A Recipe For Red Orach

One of my favorite amaranth varieties is red orach,  also known as garden orach, French spinach and mountain spinach.  Red orach was first documented in the New World in 1714 and Thomas Jefferson grew a green variety in his Monticello gardens.  It was discovered as far back as Mesolithic times and was commonly grown in the Mediterranean before spinach became popular;  the  red and green varieties were used to color pastas in Italy due to natural color retention. A member of the salt-bush family, the tender leaves have a light salty flavor which combines nicely with sorrel’s lemony flavor.  The over-sized leaves and colorful presence make orach a favored annual in ornamental gardens.

In San Diego, I first began seeing Red orach in the La Milpa Organica booth at the Hillcrest Farmers Market a few years ago.  Farmer Barry Logan specialized in ancient greens and heirloom vegetable varieties which made his stall the organic anchor of the market.  While La Milpa is no longer operating, the influence lives on. Suzie’s Farm is growing many of the varieties Barry used to sell and I was pleasantly surprised to see red orach a couple of weeks ago and began using it in salads, greens, tarts, pastries and, of course, stuffed dishes. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of cooking red orach, have no fear–it’s easy to work with.  If you can’t find it at your local market, request it, talk your local farmer into growing it and/or plant it in your garden as a culinary ornamental.

Stuffed Red Orach with Pomegranate Molasses

10 large red orach leaves

1/2 cup garbanzo beans, cooked
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cooked
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix garbanzos, artichoke, green onion, sea salt and oil in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. Place a generous tablespoon of filling on the wide end of a leaf and roll into a thick cigar shape.  Repeat until all leaves are used.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons white spring onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a ten-inch skillet on medium-high heat and cook the oil, crushed red pepper, onions and garlic until the onions are clear around the edges.  Placed the red orach rolls in the pan, cover and let sear for 1 minute.  Pour in the lemon juice, cover, turn down heat to low and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn the burner off and leave covered until ready to serve.

Pomegranate Molasses

2 cups fresh pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons agave syrup
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a skillet on medium heat, add all ingredients and reduce to a syrup consistency.  Allow to cool before using.  May be prepared ahead of time to use as a condiment.

Drizzle Pomegranate Molasses onto plate and place a red orach roll on top.  Serve hot.

To simplify the cooking process and make it a quick dish, use Eden Foods organic canned garbanzo beans and organic canned artichoke hearts.

I use fresh pressed organic pomegranate juice from Lone Oak Ranch but the recipe will be fine with bottled 100% pomegranate juice.

Making Every Day Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, I chose a collection of previous blog posts as a tribute to the connection we all have with the planet.  A small reminder that everything we do can be a celebration of the earth.


How to Shop at the Farmers Market








Locavores Do It Fresher









Topsoil Tales …or Nourishing From the Ground Up







A New Victory Garden


































Ideal Gathering Places

Farmers markets are ideal gathering places within a community, a custom which goes back to the beginning of humanity.  It is a niche where like-minded enthusiasts can gather and accomplish a variety of community goals centered around fresh food, gardening and farming. Farmers markets are becoming more and more popular across the country, especially with sustainable and organic foods (see links).  At the Hillcrest Farmers Market, one of the largest in San Diego, many of the patrons are very active in their community and are at the market to connect with the farmers.

Although the idea of going to local farm markets is an ongoing tradition dated to our ancient origins, this part of the modern food revolution is notable because our society has strayed so far from a local-based economy. The local concept goes well beyond the economic model by getting people to the farms, teaching them how to grow food, how to eat it and, in the process, getting their hands into the soil.  The result is a healthy respect for the land, the food and how it affects our physical, mental and spiritual health, thus helping people understand a natural definition of quality. When a “local” mindset is incorporated into a daily lifestyle, we connect with the planet, food and people in a way rarely experienced in modern urban society.  Like a human version of being “a fish out of water,” we are not in our natural element until we shop, eat and live locally.

