Try Tatsoi Salad

IMG_1822I like to think of myself as being pretty well versed in vegetables, particularly in the members of the brassica family. One of the more of the brassicas, broccoli, was my favorite vegetable as a child. My mother would steam it until it was bright forest green and then serve it to me with a little dollop of mayonnaise. My brother, who is one year my senior, didn’t want anything to do with the texture of mayonnaise, and would prefer starvation over having to taste anything that wasn’t white, brown, or orange. He would recoil in horror at the display of green and white that I would excitedly shovel onto my fork.

The praise that I earned for eating my vegetables was encouraging, but it was not my sole reason for getting excited about them. I know this because I would often trade foods with my brother when my parents weren’t looking, sliding my chicken breast onto his plate and taking his asparagus or cauliflower. When it came to broccoli, I almost always favored those bright green little trees over everything else on my plate.

Like many young people, my mind was opened to new experiences in college, the more appropriate of which can be discussed in this blog and includes a long list of brassica vegetables. I prided myself on my familiarity with some of the more obscure varieties, and would smile inwardly when I had the opportunity to introduce someone to something new. When, at the farmers market, I wandered by a booth and noticed a shiny little bunch of unfamiliar leaves sitting decoratively in little metal tubs in a section market ‘brassica’, I took notice.

“umm..what’s this?” I asked out of the side of my mouth, pretending to convey embarrassment.
“That’s tatsoi, you have never had it before?” the vendor asked.
“I knew that” I said, in the tone of an eight year old, “I just wanted to see if you knew” the vendor laughed. “It’s kind of a buttery, peppery, type green, with a spinach-like texture.” My mind conjured up flavors of spinach, which I often to find to be boring, and I slowly began to back away.
“it’s kind of like arugula” she added, and I snapped forward like a yo yo and dug out a dollar from my bag. “Sold!” I said, snatching up the tatsoi and handing her the dollar.

The flavor of tatsoi is just as the vendor described. It is grassy and mild, with a buttery texture and a black peppery finish. It has less of a bite than arugula, and a more smooth mouth feel. Delicious!

Try Tatsoi Salad
1 small bunch tatsoi
3 small fresh carrots, sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small heirloom red tomato, sliced into wedges
1 small heirloom yellow, sliced into wedges

Dress with: 
3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dark honey
grated fresh ginger (if you have it around, I didn’t have any when I made this, but I imagine it would fit well)

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to yell at the cheese curd vendors ‘what is wrong with you people!'”

Vibrant Duet Salad

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It was the best kind of connection: effortless. Dunja just appeared at the market one day and within five minutes of her arrival we were chatting as though we had known each other for years. It was while we were washing dishes that I discovered that Dunja is a friend of one of my first culinary heroes, Christina Pirello (Technically, Christina Pirello was my second culinary hero after Graham Kerr, whose show I used to watch religiously back when I was sporting footsie pajamas). I also discovered that Dunja practices a vegan macrobiotic cooking style, which was exciting for me since I rarely encountered macrobiotics during my time in the midwest.

Dunja is from Croatia, ¬†which she informed me is one of the largest (if not THE largest?) macrobiotic institutes in the world. She loves food and cooking as much as I do, which is apparent from her vibrant and delicious original vegan macrobiotic recipes. If you want to be amazed, check out her site http://www.rentajchefa.com/recipes.php (click on the “English” button in the upper right corner).

In an act that sealed our friendship, Dunja and I prepared these salads together side by side. I emptied out all of the vegetables from our refrigerator, and lay them gingerly on the counter. Then I handed Dunja a knife and a cutting board, and took one of each for myself. It was exciting to work side by side with a chef that I admire and respect, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would come up with given the choice of ingredients. Here is what was created:

Emily’s Cabbage Radish Slaw
1/4 shredded red cabbage
2 small kohlrabi, peeled and shredded
8 radishes, shredded
1/2 Tbsp ume plum vinegar
2 tsp dark honey
1/2 tbsp brown rice syrup
1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup ground cherries

Dunja’s Arugula Salad with Roasted Garlic Tomato Croutons
1/2 cup baby tomatoes
2 cups arugula
1 small sliced raw zucchini
1/2 clove garlic
1 spring onion, diced
1/2 cup basil
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt
1/2 Tbsp ume plum vinegar
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp capers
Toss salad together and garnish with:
2 slices toasted sprouted grain bread spread with roasted garlic tomato sauce

Christina’s vote: “This salad was wow, wow!”

