In Food We Trust

“Trust,” as it pertains to the food system, has become an increasing concern for all of us.  As part of the ongoing research and planning for the James Beard Foundation’s annual conference over the last few years, a series of regional salons were conducted around the country on the subject of Trust.  A small group of diverse stakeholders in the local food system—including chefs, farmers, food producers, distributors, policy makers, urban planners, academics, and others—attended a salon at Color’s Restaurant in Detroit.  It was exciting for me to be a part of this and inspired me to revisit some principles I hold near and dear.

-Healthy food is the primary source of nourishment and a primary nurturer–the ultimate in holistic health and the key to longevity and quality of life.

-Creating and presenting food is an art form which can inspire us and awaken all our senses in the creative process.

-Food is a language.  Our personal tastes defining which dialect we speak.  It is  an important method of expression and reciprocal exchange between people.

-We feel better about ourselves when we’re cognizant of what we eat.  Whenever possible, eat plant based whole foods which are organic, unadulterated and unprocessed.

-Food connects us with others and cultivates natural satisfaction.

-Know where your food comes from and support local farmers.

-Discover local sources and how the food we eat is a direct connection to the earth we walk on.

-Be honest with your food

Trust is an expansive subject and individually intimate at the same time.  As a plant-based chef, every aspect of the ingredients I use are as important as the final dish.  Each one is chosen for its culinary contribution as well as healthful properties. The following recipe is one you can trust!

For this recipe, I used fresh cranberry beans at Food Field Farm’s stall in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Similar to pintos, they cook to a tender creamy texture.  This recipe is a simple medley of vegetables and beans.  If you can’t find fresh beans, cooked from dry or canned may be substituted.

Cranberry Bean Ragout

 

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 cup red onions, diced

1/2 cup Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, diced (or red bell peppers)

1 cup yellow squash, large dice

1 1/2 cups cooked fresh podded cranberry beans* (dry beans**)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon mild chile powder

In a twelve inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook oil, garlic and crushed red pepper until it begins to sizzle.  Add onions, sweet peppers and yellow squash.  Cook until the edges of the vegetables are seared.  Add cranberry beans and all remaining ingredients.  Turn down, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

Serve with rice or quinoa.

*To cook 1 ½ cups fresh cranberry beans, simmer for 30 minutes in 4 cups of water in a covered saucepan.

**With dry beans, soak in 4 cups water for 4 to 6 hours. Rinse well.  Simmer for 30 minutes in 4 cups of water in a covered saucepan.

Purslane–A Weed Or Seasonal Treasure?

We are in the midst of a great American food revolution. Farmers markets around the country are the front lines of this cultural awakening directly connecting urban dwellers with regional farm and food producers.  Chefs have discovered farm-fresh produce as the secret to fine cuisine which has led to an increase in their patron’s culinary awareness and high expectations.

Community and markets go hand in hand. Farmers markets are places to learn about food, regions, farms and community events.  One of the simple pleasures in my life is discussing local foods and agricultural trends with small farmers who have a direct connection to the earth.

The communities of the ancient world situated their markets in town squares and city centers since this was where people gathered–these markets tended to be the seat of government as well.  Famously, democracy was created in the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Athens.

I shop two or three farmers markets weekly buying an exciting variety of seasonal produce.  Nature provides the nutritive balance with different plants maturing each week during the growing season. Traditional cultures around the world synchronized their lives around the cycles of indigenous growth and harvests.

However, in today’s markets, farmers have a tendency to grow what sells.  While this may make good business sense, the unfortunate result is that the educational aspects of the markets are lessened.  So, when I see unusual offerings, such as green amaranth, bitter melon or, one of my favorite culinary treasures, purslane, my mind begins to conjure up different ways to prepare dishes with the fresh delicacies before me.

 

Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse savored by most of the great food cultures of the world.  It is one of the highest plant sources in Omega 3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins A, C, Potassium and Alpha-Linoleic acid.  It was well known to ancient cultures in the Mideast and Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for bee stings and snake bites. Pliny advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.

Here in a America, purslane was relegated to the status of a weed. Crop rows and sidewalks across the country are sprayed with herbicides to eradicate this perceived nuisance.  It thrives in harsh, dry climates and, as a companion plant, enables less hardy plants to survive by helping the root systems reach greater depths.  It also helps create a beneficial microclimate and stabilize moisture levels–not to mention, it is delicious!

This recipe takes about 30 minutes.  The sauteed purslane and lacinato kale rolls may be prepared individually, but I chose to combine them for complimentary flavor and drama of presentation.

Lacinato Kale Roll with Sautéed Purslane

Makes 8 rolls, serves 4 to 8

Sauteed Purslane

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 cup spring onions, sliced

2 bunches, or 6 cups, purslane, washed, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper for 5 to 10 seconds or until the garlic and chiles sizzle. Add the onion, purslane and sea salt. Cook for 30 seconds, cover and turn down to a simmer.

Sauce

1/2 cup Vegenaise, vegan mayonnaise

2 1/2 tablespoons roasted red pepper

2 teaspoons organic tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a separate bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients.