With globalization, many of the products and foods which were formerly regional specialties are now in our backyard or at least in a market down the street. Learning about the cultures and traditions connected to these foods allows us to experience them in a similar manner as the original. This is not only aesthetically important, but intertwined on every level with our health. At the Hillcrest Market, there are a number of opportunities to interact with farmers and their land in order to learn and connect. Here are three options in no particular order:

Sage Mountain Farm offers the Inland Empire CSA where one can invest in the land, usually through a weekly fee, and get a share of the organic produce from it. CSA’s are becoming popular across the country and in San Diego, offer a real year round alternative to regular grocery shopping while dealing directly with a farmer.

La Milpa Organica is a 5 acre organic farm near Escondido. Owner Barry Logan is one of the agricultural sages of the Hillcrest Market and he offers student internships to help people learn about organic farming. He also has a CSA and hosts a potluck/open house every third Saturday of the month.

San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project holds classes is a variety of sustainable practices such as grey water systems and building adobe brick ovens. Their main mission is to help people understand and get involved in sustainable food production. Their mission statement says: “San Diego Roots was formed to strengthen the local food movement in the San Diego region and to create a sustainable urban-rural partnership that brings healthy local food to our communities and sustains the working landscapes and people that feed us.”

So, the next time you are at a Farmers Market, don’t just look at the fruits, vegetables and food products—look to the farmers. By working with them and learning what they have to teach, the degree of separation between you and the land is minimized. The food you prepare and consume will have added meaning, leading to better health and overall well-being.

Amaranth Quesadillas

Quesadillas, as most people know them, are a study in cheese.  A white flour tortilla with a few onions, a sprinkle of jalapeños and perhaps a a few tomatoes, kernels of corn or fresh cilantro held together with oozing melted cheese. As an occasional culinary distraction this may sound good, but it is not something to eat everyday–perhaps something to eat when stranded on an island without anything else.

My Amaranth Quesadillas have provocative flavors and a creamy texture–without the dairy. They make excellent appetizers, party snacks or light meals. I made this recipe for lunch recently after a Hillcrest Farmers Market shopping trip.  All the vegetables I used for the quesadillas were what I had just purchased, fresh and fragrant.  The tortillas I choose are locally-made, par-cooked Mama Cesana Wheat Tortillas.  A quick heat on the grill cooks them up nicely and adds a favorable carbon flavor.  It is possible to do the same grill treatment with pre-cooked tortillas, but only to bring them back to a fresh-cooked state.

Amaranth is considered one of nature’s super-foods and is used in tropical and temperate climates around the world, especially India.  I first experienced it during an early summer trip to Crete as a green called “vleeta,” used by the Greeks in Horta (boiled greens).  The variety commonly used there is a green one.

Similar to buckwheat and quinoa, the Amaranth seed grains are without gluten and have unusually complete proteins. Like spinach, it has a high oxalic acid content Hopi Indians used red color-producing plant as a clothes dye.  If red amaranth is not available, spinach, lacinato kale, lamb’s quarters or mache would work well for this recipe.

Makes 4 quesadillas

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sweet onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 bunch red amaranth, large stems removed, chopped (3 cups)
Using a 10 to 12 inch skillet on medium heat, cook oil, onion and garlic until the onions are clear around the edges.  Add the amaranth and cook until the stems are tender.  Reserve.
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sweet onions, finely diced
1 cup green bell peppers, finely diced
1 tablespoon jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Using a 12 inch skillet on medium heat, cook oil, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos until the onions are clear around the edges. Add sea salt, transfer and reserve.

3/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teapoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until a coarse pesto consistency. Reserve.


