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.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ~ John Keats

Royal Oak Farmers Market

Every fall at harvest time, I write about the Michigan farmers markets which are bursting with colorful fruits and vegetables.  Throngs of people converge on the markets to join in the harvest bonanza. The vibrant orange, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, pure green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash and deep green kales, collards and chards entice the eye like a Jackson Pollock art exhibit.  My readers know how much I admire and respect the men and women who work so hard to grow this food as free from adulteration as possible.

Cinzori Farms Certified Organic Farm Okra

I’m never sure what I’ll find this time of the year at the market. The ripening of each vegetable is totally up to the predictably unpredictable Michigan weather. There are always pleasant surprises–tender young okra from Cinzori Farms one week, baby fennel from Nature’s Pace Organics the next. I realized early on in my cooking career that planning the week’s meals around seasonal crops is how life was lived before modern commercial farming–a rewarding and healthy way to nourish body and soul.

Natures Pace Organics

For me, shopping is only the beginning of the journey.  Upon arriving home, it is a pleasure to prepare dishes from vegetables harvested within twenty-four hours of reaching the market.  I then embellish the creations with tender herbs and greens right from my kitchen garden.

Kale after a Summer Rain

My dishes are prepared using simple techniques to allow the incredible flavor of each ingredient to speak for itself.  The meal reflects the colors and textures of the market and is contemplative and energizing to consume.

Heirloom Tomatoes at the Royal Oak Farmers Market

Below is a recipe good at any time of year, but best during the peak harvest of tomatoes and corn. It is a whole grain corn cake made in the style of a South Indian Uttapam or a Gujarati Poodla.

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

Serves 6

Corn Cakes

1 cup ground whole cornmeal with the germ

1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds

1/4 cup chia seeds

1 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 cup corn off the cob

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped fine

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

Coconut oil for cooking

For best results, mix the cornmeal, hemp, chia and water, let stand for at least one hour.   Then, mix remaining ingredients, except oil, in with cornmeal mixture.  In a preheated cast iron skillet on medium-high heat, add 2 teaspoons coconut oil and 1/2 cup batter.  Using a spatula, push in the sides to form a 4 inch disc. Cook until nicely browned and carefully turn over.  When other side is brown, remove from the pan and repeat until all are cooked. Serve hot.

Fresh Tomato Relish

Fresh Tomato Relish

1 cup yellow pear tomatoes, halved

1 cup candy red cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup San Marzano tomatoes, diced in 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup tropea red onions, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 red serrano chile, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and allow the flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes.

Note:  Cornmeal, hemp and chia mixture can be made the day before.

Once all ingredients are mixed together, immediately begin cooking in skillet.

Best to make Fresh Tomato Relish before making the corn cakes.

I recommend Hampshire Farms certified organic cornmeal, fresh ground, whole and fresh ground.

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

 

Brussels Sprouts in January

Snow flurries dance in the cold, crisp air and the settled snow squeaks under my feet as I climb the porch stairs with bags from the market.  Even during the cold months, the brave and hearty Michigan farmers make the long trek to the Royal Oak Farmers Market every Saturday.  During a recent visit I purchased sweet red onions from Nature’s Pace Organics,

Siberian hardneck garlic from Green Organic Garlic  and Jim Burda of Burda’s Berry Farm brought huge, organic Brussels sprouts from his western Michigan neighbor Cinzori Farms.  Once inside my cozy kitchen, I began to prepare a simple dish which was sure to warm the body and the heart.

To prepare this dish, I used one of my favorite new kitchen tools–a twelve inch Scan Pan Pro , which is a teflon-free, non-stick saute pan which accommodates metallic instruments without scratching.  It also allows me to sear without looking, sauté without burning and cook slowly in order to achieve perfection–practically cooks itself.  Slightly caramelized brussels sprouts infused with the spicy warmth of black pepper, onions, garlic and olive oil…doesn’t get much better than that!

Black Pepper Brussels Sprouts and Red Onions

Serves 4

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic, thinly sliced

2 ½ cups red onions, sliced thin

4 cups Brussels sprouts, stem trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a twelve inch skillet on medium-low heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are tender.

