Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ~ John Keats

Royal Oak Farmers Market

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.

Cinzori Farms Certified Organic Farm Okra

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.

Natures Pace Organics

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.

Kale after a Summer Rain

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.

Heirloom Tomatoes at the Royal Oak Farmers Market

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.

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Freshly Harvested Corn, Hemp and Chia Cakes with Fresh Tomato Relish

Serves 6

Corn Cakes

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

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.

Market to Table

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.

Jacob Bach, Nature's Pace Organics

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.

Farmer Don Cinzori and George Vutetakis

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.

Kefala village, 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.

Great Aunt Georgia Serving Horta

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!)

Purslane

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.

Italian red sorrel

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.

Collard Leaf

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

 

Horta Vrasta

This recipe is from my book, Vegetarian Traditions.  Feel free to adapt it to other greens.

Swiss Chard Horta

Serves 4

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.

Dressing

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.

Cretan Horta Video:

Cretan Horta Video

 

The First Farmers Market

The hallmark of summer in Birmingham, Michigan is the opening of its farmers market. Since its beginnings, ten years ago, the market has become one of the most festive in the Detroit area with special events, fresh food, organic produce, flowers and live music. As I entered the market last Sunday, the welcoming notes of blues singer Paul Miles filled the air. Excited patrons, families with their children and canine friends crowded around the stalls.
My first stop was Nature’s Pace Organics represented by Jacob and Katie Mullane-Bach with their children Forest and Freeda. We caught up on our winter adventures and shared plans for the new season ahead.They were proud to tell me about the hoop houses installed on their farm and of plans to provide their carefully tended organic produce at some of the year round markets. Beautiful butterhead and romaine lettuces, leeks, young Swiss chard, black radishes and arugula flowers filled their stall. I bought a little of everything and then moved on.
In addition to the tender spring produce, the warm weather brings a social season. Frequently, in the mid-west, neighbors only see each other when tending their yards or at the market. It is a happy time and every year people act as if they are experiencing spring for the first time.

Arriving home, it was already lunchtime and I was excited to start cooking with the fresh harvest in my bags. The big leeks, procured from Nature’s Pace Organics only an hour before, inspired me to create a recipe which features the robust flavor of this freshly harvested vegetable of the allium family.

White Pepper Leek Tart

Filling
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 cups leeks, sliced thin
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dill weed, minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, fresh ground

Using a sauce pan on medium heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and leeks until the leeks begin to stick.  Add water, cover and turn down to a simmer then cook for 5 minutes until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, cook another 2 minutes and reserve.
Crust
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup garbanzo flour
1/2 cup potato flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup water

Place all ingredients in a food processor, make a dough and press into a parchment lined 10 inch springform pan. Add leek mixture and top with thin tomato slices. Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes . Take out of oven, let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Whether at the market, in the garden, cooking in the kitchen or savoring at the table, I am often charmed by the unique experience each meal brings to daily life.  In the great food cultures of the world, life is measured by the succession of meals and food is the glue that links together family, friends and community.

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy–in Michigan!

In May, 2010, I released my cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions. The following 10 months, I traveled from San Diego to Michigan a number of times for events, book signings and cooking demonstrations–short trips which barely gave me time to catch my breath.  My wife, Sara, and I decided to spend the summer of 2011 in the Detroit area, allowing us to do events every week, catch up with old friends and take part in community activities.  What I discovered was exciting!

Michigan, as a whole, is in a heavy state–consistently near the top of the charts for the most overweight, even though it is one of the top agriculture producers with farming being the second largest industry.  I was always troubled by the obesity since there is so much fresh produce available in the numerous farmers markets, road side stands, grocery and produce stores, all carrying the amazing Michigan bounty.  However, this summer, I felt change in the air.

We kicked off our Michigan summer with a cooking class on Mackinac Island during their Lilac Festival.  Although the natural beauty of Mackinac Island is dazzling, the tourists always seemed to be disconnected with what they ate. Food on the island is solely for entertainment purposes–fudge, candy and restaurant cuisine prepared for taste and presentation.  This trip was different.  Not only did they invite me, a vegan, health-oriented chef, to do a demonstration in the community center, but the local chefs and residents seemed to be yearning for change towards a better and healthier cuisine.  This was evident, not only through what I was told, but also on the restaurant menus.  Mackinac Island has not lost its status of being the fudge capital of Michigan, continuing to use more sugar than anywhere else in the state—but, Rome was not built in a day.

My next surprise was when I was invited to teach a class in Wyandotte.  This is in the “down-river” area of Michigan’s very industrial community with hard working, blue collar folks.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the class was sold out.  In a charming health food store, Total Health Foods in Wyandotte’s historic downtown area, the impressive crowd was eager to learn and discover as much as they could about healthy food and cooking. The down-river experience didn’t stop there.  I was invited to pass out Inn Season Cafe’s Brown Rice Salad and sell my book in three areas which are not synonymous with vegetarian lifestyles:  Allen Park, Shelby Township and Warren.  All of these events were organized and run by the optimistic and high energy Mary Ann Demo.

Allen Park, a down-river community where the Detroit Lions practice in the summer months, is a wholesome, unassuming town and, much like Wyandotte, many of the residents worked for the auto industry or one of the other numerous plants in the area.  The farmers market was set up in a parking lot close to the downtown area.  It was quiet and may take a while to catch on, but at least Mary Ann and the Allen Park residents are making the effort and it is a good place to spend a Friday afternnoon.

