Sunday, July 28, 2013

Phyto for the Right-o...

Most of us eat food because it's what keeps us alive and we want the nutrition it provides. Those who care about how much their food nurtures them and keeps them strong will want to know scientific studies have revealed Nature's great gift to human nourishment, phytonutrients, has been given to us on a use it or lose it, fast food basis. Freshness is everything.

In her new book, Eating on the Wild Side, Jo Robinson explains that the thousands of phytonutrients in our fresh food--some of them are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene, not unimportant fillers--dissolve very fast once a plant is snapped from its roots, i.e. harvested. So there's virtually little to no nutrition left in the supermarket produce after it's traveled thousands of miles from the farm to the check out. And you do not get any benefit taking these nutrients extracted one by one into separate pills: it's their synergy in the plant that energizes you.

As it happens, the foods we most count on for the phytonutrients that bolster our immune system and fight our aging process are the very ones most likely to have died in transit. They're best eaten as soon as picked, which means grab them at your local farmers' market and go. I'm talking about asparagus, spinach, broccoli, kale and leaf lettuces. Also oregano, thyme, basil and parsley, especially parsley. Today is everything; tomorrow is too late. Go make green sauce right now. A recipe is on the parsley page of How to Fix a Leek...

Additionally, Robinson assures us we don't have to forage in the wild to find foods full of these lifesavers. Familiar foods will do, if we so to speak nip them in the bud. Scallions are as nutrient dense as wild onions and cherry tomatoes remain close to their Andean ancestor in packing a phytonutrient punch.

In sum, the most nutritious element of vegetables and fruits could easily be DOA.  Many farmers' market growers might not know, she says, they have this advantage and use it as a marketing device.Well, now you know.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fast, Fresh and Fabulous

Sadly, all the farmers I've seen at markets this July have grown the exact same things so there's not much variety to work with. Too bad.
And shame on the farmers for denying us the pleasures of, say, creamy yellow potatoes like Yukon golds or carolas or butterballs. And the vivid purple potatoes that add dazzle to a dish. Sad not to have French breakfast radishes to roll in butter or soft goat cheese and then sea salt.

But of course there's plenty of the usuals and here come tomatoes worth the long wait. So here's a fast way to process them into something tasty, eye-catching and perfect for the heat:
Panzanella, Italian bread salad.

6 slices Tuscan (which is salt free) bread or a Baguette, crust off
2 med Red onions
1 lg green bell peppe
4 med/lg ripe tomatoes (remember, cracking around the stem indicates honest sun ripening)
1/2 c shredded Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
12 pitted Kalamata olives
1 lg bunch fresh basil leaves, stemmed and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup most flavorful olive oil (this makes a difference)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

Whisk the garlic, salt, vinegar and olive oil into a dressing. (If you like really salty flavor, add two anchovy filets, mashed.)

Cut the bread into bite size chunks and soak them 15 minutes in ice water. Drain and squeeze with your hand to dry them. Crumble the bread into a large serving bowl.

Slice the onion into thin rings and add to the bread. Core and wedge the tomatoes and add also. Dice the green pepper into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad. Add the olives, cheese and basil. Stir to mix evenly.

Pour on the dressing, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Maybe you can serve with this total Carrot Soup, chilled or warm. 
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 med yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp either dill or caraway seed (your taste)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp ground Cayenne or Arbol chili
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
7 lg carrots, cut into thin disks
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (if you used dill seed) or coriander (if you used caraway)

Combine everything but the last ingredient in a large saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat 20-30 minutes, until carrots are very tender.

Cool 5-10 minutes and puree. Add the fresh herb and serve.

What a vividly memorable summer setting: orange soup with red, green and black salad.  With room left over for ice cream.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fast Food

Colorful berries and fruits have begun pushing cold weather greens to the side at farmer's markets now, so this is a reminder of what wonderful--and of course nutritious and environmentally healthy--fast food they can be.

Strawberries and raspberries are a human's dream come true: just nab and nosh. You don't have to do anything but enjoy their sweetness.  Remember to pick the red berries because strawberries will not continue to ripen once they are picked and don't wash any berry until the moment you're ready to eat it. Water rots berries.

A splendidly vibrant and nutritious lunch can be pulled together in no time out all from vegetables now piling up in the bins and baskets. Consider a table/plate of colorful salads: carrot and parsley, beet and dill, fennel and olive, cabbage and chicken, yogurt and cucumber-- with crusty bread and a platter of local cheeses, finished with a bowl of berries. Simple, sophisticated, slimming.

The cabbage and chicken salad recipe, from Vietnam, is in How to Fix a the end of June so no need to repeat it here. To make carrot salad, just grate a few carrots into a bowl, chop an almost equal amount of parsley and add that, season with salt and pepper, dress with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.

You do have to boil or bake beets to get a salad or pickle but that's not too difficult. Cool and peel them. Slice each into thin disks and put in a wide, shallow bowl. Slice a purple onion or Vidalia sweet onion into very thin disks, break these into rings and add to the beets. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of allspice.  Make a dressing that is 3 parts cider vinegar to 1 part olive oil and moisten the beets. Then chop fresh dill all over them.

For a fennel salad, cut off the stems off a large bulb, but keep a few of the frilly fronds for garnish. Core the fennel, wash, dry and chop it into bite sized pieces.  Combine in a serving bowl with 8-10 pitted black Kalamata olives and 1/2 cup roasted walnut pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Dress lightly with pure olive oil blended with 1 tbsp orange juice. Chop some of those frilly fronds and sprinkle on top.

The yogurt/cucumber salad known in Greece/Turkey as tsatsiki and in India/Nepal as raita is also in How to Fix a Leek... It take about two minutes and lasts (stored in the refrigerator) for days.  This is typically used in hot climates to cool the body so it's a perfect summer side dish.

And finally, tomatoes are almost here. So don't forget that summer special, real Greek salad. The authentic farmer's salad--and it's called farmer's salad in Greece is simply sliced cucumber disks, chunks of fresh tomato, strips of green pepper, black olives, crumbles or chunks of fresh feta cheese--available at farmers' markets--olive oil and fresh lemon juice.  Nothing else.  Nothing expresses the yumminess of summer better than that. And it's so easy if you shop right.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Yo Farmers: a word from the complaint department

Dear Farmers:
If I or anybody else wants to buy our food wrapped in cellophane packaging, preweighed and priced, we can go to any supermarket or convenience corner store in the country. We don't go to the Farmers' Market to buy greens pre-bagged in amounts you want to dump, often amounts far larger than we want or need.  So please get over this and let us do what we go to the super farmers' markets instead of ordinary supermarkets for: to smell, feel and choose our food in the amount we want.

And btw: salad mix is not supposed to be all your overgrown lettuce, herb tops and other garbage bagged up for sale.  If we want to cut each lettuce leaf to serve a salad, we can buy a whole head. Salad mix should be baby greens, period.

Sorry to be crabby but somebody has to keep pushing for some quality control. It's in everybody's best financial interest. Besides, those bags just add to the garbage we're trying to reduce.  Duh...