarters, spinach, escarole–just to mention a few. Back in the busy kitchen, they dressed the greens with sea salts harvested from coastal deposits, homemade olive oil and lemons from their own trees.
Horta (also Horta Vrasta) can pertain to any green vegetable which is boiled in its own juices and dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The Cretan tradition of eating wild greens may be one of the longevity secrets in the Mediterranean diet. In Greece, picking the greens is almost a national pastime which my grandparents brought with them when they came to America. They often took me along to pick dandelion greens in their favorite spots around Canton, Ohio. (I recently read about a Greek who was arrested in Chicago for picking them on someone’s property!)
The key to making good horta is to use just enough water to cook the greens while ensuring a small amount for bread dipping. This way, all the nutrients in the vegetables are consumed.
Also, do not feel restricted by one or two greens, it’s fine to mix and match a number of them, but, keep in mind the various cooking times. Collard greens take much longer than most greens and arugula cooks almost instantly.
The right choice of olive oil can make a significant difference to the taste of the horta. I prefer extra virgin oils made with Greek Koroneiki olives. One organic brand which stands out is from Theo Rallis’ family farm, Rallis Olive Oil. Theo has developed a method for ice pressing the oil which preserves the nutritional integrity, often degraded by the naturally hot environments of traditional olive pressing
This recipe is from my book, Vegetarian Traditions. Feel free to adapt it to other greens.
Swiss Chard Horta
6 cups, or 1 bunch red, multi-colored or white chard, stemmed, washed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
In a large saucepan on medium-low heat, cover and simmer chard until stems are soft.
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a serving bowl, mix together all dressing ingredients. Add cooked greens and broth. Gently mix the greens into the dressing and serve.
Serve warm, room temperature or cold.
Superfoods for better living!
I prepare food based on culinary traditions from around the world. The dishes are healthy, full of flavor and enriched with the vitality of the freshest local ingredients. This is an encore post celebrating this year’s wonderful asparagus harvest.
Springtime is an ideal time to jump start your health by adding the wonders of the early Spring “super foods” to your diet. At local markets across the country, the farmers are bringing in their bounties–a reflection of the powerful, regenerative energy of the earth. Every Sunday I marvel at the variety of freshly harvested produce at my local farmer’s market in San Diego–the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market. One of my spring favorites, organic asparagus, disappears early, so I try to arrive before the large crowds and am always thrilled to find I haven’t missed them.
Asparagus, one of the healthiest vegetables, acts as a diuretic and is full of vitamin K and folates. It helps to lower blood pressure, reduces arthritic inflamation, promotes cellular rejuvenation and has anti-cancer properties. The perfect resume for a vegetable.
Otherwise known as “baked-in-parchment,” en papillote is a wonderful method for cooking vegetables quickly while infusing flavor and retaining nutrients. I thought we would cook my treasured asparagus en papillote for a quick lunch. The entire process took 30 minutes and that included preheating my Wolf oven to 400 degrees convection. If you do not have a convection oven, preheat it to 425 degrees.
Going to the Royal Oak Farmers market at the first sign of spring is an annual tradition for fresh-food enthusiasts. We emerge from our winter cocoons to feel the warmth of the sun, marvel at the first crocus blooms and head to the market to share a collective exuberance with the other sun-starved Michiganders. The mood is infectious and smiles are everywhere.
The market is exploding with colors, living plants and enthusiasm–shoppers and farmers feeling as though they have earned the right to feel good about the spring season. This year, farmer Don Cinzori returned to the market with organic starter plants as well as black radishes, rutabagas and cabbage from his root cellar. His flats of freshly sprouted wheat grass were quickly snapped up by the juicing crowd.
Jacob Bach of Natures Pace Organics had sweet tender spinach, baby Red Russian kale and cellared sweet onions. It was a treasure trove for me and I thoroughly enjoyed creating healthy, plant-based dishes from this bounty– salads, slaws, ragouts and a Super Scramble, which I share below.
14 oz extra firm organic tofu
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1 cup rutabaga, diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon Nama Shoyu tamari (sub wheat free for gluten free)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces baby Red Russian kale, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup cooked short grain brown rice
Drain the water from the tofu and crumble into a medium sized bowl, using your hands. Add olive oil to a non-stick sauté pan (I prefer the titanium coated pans) on medium heat, then add garlic, onion, rutabaga and crushed red pepper. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tofu, Dijon, tarragon, dill, black pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, tamari and salt. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add kale and chia, cover and cook another 3 minutes or until the kale is tender. Stir in the quinoa and brown rice. Turn to low, cover and cook for three to five minutes. Serve hot.
Snow flurries dance in the cold, crisp air and the settled snow squeaks under my feet as I climb the porch stairs with bags from the market. Even during the cold months, the brave and hearty Michigan farmers make the long trek to the Royal Oak Farmers Market every Saturday. During a recent visit I purchased sweet red onions from Nature’s Pace Organics,
Siberian hardneck garlic from Green Organic Garlic and Jim Burda of Burda’s Berry Farm brought huge, organic Brussels sprouts from his western Michigan neighbor Cinzori Farms. Once inside my cozy kitchen, I began to prepare a simple dish which was sure to warm the body and the heart.
