Four Days, Seven Farmers Markets and Two Farms in San Diego

Imperial Beach Farmers Market

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.

Frog Skinned Honeydew Melon From JR Organics

Thursday

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.

Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics

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.

Moncai Vegan

Friday 

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.

Red amaranth leaves from Wild Willow Farm

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.

Imperial Beach Pier

Saturday

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.

Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch

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.

Happy Pantry Sauer Kraut

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.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes from Suzie's Farm

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.

Shishito 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.

Amaranth at Wild Willow Farm

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.

Wheel barrows for volunteers at Wild Willow Farm

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!

Suzie's Organic Farm Stan

Sunday

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.

San Diego 03 04 2012-9

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.

Akram Attie at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market

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.

At Torrey Pines

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.

Tom King Farm Stall at the La Jolla Open Aire Market

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.

Pomegranates in San Diego

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.

Barry Koral's 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.

Soba noodles with amaranth, indigo rose tomatoes and

Wild Yam Soba Noodles with Indigo Rose Tomatoes, Amaranth and Walnuts

Serves 2

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.

Sauteed Shishito Chiles

Shishito Peppers

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 and Fresh Fig Salad

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.

 

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.

Cooking At VegFest Michigan

Spring is here and that means one of my favorite Michigan events–VegFest–a wonderful opportunity to discover a world of plant-based food and associated lifestyles.  There will be cooking demonstrations by chefs from all over the country, free food samples, lectures and lots more.

So, join me on Sunday, April 29, 11am to 5pm, at the Suburban Showplace in Novi. I will be there demonstrating a recipe from my private collection, Pistachio Quinoa & Kale Croquettes–simple, delicious and served with Garden Fresh Black Bean and Corn Salsa–one of my favorites.  See you there!

 

A new recipe by Chef George Vutetakis, author of:

Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years At The Legendary Inn Season Cafe

Pistachio Quinoa & Kale Croquettes

 

1 ½  cups shelled pistachios, toasted
2 cups lacinato kale, stemmed and blanched
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 cup quinoa, cooked
coconut oil

Place pistachios in a food processor and grind until a meal consistency.  Add kale, olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and water.  

Puree.  Transfer to a medium sized bowl and add quinoa.  Mix well.  In a griddle or saute pan on medium-high heat, add a small amount of coconut oil.

Form batter into silver-dollar sized disks (approximately 1 ounce) and place onto griddle.  Turn when brown and cook until other side is brown.

Serve hot with Jack’s Special Black Bean and Corn Salsa by Garden Fresh Gourmet.

Option:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Article and recipe in the Oakland Press
Article in the Detroit Free Press and Quesadilla Recipe

The Vegetarian Guy and VegFest are sponsored by

Super Mac N Cheese at the Motown Macdown


Garden Fresh Gourmet founder and CEO, Jack Aronson, recently invited me to participate in the first annual Motown Macdown in Ferndale, Michigan.  This macaroni ‘n cheese competition is a benefit for Justin’s Vision, a non-profit organization which sends children with severe illnesses and their families to the Give Kids The World Village in Kissemee, Florida.  The Macdown was to be a fierce battle of accomplished and well known chefs in Southeast Michigan:  Brian Polcyn of Forest Grill & Cinco Lagos, Brian Perrone of Slows BarBQ, Chris Franz of The Rattlesnake Club, Matt Baldridge of Cliff Bell’s, The Hungry Dudes bloggers and me–The Vegetarian Guy.

I got to work creating what I do best, delicious plant-based dishes, with a goal of showing vegans and non-vegans alike that a dairy free mac ‘n cheese can be as satisfying as its counterpart.  My entry was not only 100% plant-based, but also gluten-free–emulating the classic American macaroni and cheese many of us grew up on.  I drew inspiration from  my grandmother’s Greek pastitsio, a noodle and cheese dish, which I frequently enjoyed during childhood visits to her home.

Super Mac ‘N Cheese: MyFoxDETROIT.com

The recipe includes some ancient whole grains (quinoa, teff and amaranth), cashews, almonds and extra virgin olive oil–all healthy and energizing ingredients. This dish feels and tastes like the traditional mac ‘n cheese, without the simple carbohydrates or cholesterol laden fats.  It thrives on the synergy between flavor, texture, healthy ingredients and comfort. The coup d’etat is my chive and extra virgin olive oil puree, which adds a zesty “zing”–mostly appreciated by us grown up kids.

 

Although my entry did not win the competition, it was the surprise of the event.  After the blind tasting, many were asked if they knew one of the dishes was vegan and gluten-free.  Most tasters had no idea and were pleasantly surprised!  Proving that this dish can stand on its own in flavor and texture no matter what one’s dietary preference is.