The Sun-Rises to the Beet (Sunrise Pasta with Coconut Beet Sauce)

I pretty much ignore him every week as I walk down the aisles, clipboard in hand. He stands behind a table and two large coolers, smiling and taking in the scenery, as though he were a hiker in a commercial for allergy medicine. He always seems to float in a cloud of serenity, and I get the feeling that this weekend gig of selling goods at the farmers market is the least stressful part of his week. In stark contrast, I balance an extra large coffee cup in my grip, and try to hold myself so that the dripping eruption of jet fuel stays contained to the area around my hands and misses my shirt. I frantically dart from booth to booth, scribbling down a list of vegetables trying desperately to categorize them into logical order before calling in to the “fresh and local” radio show with Susan Berkson and Bonnie Dehn. If curious, most of the vendors ask me what I am up to, why I am walking around with a clip board, or (if they know me) what’s on the schedule for the day’s market talk.

Not the calm one.

He just stands.

Stoic.

Quietly amused.

Watching.

I don’t usually avoid him on purpose, although sometimes I fear that my constant state of frazzle will pierce through the calm and send his energy field into anaphylactic shock. Mainly, I just haven’t had much to ask him about. He sells fresh pasta, which, isn’t a seasonal food and so it doesn’t get too much air time on the radio show in the summer. It also happens to be something that, until recently, belonged to a category of foods I was attempting to eat less of.

Last Sunday, the sun blazed so hot that it cooked the souls out of the ground. They rose in steamy streams and hovered about clinging to the fabric of our shirts and haunting every corner of breathable air. The vegetables wilted in terror, but they were only pretending, lying down to play dead until the weather breaks. The people came and went quickly, they were tethered to the unshakable wills of small children, who couldn’t quite express the effect that the heat was having on their mood quite as well as their scrunched up faces and irritable glares. The market was slow. I decided to use the time to figure out what I am going to make for my cooking demo on the July 24th. The pasta man stuck out like a tree in the deserted aisle. I wondered over to him.

“Hi” I said.

“Hi there, can I help you find something?”

“are you the pasta maker?”

“no, I just sell for my neighbor on the weekends. I don’t make pasta, but I do grow a lot of my own food.”

“Really, what do you grow?”

“Here, try a cherry.” He said, producing a cherry bowl from behind the table. “I planted this tree when my daughter was born. That was over 20 years ago now, and every year it produces like crazy!” He said, his eyes glistening with excitement.

The cherry had a flavor so rich and perfectly “cherry” that it almost tasted artificial. It was delicious.

“Do you have a pasta that will go well with golden beets?”

“Here” He said with a sly smile. Try these…

I took home two packages of pasta, and red and golden beets. After some delicious experimentation and finally the approval of a discerning board of judges (thank you Christina and Jessie) I came up with the following dishes: Both feature the product of the week (beets). Recipes will be posted following the demonstration at the Minneapolis Farmers Market at 10:30 am on Sunday, July 24th. It’s free and open to the public, please come!

These are a few of my favorite things

I have a cousin who used to dream of one day becoming a tour guide. In the summers we would often spend two weeks together up at my grandparents house in Maine. He would give us tours of the house, day after day, we would be introduced to the kitchen, the pantry, the bathroom, the linen closet. We would often tease him, in the way that kids do, about being “off of his rocker”, but now I think that he may have been onto something.

It’s fun seeing my home through the eyes of a traveler. This was the thought that occupied my mind while running through the shady strip lined with fragrant lilac trees. It was a hidden oasis nestled smack in the middle of a split suburban throughway during rush-hour.

