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.