The Macdown was a huge success.  Not only was it a great time with music and song–but it sold-out!  Justin’s Vision not only gained a lot of recognition and press through this fundraiser, but it raised enough funds to send a family to the Give Kids The World Village and helped to pave the way for the next exciting fundraiser!

Super Mac N Cheese

Super-food, Vegan and Gluten Free

Serves 6

10 cups water

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces Ancient Harvest quinoa macaroni

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large saucepan, bring water, ½ teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a boil.  Add macaroni and stir to remove clumping.  Cook until the pasta is tender around the edges, but firmer than Al Dente.  Strain, rinse with cool water, drain well and place in a bowl with ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons olive oil.   Mix well and reserve.

 

Blend A

½ cup raw cashews

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 ½ cups soy milk or other non-dairy milk

Puree all ingredients in a blender until very smooth and transfer to a bowl.  Reserve.

 

Blend B

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

25% of Blend A

¾ cup soy milk

1 cup Daiya cheddar style shreds

Puree all ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Reserve.

 

Bechamel

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup yellow onions, minced

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons teff flour

2 tablespoons amaranth flour

2 tablespoons almond flour

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ cup soy milk

75% (the rest of) of Blend A

½ cup water

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

½ cup grated Daiya cheddar style shreds

Lightly oil a 6×9 baking dish, set aside.  In a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, slowly cook the onions until clear around the edges, then add the garlic, teff and amaranth.  After 1 minute, add the almond flour, black pepper, smoked paprika, sea salt and turmeric.  After another minute, stir in soy milk and the remaining Blend A.  Simmer and stir until a thick gravy consistency, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in water, lemon juice and Blend B.  Transfer to baking dish and fold in the noodles and ½ cup Daiya.  Spread out evenly.

 

Topping

½ cup Daiya cheddar style shreds

¼ cup almond flour

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon mild paprika

Evenly sprinkle Daiya on top, then almond flour, oil and paprika evenly.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Note:  All ingredients were found at my local Whole Foods Market.  Many groceries now carry most of the ingredients.

Maple Pecan Pie for the Holidays!

Some years after George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, Thomas Jefferson gave him a gift of pecan trees to plant at his Mount Vernon estate.  First grafted commercially in 1846, pecans became integral to Southern hospitality and lifestyle.  Most of the world’s production is still grown in the Southern states.  Pecan pie was created in the 17th century by French settlers who were introduced to pecans by the native tribes in the area around New Orleans. The familiar version made with corn syrup does not show up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Thanksgiving 2008, our family held the first vegan versus traditional pecan pie throw-down.  My dairy-free, maple syrup-sweetened recipe has won the contest every year.  It is not full of fat, like most pecan pies, so you can help yourself to a second or third guilt-free piece.

Of course, the key to a good recipe is the freshness and quality of ingredients.  Pecans are harvested from September through December; there is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh pecan, toasted and dressed with maple syrup.  This is Americana at its best.

On our most recent journey from Detroit to San Diego, Sara and I took the southern route down to Nashville and then west through Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  While we found the plant-based culinary options to be limited, we discovered a few treasures –one of them being freshly harvested pecans.

We first started seeing pecans in New Orleans and then found the organic and unshelled ones at Whole Foods in Austin.  Our surprise discovery was just outside of Bowie, Arizona, between the New Mexico border and Tucson, where the climate is very dry.  Local olives, honey, pistachios and pecans were being sold at a reinvented Stuckeys, just off the highway, with the unlikely name of Dwayne’s Fresh Jerky. Dwayne is a colorful character who described the local bounty with humor and warmth.  He agreed with me that the freshness of pecans is paramount and can make the difference between a hum-drum recipe and a culinary all-star.  It is even better when you have a direct connection with the farmer, adding an unspoken magic to the dish.

Maple Pecan Pie

Pecans
2 ½ cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spread pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast for 11 minutes.  Remove and reserve.

Crust
1 cup unbleached wheat flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup blanched almond flour
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ plain soy milk or almond milk

In a food processor, pulse all crust ingredients until a dough-like consistency is formed, do not over mix.  Hand form dough into a patty and place into a lightly oiled 9 inch glass pie dish.  Gently press the dough evenly onto the bottom and sides of the dish.  Crimp the edges for a decorative look, if desired.

Filling
1 ¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon unsulphured molasses
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
3 tablespoons almond meal/flour
1 vanilla bean scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of the toasted pecans into a fine meal.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all filling ingredients and the pecan flour.  Pour into pie shell and evenly place the remaining 1 ½ cups of toasted pecans on top.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove and cover with aluminum foil, shiny side up.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and allow to air cool before refrigerating for 8 hours.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Notes
-For this recipe, I use Bob’s Red Mill flours and almond meal.
-For a gluten-free recipe, use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour instead of the wheat flours in the crust.