“Do runners typically wave when they pass each other in Vermont?” I asked our east coast visitor. The lilac trees opened up, letting us out onto an island of soft green. A narrow strip of brown marked a compact trail build by hundreds of stomping running shoes. I was remembering being really surprised by how friendly people are in Minnesota. Truth be told, it terrified me.

“Um, actually, we don’t have the volume of runners where I live in Vermont that you do here, nor do we have the trail system. I hardly see people when I run.” She continued, “The people are really friendly here, actually, I am amazed by how friendly they are. It’s amazing how people will take the time to talk to a complete stranger about the weather.”

Walkers, runners, bicyclers, skateboarders, our suburban streets have the activity of a beach town. No temperate day goes unappreciated, or undiscussed. On the weekends, the local farmers market where I work is transformed to a fairground, where street performers play and children tug their parents around with strawberry smeared grins. I stand at the demo station waiting for people to ask where to find the best rosemary, or who has those little red new potatoes. I listen for these questions, and often butt-in to answer them regardless of whether they are addressed to me or not. It thrills me to guide people through the market. I’m sure that my cousin will be pleased to hear that I often find myself wondering if there is a demand for farmers market shirpas in this economy.

Toward the end of my shift I received this text message from my friend Josh.

“Are you at working at the market today? We have some out of town guests and we are here.”

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to share. The strawberries are ripe, the flowers are blooming, a bounty of greens lines every stall, scattered tomatoes, potatoes, kohlrabi, and red radishes stick out like blushing jewels, the smell of herbs solidifies the whole experience into a memory.

Here are some of my favorite things that were shared with my friends and me and on our tour of the market today. Some of them are not things that we sell at the market, like this fermented garlic that the Worker Bs brought back from their travels out east: And here are some greens that grower Shur Yang identified for us on our radio show (to listen to the show, click on Saturday June 18th) (garlic scapes with a single sprig of chinese broccoli on top). When I got home I sauteed a whole bunch of chinese broccoli with three or four garlic scapes. Inspired by an AMAZING cooking demonstration from blogger Amy Peterson of “Green your plate“, I flavored them with the following ingredients.Mmmm delicious! Happy travels!

 

Fertilizer and Omelettes

Asparagus Omelette with Bacon and Chives Recipe

“It’s what’s on this table” Mike said, as he scooped his hand through the soft brown pellets, lifting up a handful and letting it drop from his fingers like sand. It reminded me of rich chocolate Ovaltine, that drink we used to have as kids, only much darker.

“Black gold?” I said.

“Hey, have you been reading my notes?” Mike replied, laughing. He was getting ready to give a “market talk” about earthworm castings at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Some of the growers have been mentioning castings a lot recently, mostly in reference to how they make a casting tea to spread on their crops. This, they have found, gives them a better product.

“Castings”, it turns out, is just a fancy word for poop.

Poop tea.We joked around about earthworm castings for several moments, before the conversation turned to the mating habits of bees. It seemed a totally natural turn, considering the other half of the table contained a giant display of worker B products. Mike (pictured above) and Liesa (pictured below) are the worker bee’s of Worker B. “So I understand how bees mate, and it’s crazy, but I still don’t get the whole chicken egg fertilization thing.” Liesa said.

“Uhhh..” I said, trying to find a response that would make me seem knowledgeable, or at the very least, clever. I had nothing.

“yeeeaaaii don’t know about that one. I’ll find out for you though!” I said.

I took out my phone dove out of the conversation and into the chaos of shoppers zig-zagging through the aisles. With loose shoulders I dodged and shimmied my way through, narrowly avoiding many a fanny pack. Unruly green onions sprouted from shopping bags, whipping me as I passed. I had to tip-toe through buckets full of tulips, but nothing would stand in the way of my mission.

Destination: Blue Gentian.