1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sweet onion, minced
1 tablespoon jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 cup fresh tomato, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
In a small sauce pan on medium heat, cook oil, garlic, onion and jalapeño.  Cook until the onion is turning clear around the edges, then add the tomato, sea salt and vinegar.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until tomatoes are cooked, then stir in the cilantro and turn off.  Reserve.
1 avocado sliced into small cubes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

4 whole wheat tortilla flat breads, 10 to 12 inches in diameter
3 tablespoons olive oil
Lay a tortilla on a flat and clean surface and spread 2 tablespoons pesto mixture on one half of the tortilla.  Spread 1/4 cup amaranth mixture evenly on top of the pesto.  Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons pepper mixture evenly across the amaranth.  Fold the tortilla to a half moon shape.  Repeat with three more tortillas. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12 inch skillet on medium heat.  Cook two quesadillas at a time and add more oil as necessary.  Lightly brown on one side and turn over to brown the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into triangles.  Serve with salsa and avocado garnish.

How to Shop at a Farmers Market

Hillcrest market 11 08 2009

Each week, Sunday mornings begin with great anticipation.  I look forward to the communion with the earth and people directly connected with it, as well as the discoveries to be had.  First thing I do is make sure my empty grocery bags are packed.  Upon arrival, I walk the full length of the market to see what has grown and been stocked in the various stalls I frequent.  Beginning at the end of the market, I work my way back, stall by stall.

Hillcrest market 11 08 2009-5

This week, I started with Sun Grown Organics, buying a variety of micro-greens like shiso leaves, arugula, sorrel and celery.

Hillcrest market 11 08 2009-7

I also purchased baby popcorn shoots that are sweet, almost candy-like and a variety of micro blossoms, including marigolds, carnation petals and chives.  There was also a red-tinted okra and a bright reddish-orange Turkish eggplant, something I had never seen before.

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As I peruse the stalls, potential menus and cooking ideas are formulating in my head, often helped along by speaking with the farmers and getting their experiences first hand.  Frequently customers contribute and we enter into lively and informative discussions about the fruits and vegetables we are handling, sniffing and admiring.  Barry Koral was sharing his extensive knowledge of live foods with many customers today, describing how to eat a ripe persimmon—“gently break the pointed top with teeth and suck out the ripe nectar.”  Some people I know use a spoon for a daintier approach.  Barry picked out some perfectly ripe figs and a chermoya (custard apple) that was just right for slicing into.  He also had a first harvest of Fuerte avocados prominently displayed in front of dwindling Reed and Haas varieties.

Hillcrest market 11 08 2009-3

Phil at Sage Mountain Farm was describing the economics of small organic farming.  He said it is a constant struggle to do anything but grow food on his land.  Laying fallow is not an option when the cost of ownership is so high.  He has found it is more economical to lease land, than to own and he is weighing heavily whether to expand to allow greater flexibility, or to keep it small and personally manageable.  During the conversation, he presented a baby Hubbard squash that I look forward to cooking and trying.  Hubbard is one of the best squashes for pumpkin pies.  I also grabbed some cippolini onions (wonderful!), baby Italian Rosa eggplant and Ichibon Japanese eggplant, which I plan to grill in a day or two.

Hillcrest market 11 08 2009-8

By the time I get halfway through the market, I have 3 bags mostly full.  If I found a good parking spot, I often take them to the car to ease up on the final leg, especially if I am lugging heavy produce like melons or squash.  Another option is to have a companion come along to share the load, but with me, they often find that carrying these loads weighs down their market experience.  I do not get as many volunteers as I used to.   For me, the market is part of the cooking process and it helps formulate how we eat for the remainder of the week.

Arriving home, I am careful to unload the produce, especially when there are ripe persimmons, chermoyas, figs and grapes.  I never refrigerate tomatoes and make sure the greens are moist in the roots, sometimes wrapping them with damp paper towels.  Taking care to store the bounty of the market will insure continued outstanding quality in raw ingredients–this translates into wonderful cooked food.  As many great chefs know, quality ingredients are one of the secrets of creating dishes that amaze and satiate.  Farmers Markets have become extensions of their kitchens.

Hillcrest Market This Week

hillcrest market 10 25 2009I love Sunday mornings at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  It seems to get better with each week…something extraordinary is happening there.  Sure, there are wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables, as well a plethora of prepared food vendors, but I really enjoy the people.  As I enter the market, there is a feeling of collective awareness.