Harvest Vegetable Salad

 

Staying healthy sometimes can be a challenge.  Aside from taking common sense precautions, there is a lot we can do to keep ourselves healthy with food–colorful foods, that is.

The darker and more colorful fruits and vegetables are healthier with more anti-oxidants and immune building micro-nutrients.  For example:  red and yellow beets, carrots, radishes and red peppers–which all happen to be in my Harvest Vegetable Salad recipe.  Local farmers markets should have plenty of these vegetables in stock!

Harvest Vegetable Salad Recipe

Serves 6

Vegetables

1 ½ cups golden beets, peeled and grated

2 cups carrots, peeled and grated

2 cups parsnips, peeled and grated

½ cup red radishes, sliced into 1 inch long matchsticks

½ cup celery, finely diced

¼ cup sweet red pepper, finely diced

½ cup green onions, angle sliced thin

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients.

Dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup dried currants

½  teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar

¼ cup lemon juice

In a medium bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients and fold into the vegetable mix at least 30 minutes before serving.

Tip:  Use a food processor with a grating blade to grate beets, carrots and parsnips.

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.

Santa Fe to Boulder

State of the Veg Union Part 3

with Anasazi Bean Enchilada Recipe


Day three of our veg restaurant tour from San Diego to Detroit began in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, the oldest capital in the United States. It was Memorial Day and this unique city of all adobe-style buildings was full of tourists, musicians and artists enjoying the cloudless day.  Not far from the festive atmosphere of the old town center, was our destination, Body–a one-stop-shop with an organic restaurant, spa, yoga studio and clothing boutique.

Body’s calming atmosphere and enchanting decor set our expectations high. After exploring the various rooms, the popular yoga studio and the spa, we took our seats in the large, yet surprising empty, dining room.  Although there are numerous items for omnivores, there is a substantial vegan and raw offering. We ordered all raw and the food began to arrive shortly thereafter.

The coconut lemongrass soup, fresh and beautiful in color, was light and flavorful; unfortunately, the rest of our meal was not as exciting.  The wrap lacked flavor and was mushy, the pizza was too salty and had far too much tomato sauce and the dessert was simply passionless.  We were a bit surprised, considering the care the owners had taken to provide such a comprehensive facility to the residents of Santa Fe.

To be fair, our visit was a snapshot, only a glimpse at what was obviously a well-thought-out concept. It may be that they over-extended themselves to the point of having gaps in the details of the food.  It certainly deserves another try the next time I’m driving through Santa Fe.

We continued north to Taos, another remarkable old Spanish town and artist colony.  Entering this city made us feel as though we had stepped back in time.  It is located in a tributary valley off the Rio Grande and on its north side is the famous Taos Pueblo, said to have been built between 1000 and 1450 A.D..  Nearly 1900 people occupy the pueblo community today.

Surprisingly, as far as vegetarian offerings, Taos is a one horse town and that horse is called El Gamal--a very casual and artistic vegetarian cafe serving traditional Middle Eastern fare.  We ordered babaganoush, tabouli, falafels, salad and hummus–unfortunately, they had run out of chick peas and couldn’t prepare the hummus.  The food was fresh and flavorful and we were grateful for their effort.

Our meals in Santa Fe and Taos did not come close to our amazing experiences in Sedona and Scottsdale, but still were a marked improvement from our last trip a few years ago and good enough to get us through the Cimarron pass and north to Colorado.

Our next destination was in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in one of the most liberal cities in Colorado–Boulder.  Known for its stunning setting and “hippie” appeal, it constantly acquires top rankings in health and quality of life. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant is a small, upscale, jewel of a place located in the charming downtown area.  As we walked in, we were immediately taken with its beautiful decor, cleanliness and organization.

We began with a raw beet ravioli–a really stunning presentation, but, rather flavorless, relying entirely on the taste of the raw beets. Sara chose a delicious looking Mizuna salad with sea vegetables and I ordered Jamaican Jerk, tempeh over black rice with plantain chips, which was truly a work of art.

Although we appreciated the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the salad lacked pizazz. The Jamaican Jerk was heavy on tempeh, but was nicely balanced with black rice and good flavors.  We finished the meal with a peanut butter and chocolate vegan cheesecake, presented with impressive artistic flair, but it didn’t knock our socks off.

Leaf deserves another shot. They have worked hard to earn their wonderful reputation and are extremely conscientious about presentation, as well as providing a positive restaurant experience.  It would require several more visits for a proper review. Still, when a restaurant strives to achieve levels of gastronomic perfection, any misstep is unfortunate. Consistent culinary home-runs are a difficult thing to achieve, but a chef or owner’s personal attention increases the odds tremendously.