The First Farmers Market

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

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

White Pepper Leek Tart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

A Market Inspired Recipe:

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

Asian Long Beans in Tahini Sauce

Serves 4
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic, minced

1 cup sweet onions, thinly sliced

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

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

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 ½ cups water

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

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

~P.B. Shelley

Seasonal cycles have ruled humanity since the beginning of time. No matter how hard we try to control them, inevitably everyone must succumb to the laws of nature.  Farmers markets, by definition, work with the earthly cycles of growth and regeneration. When shopping at them, we become partners with the land, locally and regionally.  The food we procure and the interactions at the markets enhance our lives with the energies of the earth and the vitality of communing with it. There is no better time to experience this than the transition from winter to spring. 

Winter

Winter in the Midwest, where I lived most of my life before San Diego, is often brutally cold, yet hardy shoppers come to the markets to buy cold storage items such as apples, leeks, onions and potatoes.  As the farmers gear up for spring, they order seeds, tend to cold frames, greenhouses and hoop-houses in order to get a good start on the season.

In Southern California, the hallmark of the winter season is citrus.  Unique varieties such as Satsuma tangerines, Paige tangerines, Naval oranges, Mandarin oranges, Persian limes, Mexican limes, Kaffir limes and citron grace the stalls of the local markets.  Lettuces, greens, herbs and vegetables are also available in moderate quantities, depending on the location of the farms and the methods used for growing, ie, permaculture, dry farming, hoop houses, plastic covers or other warming techniques.  On rare occasions, usually once every few years, a frost will temper the harvest in the warmest areas.

Since the growing season here is year round, farmers stagger plantings in order to prolong the harvest of tender varieties into months instead of weeks.  Examples of this are arugula, spinach, tat soi, chard and many varieties of kale.  Staggered plantings of garlic, leeks and green onions do the same.  San Diego farmers have to keep their market stalls filled year round, so the approach is very different from commodity farmers who supply their harvests for commercial food production, national and international supply chains

Spring

One of the joys of living in the Midwest is the arrival of spring. The animals and humans share the phenomenon with a flurry of activity. Buds pop up from half-frozen soil, birds are feathering nests and singing, land is cleared then tilled and people are running around in short-sleeves.  It is a time of dramatic change and the collective mood is one of exuberance. I do miss this and hope to experience some of it when I travel to Michigan in late March for my next book tour.

I’ll be be hanging out at the Royal Oak Farmers Market with my farmer friend Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms who, in addition to having his greenhouse planted herbs and plants, will have green garlic shoots, spinach and leeks. 

Other Michigan spring delicacies to be discovered are morel mushrooms, fiddle-head ferns and asparagus. As spring progresses, baby lettuces, raspberries and sugar snap peas will bolster the drama of spring at the Michigan markets.

In San Diego, spring is different. To say there is no spring in Southern California is incorrect; it has its own unique version. While the markets of San Diego continue to bustle all winter, I always get excited when spring crops start showing up. The warm ever-constant sun brings people to the markets and the romantic days of mid-February to early-March find shoppers searching for the abundant sensual pleasures.

The first sweet strawberries appear at JR Organics in early February.  Depending on the Santa Ana winds and warmth of the sun, the harvest steadily increases until it peaks in May. Giant one and two pound sweetly-fragrant Chanterelle mushrooms from the mountains near San Luis Obispo are sold.

Tender lettuces, baby kale, spinach and green elephant garlic are abundant at Sage Mountain Farms. Young broccoli, radicchio and baby beets are at Suzies Farm. Siberian Kale and cilantro accompany the basil of Archi’s Acres.

Fuerte avocados, chermoyas and guavas begin in February at Korals Tropical Fruit Farm with Kumquats and a continuing plethora of citrus  in March.

Lone Oak Ranch begins to press fresh pomegranate juice. Terra Bella Ranch has the very special Livermore red walnuts, almonds and Chandler walnuts. Spring doesn’t just pop up in San Diego, it comes in like a high tide. The arrival is heralded by the bounty and festivity of the markets.

I encourage everyone to shop at the local farmers markets.  Even during the off-season months, there is much to discover. In addition, we make a community connection, life is enhanced and we are healthier for it.


In the coming months I will be working on a lot of quick and easy to prepare recipes which I plan to share with my subscribers.  So if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my blog below, or on the upper right hand corner of this page.

See you at the markets!

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Michigan Book Tour, The First Part

 

Thursday Night:  I was full of anticipation as my evening flight from San Diego landed in Detroit.  A week of touring and catching up with old friends and family lay ahead.   As the plane taxied, I was thinking of the many ways one can benefit from my cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions, and the best way to communicate that at the numerous events.