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The vendors add to this with the dedication to product and craft.  People who attend take part with enthusiasm, as if like children in a candy store, exuding good moods, chatting and smiling all the way.  All in all, the market has a festive atmosphere with music, food, good company and the prospect of preparing the wares later on.  Every week I meet old friends and their dependable produce, but there are always one or two new vendors that add to the mix.  For me, it is a safe haven in an uncertain world.

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One of the new vendors is Sun Grown Organics micro greens and edible flowers.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the colorful tables full of culinary gems.  I began filling bags with a bevy of different greens, flowers and sprouts.

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In addition to the expected varieties, there were micro red perilla (shiso), fennel, popcorn sprouts, batchelor button flowers and  pink petals.

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Roots Kind Foods was there again this week.  I picked up a couple of wraps to go with the micro green salad for lunch.  After closing their café in OB (Ocean Beach) they have made a name for themselves at farmers markets around San Diego.

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Mariella from Guanni chocolates has started selling truly incredible vegan chocolate bars.  Good enough to sway even those who normally shy away from chocolate.

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Phil from Sage Mountain Farms had giant butternut squashes to compliment his always full display.  He asked me to save the seeds and bring them back because he wanted to share the few squashes he had and it is a  especially sweetvariety that is hard to get.  I am still buying his organic strawberry jam that is out of this world.

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La Milpa Organica is one of the most consistent booths at the market.  Every week one can find the tables overflowing with an abundance of greens, from amaranth to sorrel.  There are also multiple varieties of fresh herbs such a multiple varieties of mint, dill, fennel, sage and lavender.

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Lone Oak Ranch had beautiful pomegranates, fuyu persimmons, fuji apples and fresh pressed pomegranate juice.  The juice is naturally sweet and very refreshing unlike the pre-sweetened store bought varieties

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At The Market and Back Home


The Hillcrest Farmers Market is fantastic this time of year. Before the summer heat takes a toll, an amazing variety of local produce is available. La Milpa Organica has tables full of kale, chard, purslane, sorrel, lamb’s quarters, yellow beans, green beans, edible calendula, lavender, mint, dill, fennel, dandelion, beets and radishes. This week, Barry was also selling provocatively described black cherry tomato plants.


Down the way, the Rodriguez brothers were still offering candy-sweet organic strawberries, a wide variety of lettuces, tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs. Matt at Lone Oak Ranch had spectacularly sweet organic fruit which included white & yellow peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and pluots .

hillcrest-market-2Phil from Sage Mountain farms gave me a couple of bulbs of Russian chesnok garlic last week and I came back for more. These tiny one-and a-half inch bulbs were incredible roasted, having a mild and nutty flavor. This week I picked up some broccoli, homemade organic strawberry jam, zucchinis and sweet torpedo onions.


Arriving home from the market, I put away the morning harvest and formulated what to prepare. While the purchases will last a week, the first meal of the afternoon which spotlights the fresh picked nature of the produce. This evening did not disappoint. I started with a Market Ratatouille using long purple Chinese eggplant, tomato, sweet torpedo onion, chesnok garlic, red bell peppers, fresh basil and Sage Mountain zucchini. While slow cooking the ratatouille in a large pot, I also prepared a Basmati rice, Millet and Black quinoa pilaf with magenta spreen lamb’s quarters and lemon from our tree. As a plate garnish, the fresh picked incredible yellow beans from La Milpa Organica added textural balance and color. This was a simple dinner and there was some dessert from the previous evening to add a sweet finish: Nectarine Upside-Down Cake which had fruit from our tree lightly candied with a gran marnier syrup. It was even better the second day!

Often, I find the simple pleasures of going to the market, prepping, cooking and then serving to add meaning and depth to daily routines, adding depth to an entire week. Grounding, centering, connecting, or whatever words one wishes to use, market-centric cooking makes for a good life.