It was becoming apparent that veg restaurants in this country become great through vision and passion. With the heartland of the Midwest ahead of us, we continued to search for restaurants which define culinary perceptions in their local communities with dedication to quality of food and life through good ingredients, working with local farmers and using high quality organic products. This is especially true for plant-based restaurants where customers expect healing and life-enhancing characteristics on their plates. This attention-to-detail enables an everyday dining experience to be life changing.

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Next time, we visit the heartland of America in Nebraska and Iowa to continue the discovery of the State of the Veg Union!

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Inspired by our journey through the ancient desert lands of cliff-dwellers, pueblos and conquistadors, I created this Anasazi Bean Enchilada recipe to honor the rich traditions and sun-drenched history of the American Southwest.

 

State of the Veg Union Part 2 Sedona

Feeling rather full after stopping at two delightful veg restaurants in Scottsdale, we headed north toward ChocolaTree Cafe in Sedona, Arizona, a mostly raw cafe with an awesome reputation.  The journey through the mountains was breathtaking.

The landscape slowly transitioned from a desert-scape dotted with saguaro cacti to a high mesa semi-desert grassland with clumps of riparian forests and a rocky balsatic plateau of dormant volcano rock.  The road danced around the Agua Fria river creating dramatic landscapes and vistas.

We diverted off the main highway to the old mining town of Jerome, now an artist colony and tourist destination.

Around the corner from a popular biker gathering at the local saloon, we discovered an early 20th century diner which originally served the Chinese mine workers in an era of oppressive segregation. This unfortunate history explained why the diner was tucked away and out of sight from the main street.  Today, the location is appreciated for its spectacular panoramic view and the new owners are committed to working with local farmers to supply fresh produce for the restaurant, which was probably done when it first opened over 100 years ago.  A nice addition to a meat-centric tourist town like Jerome.

As the sun was reaching for the horizon, we meandered down the mountain and continued our journey into Sedona.  Every time I come here, I am in awe of the incredible red rock formations which frame the town. This time, with the intense pre-dusk light, the town looked like it was surrounded by a large, gold picture frame.  Sedona is known for connections to planetary energies–a place to commune with natural forces and to recharge.  I often wondered why the much-touted spiritual connections bypass food as a vehicle of awareness–this culinary adventure turned that around.

We arrived at ChocolaTree just as the setting sun made the red rocks surrounding Sedona glow like burning embers.  The outside of the restaurant building and patio was adorned with handcrafted art pieces and paintings.  Walking in, we were greeted by a four foot tall Shiva Lingam from India, the centerpiece of this warm and cozy restaurant.

We were encouraged to peruse the offerings of both packaged and fresh menu items.  While ChocolaTree puts most of their energy into raw living food, they offer some cooked vegan dishes.  The Curried Spring Roll and the Raw Falafels were recommended as appetizers.  We also ordered the All Raw Wrap and the cooked Ethiopian Collard Greens on Quinoa for entrees.

We walked to the open-air garden courtyard, past the retail displays of crystals, essential oils, talismans and artwork.  Tables surrounded a beautiful old tree strung with delicate lights.  Adjacent to the seating area was a kitchen garden full of borage, amaranth, basil, oregano and many other scented herbs in various states of growth and harvest.   The patio held  magical appeal and gave us something to ponder and discuss.

The food arrived in a timely manner and we applauded the suggested Curried Spring Rolls–we consumed them in a flash.  The Falafels were a good attempt, but had not been dehydrated quite enough.  The All Raw Wrap was more like a salad–leafy greens and vegetables in a seasoned wrap with a light dressing.

The Ethiopian Collard Greens on Quinoa didn’t look appealing on the plate, but once I tasted it, I was hooked. The collard greens, cooked to a buttery perfection, had a touch of fresh ginger and were topped with crumbled kale chips, giving it a slight crunch.  The bed of quinoa was the perfect match, making the dish a delicious and sensuous home run.  After dinner, we met owner Jen Moore and discussed mutual acquaintances and what a cafe like hers can do for a  community.  We polished off the meal with a piece of Pecan Pie–raw and creamy with a fantastic maple-like flavor.  It left us practically speechless.  Wow!  We left with a few packaged food items and, finding all rooms booked in Sedona, proceeded toward Flagstaff.

The meal was not only fulfilling, but, energizing.  We stopped on top of the mountain and gazed at stars so profuse the sky seemed white.  We discussed the power of food, how it can create change in society, the quality of life and spiritual pursuits.  Perfect meal, perfect night…

Please check out our next travels through dust storms and dessert to reach Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

To see the entire Veg Tour as it unfolds, read more here…

If you have suggestions, please email or write me on Facebook or comment here.

Here is my version of The ChocolaTree’s  Ethiopian Collard Greens:

Ethiopian Collard Greens

with Red Quinoa and Kale Chips

Click Here For The Recipe