Darryle, of Blue Gentian, farms chickens… and ducks, and turkeys. He also has sheep, pigs, goats, and cows. Here is what he had to say about chickens:

Chicken mating lasts less than 30 seconds, during which the rooster sperm enters the oviduct. The rooster sperm then travels through the hen’s reproductive organs to the infundibulum, which is downstream of the hen’s ovary. The journey to the infundibulum can take over a week, but once there, the sperm can remain for several days, ambushing eggs as they are released from the ovary. The unsuspecting chickens are used to laying eggs, fertilized or not, they do it almost daily.

“My chickens leave me 3-5 eggs every day” said one of the master gardeners at the market.
“Wait a minute, you have chickens? I thought you said you lived in Minneapolis?”
“Oh yes, I have 8! The city allows you to have them after your neighbors have signed off that it is okay and your coup has been inspected.” She replied.

Interesting. I don’t have a coup, and I am pretty sure my neighbors wouldn’t be too thrilled with me housing chickens in our apartment (not that it matters much, turns out Saint Paul is much more lenient than Minneapolis when it comes to owning poultry.) I wanted to stay and hear more about how to own chickens..but I was dying to get back to Liesa with my new found knowledge.

“Makes sense” Liesa said, shrugging. “Thanks!” She grinned.

“Thank YOU!” I replied. “This is totally interesting. Now I need to know your favorite egg recipes so that I can make a dish to go with this story. Any ideas?”

“I usually just make leftover omelettes.” Mike chimed in. “I’ll put anything leftover in an omelette. Even pizza!”

“Well, I do have some asparagus leftover from yesterday..”

 

Asparagus with butter-tea infusion

I love a rainy day at the farmer’s market, and here’s why:

The contrast of color is amazing. Red, purple, blue and yellow flowers protrude out of the dull gray skies, with soft petals that look as though they were carved out of butter.

The sound of rain smacking into puddles is relaxing.

The produce stays perky all morning, and due to slower traffic, the good stuff is still available so when I am done with work and ready to shop.

Their is plenty of time to exchange stories with the vendors. For example:

Fascinating!

And it got me thinking. Why don’t I ever cook with tea? Mrs. Kelly has lots of award winning tea’s available at the market, and all of them seem like they would contribute a really unique flavor well suited for…well I don’t know, asparagus maybe? Here is Mr. Kelly talking about one of their latest creations:

Feeling inspired, I swung by the table of Produce Acres Cold Springs Farm to visit “the asparagus guy”. I bought a pound of asparagus. Then, after some discussion with the Mr. Kelly, I decided to flavor the asparagus with green jasmine tea. First, I melted some butter (~1/2 stick) over low heat, and poured in 2 tsp green jasmine tea. It seemed like the tea trapped the milk solids (or something) because when I went to strain the mixture, only liquid poured through. This is a good thing, because the milk solids in butter is what causes butter to sometimes burn. Essentially, what is in the bottom of this measuring cup is jasmine green tea infused ghee (clarified butter). After a quick sautee of the asparagus with 2 cloves of garlic, a little salt, and this delicious butter concoction, I poured about 2 tsp water into the pan and covered with a lid to steam for 2 min. The end result was quite tasty!

Herb magic

The wind stampeded through the lot, picking up napkins and knocking over plates, and leaving smears of mustard and coleslaw in its wake. The market employees, it seemed, had all managed to position themselves away from their shady tents in order to absorb warmth from available patches of sunlight. I had abandoned the demo station, and was standing next to Loretta and Sandy watching helplessly as gusts threw themselves into the tent’s billowing white walls.

“I’ve heard of tents actually lifting off of the ground and impaling people before.” Sandy said, sounding depressed.

Both Loretta and I looked at her, quizzically

“..at another market” she continued. We all exhaled hard, and stared back at the tent. We were like innocent villagers, watching from a distance as enemy troops ransacked our home.