Filling and assembly

1/2 cup chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

In another thoroughly fold together all filling ingredients.

Assembly

8 large lacinato kale leaves, stemmed

Place 1 heaping tablespoon at the top of the kale leaf and, while folding the

side edges in, roll the leaf into a stuffed grape leaf shape.  Steam for 12 minutes on medium high heat.  Place 1 cup purslane on plate, place one roll on top and top with 1 ½ tablespoons sauce.

Serve while hot.

 

Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Walnuts

asparagus-walnut-risotto

This is a simple, yet flavorful method of preparing risotto, more of a pilaf really. Good as a side dish or main course, this recipe is different from the traditional butter, wine and parmesan cheese approach, but every grain of rice maintains an inherent full and creamy flavor. I find asparagus at the local farmers market, thin or thick stalks are fine. The walnuts are from last year’s harvest.  Fresh nuts make a tremendous difference in flavor and texture.

Serves 6

Risotto:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

3/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped

1/2 cup garnet yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup peas, freshly podded

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup fresh fennel weed, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup organic Arborio rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups water

Separate pan:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon balsamic reduction (or 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)

1 cup walnut halves and pieces

1/2 tablespoon tamari

In a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, garlic, shallots, red bell peppers and yams until the shallots start to turn clear. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, turn down and cover. Stirring frequently, cook for 20 minutes until the rice is tender and most of the water is absorbed.

While cooking the rice, heat a sauté pan on medium high heat, add oil and asparagus.Cook, turning frequently, until the asparagus starts to brown on the edges, add the red pepper flakes, stir in and add the balsamic reduction or vinegar.When the vinegar cooks out, add the walnuts, stir them around letting them toast lightly.Add the tamari, stir to coat the nuts and asparagus.Take off the flame and set aside.When the risotto is cooked, fold in the asparagus and nut just before serving.Save a few pieces of asparagus tips and walnut halves for garnish.Serve immediately.Optionally, one may garnish each dish with shaved organic asiago or parmesan, but I prefer ground toasted tamari walnuts sprinkled over the top.

Vegan Love Bites

A Lifestyle of Romance

This is the time of year to shake off the dust of distraction, polish our manners and look for creative ways to express ourselves romantically.   Often the centerpieces of these endeavors are built around sensual foods and, when wooing our loved ones on Valentines Day, chocolate rules supreme.

The roots of St Valentines Day lay in Rome with February marking the beginning of Spring on the Roman Calendar.  At that time, every household was swept out and  sprinkled with salt and spelt berries. The fertility festival, Lupercalia, began on the Ides of February (15th) and was celebrated throughout Rome by pairing unmarried youths until the following February, often resulted in marriages.

Roman culture had a great appreciation for earth’s beauty and those who inhabited it.  They celebrated the gifts of the land and the power of attraction which is intimately intertwined like a grape vine in an arbor. One could reason this had something to do with the word romance being derived from Roman.

In 485 A.D., the Catholic church sought to Christianize the Lupercalia festival by celebrating Saint Valentine, thought to be a martyred priest from two centuries prior.  As a result, the romantic aspect of the celebration does not appear again until the Middle Ages.  It was the mid 19th century when it began to resemble the phenomena it is today.

On Valentine’s Day, when the meal is emotionally charged, there is one ingredient that is a “must” on the menu–chocolate.  Chocolate has long been known as an all around sensual ingredient.  The Aztecs called it “Nourishment of the Gods.”  Not only does it enchant us with its dark seductive flavor, but it contains compounds which have an immediate sensual effect as well as long lasting health benefits.

This dessert, Hazelnut Love Bites, is a combination of three luscious flavors and textures–hazelnut, raspberry and chocolate–all making for a passionate dessert experience.

Love Bites

Makes 24 Love Bites

Bites

1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (organic sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
2/3 cups plain almond milk
1/4 block (3 ounces) firm silken-style tofu
1/8 cup raw cashew nuts, ground to a meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º F. Using a 24 cup mini cupcake pan, line each cup with unbleached baking cups. Put hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice and arrowroot into a large bowl and whisk together with a French whip. In a blender, puree soy milk, tofu and cashews to a smooth consistency. Transfer to another large bowl and stir in canola oil and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and stir vigorously for one minute to develop the gluten in the flour. Fill each cup to just below the rim and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean(a little sticky is Ok).  Allow to cool.

Raspberry Sauce

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Then strain by pushing through a fine wire strainer with a rubber spatula until only the seeds are left–really work it. Discard seeds. Return strained raspberries to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Reserve.

Chocolate Ganache

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup plain almond milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler on medium heat, add all chocolate ganache ingredients. Stir periodically and cook for about 30 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth. Test a drop on a cold plate, it should set up to a frosting consistency.  Allow to cool and reserve.

Assembly

When the cupcakes are cool, use a small pointed-tip knife to create a crater in the center of each cake, then pour in a small amount of raspberry sauce.  To frost, either use a flat knife to frost each cupcake or put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe.
Ready to serve.