To prepare this dish, I used one of my favorite new kitchen tools–a twelve inch Scan Pan Pro , which is a teflon-free, non-stick saute pan which accommodates metallic instruments without scratching. It also allows me to sear without looking, sauté without burning and cook slowly in order to achieve perfection–practically cooks itself. Slightly caramelized brussels sprouts infused with the spicy warmth of black pepper, onions, garlic and olive oil…doesn’t get much better than that!
Black Pepper Brussels Sprouts and Red Onions
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic, thinly sliced
2 ½ cups red onions, sliced thin
4 cups Brussels sprouts, stem trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
Place all the ingredients in a twelve inch skillet on medium-low heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are tender.
When summer begins to wane and the autumn leaves begin their transition, the tables at the farmers markets explode with color. Whether it is San Diego or Detroit, the September harvest is a magnificent time to be in our local farmers markets which have become our community centers, weekend playgrounds and the instigators of culinary foreplay for foodies across the country.
While visiting San Diego recently, I went to five farmers markets and a community farm. One of my favorites, the Little Italy Mercato, is the jewel of the San Diego urban markets. Overlooking the breathtaking harbor, the five blocks of booths offer local crafts, delicious prepared foods, stunning colorful fruits & vegetables and some of the best street music in the area. One of my favorite vendors, Sage Mountain Farm, told me the Armenian cucumbers were a big hit the day I was there while the Rose apples and prickly pear fruit were selling fast at Rancho Lindo Mexico’s booth. As always, a parade of canine friends, sniffing for samples, create a friendly atmosphere unlike any of the other markets.
I was pleased to see that the North Park Farmers Market is finally starting to blossom, thanks in part to the addition of food trucks and certified organic farms such as Suzie’s Farm and JR Organics. Moncai Foods, a wholesale vegan dessert company, is now there selling deliciously crafted vegan entrees and desserts.
I headed toward the Mexican border to visit the Wild Willow Community Farm near Imperial Beach. Over the last three years this farm has grown into an amazing educational center and gathering place for the local community. Director Mel Lions told me the farm is thriving and finally able to distribute produce to the local markets. They have a potluck and open house every third Saturday of the month–providing volunteers and the greater community an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and appreciate the gifts of the soil. It is a wonderful event which I highly recommend.
Little Italy Mercato’s Market Maestra, Catt White, gave me a tour of the new San Diego Public Market on National Avenue. It is a two acre site where an old machine factory once stood. Soon it will serve as an indoor/outdoor year-round marketplace. The plan includes incubator kitchens, permanent food stalls and a home base for food trucks. It is very ambitious, but I have no doubt Catt can achieve her goal after seeing firsthand what she has done with markets around San Diego. Wednesday and Sunday markets have already begun in this location, which I look forward to visiting the next time I’m in San Diego.
Even though it is a smaller boutique market, Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is also one of my favorites. Each week, market master Raquel Pena transforms a shopping center parking lot into a magical place filled with beautiful music, delicious food, fruits, vegetables and artisans. I find these intimate and cozy markets a refreshing change from the crush of the crowds at some of the more popular ones. My good friend Akram Attie is front and center here in his Thyme of Essence booth. He not only sells the freshest harvest of California olive oil and custom Zaatar spice blends, but sumptuous, out-of-this-world Manoushe & Falafel sandwiches toasted on a Mongolian-style grill.
Nicolina Alves of Terra Bella Ranch took over the vibrant La Jolla Open Aire Market last year. The word is out and it has become a destination place for anyone in or near La Jolla on any given Sunday. There are a large variety of food stalls, a plethora of vegetable & fruit farmers and a dizzying array of crafts and artists.
The market is on the verge of adding thirty percent more space and it is only going to get better. Of course, Terra Bella Ranch is an anchor vendor and has always been one of my favorite organic farms. They specialize in walnuts, almonds, avocados and dried fruits.
The Grande Dame of San Diego markets is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, where most chefs and foodies shop. I could not resist buying the giant figs, perfectly ripe passion fruit and the voluptuous Reed avocados from Ryan at Creekside Tropicals.
I sampled fresh harvested, dried on the palm Morocco Gold Medjool dates. They taste like a melt-in-the-mouth caramel, addictive and delicious. I ordered a variety of heirloom beans to be shipped by Michelle Larson Sadler’s Conscious Cookery–Colorado River, Anasazi, Mortgage Lifter and Borlotti beans.
Market days are not just days to stock up on fresh and exciting ingredients. They are a rejuvenating experience, an opportunity to reconnect with friends and awaken culinary creativity. I used the passion fruits from Creekside Tropicals to create this recipe.
Passion-Almond Creme Brulee
4 passion fruits
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
Slice the passion fruits in half and scoop the fruit into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula push the fruit against the strainer, working the juice from the seeds. Place the juice into a small sauce pan on medium-low heat. Stir in the sugar. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it becomes a syrup-like consistency. Reserve.
1 cup plain almond or soy milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour or 1-1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
Whisk all ingredients together in a double boiler on medium heat. Cook for 40 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thick.
Transfer evenly into 4 shallow ramekins (small souffle dishes).
4 tablespoons evaporated cane juice
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice on top of each ramekin. Using a cooking torch, carefully caramelize the sugar until golden brown. Dress each ramekin with a swirl of passion fruit syrup. Serve immediately.
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