The first thing I did after picking up my rental vehicle was load 1200 pounds of books from the shipping terminal into the car.  Good thing the Chevrolet Traverse had substantial shock-absorbers! It was hot and humid and after that workout, I was eager to get to the hotel.

Friday:  A meeting with Dr. Michael Dangovian of the Wellness Training Institute kicked off the day.  We discussed my participation at Saturday’s celebration of the first anniversary of his institute. We see this event as the first step in a Food as Medicine program.

Later that day, I made my way to Stephan Brink’s Health Oasis in Royal Oak to teach the art of spicing, namely, how to make masala.

The class was a benefit for the local chapter of Women For Women, a group which helps women deal with health and social crisis situations.  It was held outdoors in a courtyard; the balmy Michigan evening added to the intimacy and culinary magic.

Masalas are provocative spice mixtures which are the basis for Indian cuisine.  I demonstrated, to the twenty or so attendees, how to toast, grind and mix three masalas and provided spicing techniques for making a large variety of Indian dishes with the authentic flavors achieved only through the freshly ground spices.  The intoxicating scents of toasting urad dal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and a multitude of other whole spices wafted through the quiet neighborhood.

Inn Season Cafe provided a delicious Bengali Rice Salad which satiated the wetted appetites. Most of the guests took my cookbook home with them.


Saturday:  At 7:30am I arrived at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, the bustling 81 year-old indoor market.  Don, Donna and Anthony Cinzori welcomed me as if I were long lost family.  They have one of the largest certified organic farms in Michigan and tirelessly provide some of the best produce I have seen anywhere.  The Cinzori family is warm, generous and knowledgeable.  I always look forward to discussing the latest in produce and organic trends with Don.

There wasn’t much time for that this day.  The market started to buzz and customers hummed around the colorful Cinzori stall like bees looking for sweet nectar.  The market is like a second home and I was able to speak with one person after another about the cookbook and the Don’s produce, which had inspired many of the recipes.

At about one o’clock, my son Spyros and I headed over to the Wellness Training Institute in Sterling Heights.  Dr. Michael Dangovian was celebrating the first anniversary of his new clinic and I was honored to be the featured speaker. Over two-hundred people attended the event which included food from Inn Season Cafe, talks by Dr. Dangovian and various teachers who participate in his program of integrative medicine and preventative cardiology.

My lecture was organized around the importance of connecting the dots with your food–knowing where it comes from and supporting your local farmers. I also spoke about food and community, food being not only the primary nourishing element in life, but the primary nurturing element.  All the great food cultures of the world weave food into the daily fabric of life and see it as a measure of life’s quality.  Without it, there is no benefit to longevity.

Most of the questions fielded were about specific ingredients I recommended and the health benefits they provide.  The afternoon was a success and as a result, Dr. Dangovian and I are planning future events with targeted information for attendees to gain specific tools they can apply toward a healthier life. This was just the beginning and we are excited by the possibilities.  If there is one thing I have missed about running the restaurant, it was seeing the fulfillment in the faces of our guests.  This Saturday afternoon, I saw the same looks.

Sunday: I arrived early at the Birmingham Farmers Market,  an empty parking lot with a few tents going up. As I set up my booth, the market began to take shape;  trucks pulled up with bushels of fresh corn, potatoes, zucchinis, pumpkins and fresh flowers.  A number of organic farmers came together on the south side of the lot with their splendid hand-picked vegetables.

Cousin Donny Hobson, the market master, is not just a farmer, he is a showman.  This day he planned to attract shoppers with Hay-Day.   Antique tractors, farm implements and bales of hay decorated the market with a festive county fair-like atmosphere.

Two of my favorite farms at the Birmingham market are Natures Pace Organics and Blue Water Organics.  Natures Pace is family-operated with a core dedication to sustainable foods.

Lee Chaput of Blue Water Organics is not a farmer by trade, but has the passion of one. She discovered Elmer and Edna Slabaugh’s certified organic Amish farm in Brown City, Michigan.  Living a dedicated Amish lifestyle, the Slabaughs use neither electricity or automobiles, so Lee brings the vegetables and the feel of the Amish farm to the Birmingham Market.  Look for a post down the road for a story about the farm.

 

Each week there is something new at the market.  I loved being in Michigan at the beginning of the harvest with the trees displaying the vivid colors of autumn.