Note:

I only use organic and unadulterated ingredients

Through personal example, my father inspired me to respect beauty and romance on a daily basis–one never knows when they will be encountered, often by chance.   He often expressed his inspirations through poetry.

 

 

 

 

Beauty

 

 

 

 

 

With the kindness of its weather,

San Diego has developed multiple forms of beauty.


(My words of enthusiasm are difficult to restrain.)


The soil harbors and embraces plants which give birth

to hundreds of varieties of flowers.


Their creative method of procreation is:

they make their flowers so fragrant and colorful

that the bees and other pertinent species

are attracted to visit,


To collect their nectar, and thereby leave tracks

from gathering visits to neighboring flowers.


The plants then “eat”, and become happily pregnant.


This is the intelligence of beauty!


Now the plants we call ‘trees’ reach high for the sky

and its sunshine.


Each family has its own leaf formation, and height,

their arms lissome to the winds,

as their hair of leaves is tousled.


And we humans too enjoy our views of them.

~Spyros Vutetakis 2007

Happy Valentines Day!

 

 


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A Garden Roulade – Kypo Pita

It all happens so quickly–rain, sun and warmth spawning explosions of green in the garden.  Finnochio begins to form tender bulbs as the deep green fronds of fennel weed thicken-up. Swiss chard leaves seem to double in size after one good rain and young leeks become perfectly tender.  A Midwestern garden in June can be a treasure trove of delicacies–one of the late spring joys which makes winter seem long ago.

This recipe is inspired by Michigan and San Diego gardens–not to mention my Cretan grandmother (Yia Yia).  Kypo (kee-poh) is the Greek word for garden.  I have fond memories of Yia Yia picking fennel and other herbs, which she used liberally.  She made several dishes using phyllo, often rolled by hand and devoid of the buttery residue, commonly found with most phyllo recipes.  My Kypo-pita follows this tradition–there is no butter and the phyllo is lightly oiled–the secret to our delicious phyllo dishes at Inn Season Cafe.

Recently, I was asked to demonstrate a Greek-style dish at the Opa Fest in Troy, Michigan. It was exciting for me to share my language of food with my fellow Greeks and discuss its history and my Cretan roots. Particularly gratifying was to reminisce about my father, Spyros, and his passion for our Greek heritage.

When making this recipe, keep in mind that other leafy vegetables from the garden, such as spinach, beet greens, purslane and sorrel, can be incorporated or substituted.

Once you try this technique with phyllo, you will say, as the Greeks do,  “Bravo!”

Please don’t hesitate to write, comment and ask questions below this post, through email, Twitter or my Facebook page.

Garden Roulades (Kypo-Pita)

Serves 8 to 10

Fennel

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup leeks, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fennel root (finocchio), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup blanched almond flour
3/4 cup fresh fennel weed, stemmed and finely chopped

In a small saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, leeks and garlic until the leeks begin to turn clear on the edges.  Add the fennel root, lemon and water, cover and simmer until the fennel root is soft.  Stir-in the sea salt, almond flour and fennel weed and turn off the heat. Reserve.

Greens

6 cups Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and chopped (2 cups cooked)
4 cups Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (1 cup cooked)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan

Steam Swiss chard and kale for 2 to 3 minutes until well wilted.  In a medium size bowl, mix together all ingredients. Reserve.

Caramelized Onion

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sweet onions (Vidalia-style), thinly sliced
1/2 cup water

Simmer all ingredients at low heat in a covered sauce pan until the onions caramelize in their own juices.  Reserve.

Maple Oil

1 cup organic expeller-pressed canola oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Mix together all ingredients, reserve.

Assembly

1 package organic phyllo dough (preferably whole wheat)
1 cup roasted red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips

Create a clear workspace for working with the phyllo dough.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Set up a parchment lined baking sheet.  Stir the oil mixture well and, using a pastry brush, lightly brush oil mixture on the parchment, add one sheet of phyllo and lightly brush the phyllo, continually stirring the oil mixture. Repeat until 6 layers have been laid out.

Place a string of red pepper strips along the edge of the long side of the phyllo. Place a ½ inch wide strip of caramelized onion next to the red peppers. Then, lay a 2 inch wide strip of the cooked greens evenly next to the caramelized onion.  Lastly, spread a 3 inch wide strip of the fennel-almond mixture evenly next to the greens.  Roll the phyllo roulade-style and, with a serrated knife, slice the top half of the roulade every inch or so.  Repeat to make a second roulade. Arrange them both on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned on the edges.  Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes and slice into individual pieces.  Serve warm.  If refrigerated, they should be re-baked at 300 degrees for 15 minutes before serving to bring back the crispness of the phyllo.

Kale Wrapped English Peas

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

Serves 4

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.

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

 

Asparagus En Papillote

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.

Peak of the Harvest San Diego Market Tour

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.

I enjoyed visiting with Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms and tasting his giant football-shaped Uzbeki melons–sweet and succulent! Some of the best melons I’ve ever had.

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

Serves 4

Passion fruit

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.

Almond Creme

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).

Assembly

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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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.