A strange rustling was brewing behind us. I swung around and observed a parting sea of market shoppers as a large white van emerged. The bright-eyed and sunny, Mrs. Bonnie Dehn (affectionately referred to as the MN herb lady, because she and her husband are associated with the delicious herbs that they grow on their farm, Dehn’s Gardens) was in the driver’s seat. The van stopped at our feet and Bonnie jumped down, smiling and waving as she rushed to open the side door. Within moments all thoughts of the wind had vanished and we were reclaiming our fallen empire by bringing in herbs, terracotta pots, and potting soil.

As she hooked on the microphone for her market talk, I mentioned to Bonnie that earlier in the morning Loretta and I had a tasting of several of different varieties of Dehn’s farm’s mint, including apple, pineapple, chocolate, and orange mint.

“Oooooh, try THIS!!” Bonnie said, excitedly, and she picked a little red bud off of one of the herb plants and handed it to me. I placed the flower on my tongue and tasted.. petal, with a hind of grass, then nothing..and then..

POOF.

All at once like a shot of compressed air, the pineapple flavor exploded on my palate, and as quickly as it came, it was gone.

“Wow, what was that?” I asked.

“It was pineapple sage, here, rub the leaves it’s very fragrant”. Bonnie pet the sage gingerly with the flat side of her fingers, the way one would if they were to carefully stroke a chinchilla, or brush a harp without making a sound. I ran my fingers over the leaves and inhaled their scent, which was fresh and cleansing, like being washed with rain.

The wind continued, but Bonnie had barricaded herself behind a fortress of herbs and laughter. One by one the people gathered, feeling assured by her presence that they were safe from the chilly assaults of the wind. A few soldiers went down, the tri-colored sage, the lemon thyme, and the Greek oregano, but Bonnie plowed through her talk as though it were a mild and temperate summer day. The entire time she spoke, I asked myself why I don’t simply surround myself with herbs all the time. It feels so good to be around them, yet I always seem to talk myself out of buying them, fearing that I will be neglectful, or harvest too much too soon and end up killing the plant. Fortunately for me, Bonnie doesn’t let people go around empty handed.

“Here honey” Bonnie said, before leaving after her talk. She was clutching the edges of a pot overflowing with a cornucopia of herbs. “Take this home and put it on your windowsill.”

I practically skipped to my car, herbs in hand, mentally hooking their flavors together and taking them apart as though I were a kid on Christmas morning having just received a kit of Legos.

I love my job.

The longer the winter, the sweeter the parsnip?

Spring-dug parsnip chips with fresh mint

“Have you ever had a spring-dug parsnip?” My hand hovered over the little basket of what looked like white carrots. I froze at the question, and looked up from under my sweatshirt hood.

“no, why, are they different from fall parsnips?” I asked, slightly embarrassed for my ignorance. His tone implied that I might want to reconsider my purchase after the lesson I was about to receive.

“YES..” Heinel’s farmer Don answered, in a cautioning tone. Then he said”…they are much SWEETER!”

It was like having somebody say ‘sorry, I don’t have a dollar for you…but you can have twenty!’

My hand came back to life, and commenced greedily loading parsnips into the loot-bag that swung from my wrist.

Farmer Don continued, “we made parsnip chips with them, they were really good.”

At those words my taste-buds sprung out of bed. The salty-sweet crispness of a parsnip chip would be just the thing to justify this wintery day in mid-May. Since the heat in our building has recently been switched to air-conditioning, I figured it would be nice to have the oven going for warmth.

When I got home, I consulted the internet about spring-dug parsnips. According to various sources, many vegetables get woody or bland durning the winter rest, but parsnips seem to just get tastier.

Sometimes they get so sweet that you can even eat them raw. Timing is important, however. If they are left in the ground too long, the budding foliage will rob sugar off of the parsnips and you will be left with a hardened bitter root. I knew I wasn’t going to have to worry about that. Farmer Don is an excellent grower of vegetables. I made Heinel Farms spring-dug parsnip chips today and they were delicious!

Note: I like to finish my parsnips with a sprinkle of mint. We have several varieties of mint at the Minneapolis Farmers Market this time of the year, including chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and orange mint!

 

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