Kale. Bok choy. Oyster mushrooms. Turnips.
Being a consumer of local produce has opened my palette and my kitchen to a number of tasty delights that I would have otherwise passed over in a grocery store.
It started several years ago when a group of my co-workers decided to join a community-supported agriculture program. We each bought a ďshareĒ for the season in Share Life Farms, in rural Marshall. Each week from May to October, we received a bag full of fresh-picked produce. We never knew what exactly would be contained in the bag, other than that it would be delicious. It was a little like Christmas morning each Friday when we picked up our shares.
It was then that I first cooked with kale, eggplant, bok choy and a variety of squashes. Sometimes I would open the bag filled with color and wonder exactly how to prepare some of the veggies. I often turned to the Internet for recipe searches featuring the unknown produce.
The experience with the CSA taught me to try a variety of produce and introduced me to some of my favorite veggies.
I am happy to find some of my favorites from Share Life Farms at the Sedalia Area Farmersí Market (sometimes from Share Life owner Jim Thomas, who is an occasional market vendor on Tuesday evenings). Some people may be intimidated to buy ingredients theyíve never cooked with before, but the great thing about buying from the farmer who produced it is that they also know how to cook it.
Take for example the oyster mushroom. Iíve been a market shopper since it opened in 2009, so I noticed when Beau Solais Farm, of Hughesville, began selling its oyster mushrooms at the market. All of the market board members have raved about the mushrooms, yet I didnít get around to trying them until the opening of this season. Iíll admit it; I avoided the mushrooms because I wasnít sure of the best way to prepare them. They look nothing like the button mushrooms or portabellas that Iíve cooked in the past.
The first night I bought the oyster mushrooms I asked someone from Beau Solais Farm how she cooked them. Her response: sautťed with olive oil and garlic, or add them to any dish that calls for mushrooms. It sounded yummy and easy enough. I cooked the mushrooms as directed then added them to my farm egg omelet. They added a meaty, wonderful flavor to my omelet. It was delish.
Iíve also found that cooking with fresh, local ingredients is usually fairly fast and simple. The reason being that the items are so flavorful on their own that very little fussing with them is needed.
Farmer Jimís asparagus has such a buttery flavor in its natural state that all I have to do is steam it and serve with a pinch of sea salt. Thatís right: I donít even have to add any actual butter. Why add sugar to market strawberries when they are already sweet? Kale chips take about 10 minutes to prepare and bake (just add a little olive oil and sea salt. Voilŗ, you have a tasty, crunchy snack).
If you are too embarrassed to admit you donít know your bok choy from a spinach leaf, you can always check the Internet for great recipes. SAFM vendor Val Larm has also compiled a cookbook full of recipes from vendors and customers that include seasonal market ingredients. The cookbook is available for purchase at the market.
Bottom-line: Donít be afraid to try something new. Ask any market farmer about their produce and how they prefer to cook it, which is yet another perk of shopping local. You might just be missing out on some of the best foods our farmers have to offer, if you donít.
On my ďto tryĒ list this season are tomatillos. Wish me luck.
One bunch of fresh kale, washed and patted dry
4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Tear the fresh kale off the stalks. (Save the stalks for a vegetable broth in other cooking.) Tear the kale into smaller pieces (about 3- to 4-inches, roughly). In a large bowl, drizzle the kale with the olive oil. Mix with your fingers until all of the kale pieces are thoroughly coated with oil. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. (You will likely have enough for two or three batches.) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until chips are still green, but crispy. Keep a close eye on it as it is easy to over bake.
Source: Beverly Rollings, SAFM board president
Coconut Curry Bok Choy
2 bunches green onions
1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 cup soy sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chile paste
4 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped (could use oyster mushrooms)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
4 cups chopped bok choy
Salt to taste
Remove white parts of green onions, and finely chop. Chop greens into 2 inch pieces.
In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, mix coconut milk, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, brown sugar, curry powder, ginger, and chile paste. Bring to a boil.
Stir tomatoes, yellow pepper, mushrooms, and finely chopped green onions into the skillet. Cover, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in basil and bok choy. Season with salt and remaining soy sauce. Continue cooking 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender but crisp. Garnish with remaining green onion.
Serve over rice.