The relatively new Warren Farmers Market is housed in the Warren Town Center, a wonderful facility with pavilions, a wading pool and an interactive fountain located near the GM Tech Center.  This busy market had farmers selling Indian lauki (calabash) squash, purslane and amaranth in addition to a robust presentation of the usual Michigan bounty.

The Shelby Township Farmers Market is located on the historic Packard Automotive Proving Grounds, a beautiful property with buildings designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.

Although the day I participated was unusually hot, many local residents braved the heat to purchase fresh, local produce.  One of the farmers was selling a succulent and very sweet watermelon in addition to an impressive selection of Michigan produce–the perfect antidote for the heat.


I was really excited to see several Detroit urban farmers at the historic Eastern Market, the nurturing core of Detroit’s urban expansion since 1841. Brother Nature and Grown in Detroit, just to name a couple, feature an impressive variety of fresh-picked produce from local gardens. In addition, Randy Hampshire of Hampshire Farms, is still the certified organic anchor here, selling grains, beans and breads–not to mention his fresh ground cornmeal.

The Royal Oak Farmers Market and the Birmingham Farmers Market, the two I frequent the most, were busier than I ever remember.  The Royal Oak Market is located within blocks of my former restaurant, Inn Season Cafe, where we sponsored the first organic farmers back in 1990.  Today, certified organic farms, such as Cinzori Farms, Hampshire Farms and Maple Creek Farm, anchor the organic presence, providing some of the best produce in the area and often feature unique heirloom varieties.

 

Cousin Don Hobson has worked tirelessly to make the Birmingham Market a success.  A wonderful addition to a beautiful city, it has become a must-do on Sunday for many of the local residents.  In addition to a wonderful organic presence, including Nature’s Pace Organics and Blue Water Organics, the market highlights numerous vendors with local hand-crafted products.  These two markets are great for finding vegetable treasures to make everyday meals an event!

So, as my summer trip comes to a close, I leave feeling that Michiganders are now riding the crest of the modern food revolution–actively incorporating healthy changes into their lives.  I am pleased that my book is now in the kitchens of so many on that path to change.  Sara and I feel an even stronger connection to our home state as we have come to appreciate how rich Michigan is with the incredible farmers markets, wonderful restaurants like Inn Season Cafe and The Cacao Tree and the best corn, cherries, blueberries, peaches, heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, kale–just to mention a few!

Our last Summer hurrah will be the Food Is Medicine event at the Wellness Training Institute with Dr. Michael Dangovian, an integrative cardiologist who combines modern cardiology with a Yoga-based stress-reducing program.  Late September is the peak of the Michigan harvest and I will showcase foods from local farmers while demonstrating how easy it is to add these gastronomical treasures to any home repertoire.

Book update:  Vegetarian Traditions is now available to purchase at the Birmingham Wellness Institute in their new location in the Birmingham Triangle District  and Essence On Main in Clarkston.

A Market Inspired Recipe:

Big smiles and bright faces greeted me as I approached the Green Tops booth at the Birmingham Farmers Market.  This is what the high school students participating in the farmers market program at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac call their self-grown produce business.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Asian long beans on their table and bought all of them.  My first experience with this type of bean was in India, but soon discovered this is a favorite type of green bean throughout Asia.  They have a nutty flavor, are tender when cooked and only need trimming every foot or so–a real prep bonus!

Asian Long Beans in Tahini Sauce

Serves 4
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic, minced

1 cup sweet onions, thinly sliced

3 cups Asian long beans, trimmed into 4 inch long sections and steamed

1 ½ cups cooked garbanzo beans¼ cup tahini (sesame butter)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 ½ cups water

½ teaspoon sea salt
In a skillet on medium heat, cook olive oil, garlic and onions until clear.  Add long beans, garbanzos, tahini, lemon juice, water and sea salt. Turn down to low heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve hot.
Note:  Green beans may be substituted if long beans are not available.

Extraordinary Grains in Historic Eastern Market

When I was in Michigan recently,  I participated in events ranging from cooking demonstrations and classes to lively talks about how food is medicine.  After all the work was done, my favorite past-time was hanging out with the organic farmers in the local farmers markets.

One of my more memorable stops was at the historic Eastern Market in Detroit, which is in the midst of a revival due to recent restorations and an explosion of interest in local, farm grown foods.  On this early spring day in April, the market was teaming with people buying food for the week ahead. 

The chatter between the farmers and shoppers was accompanied by music from talented musicians scattered throughout the market.  It was exciting to see the market still thriving as the heart-center of the Detroit food chain.

While there, I was thrilled to see my old friends Randy and Shirley Hampshire of Hampshire Farms in Kingston, Michigan.  Hampshire Farms was one of the original farms which participated in the Inn Season Organic Growers booth at the Royal Oak Farmers Market in 1990 and 1991.

They have been at the forefront in the push for more certified organic farming in the Midwest region, a breed of farmers who I consider to be the real heroes of the modern food revolution.

Join me as I walk through the market, talk with Randy Hampshire and look at some of the market’s incredible produce.

I encourage you to visit this landmark, which is open every Saturday, and participate in the timeless grandeur of our local fresh food system. Take a look at a video of my visit and hear Randy speak about his extraordinary products.