Thursday, May 24, 2007

Farmers Market Finds

A bunch of beets, a pound of green beans and three ears of corn were my goodie finds at the Farmers Market on Sunday. Remember, I'm cooking for one, so quantities are small. These fresh vegetables had been grown by a Belle Glade farmer, Jonathan Morris and his wife, Amy, and carted up to the Orlando Farmers Market.

I shucked the corn as soon as I got home, and washed, topped and blanched the beans. The beet greens had seen better days, unfortunately, so out they went. Had they still been fresh and perky, I would have used them immediately. The greens are fragile and don't have much of a shelf life once harvested. I stored the beets for another day. With $5.00 worth of vegetables, I proceeded to plan a few meals, starting with lunch on Sunday.

Corn off the cob is a less messy proposition to eat than corn on the cob, so I often slice off the kernels and sauté them in equal parts of olive oil and butter with a dash of thyme and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. The blanched green beans were sautéed in a little garlic infused olive oil with a sprinkling of dried red pepper flakes and once they had heated through and taken on just a little color, some salt and pepper and a dash of Pickapeppa finished them off nicely.
Before I started the beans and corn, I diced a juicy, ripe tomato and dressed it with a little salt and lemon juice and a bit of lemon zest and let it rest to absorb the flavors.
To appease the protein police, I tossed a couple of tablespoons of hummus on the plate (as if anyone ever heard of a protein deficiency in this country) along with some leftover focaccia. The result? A plate filled with colorful veggies, vegetable protein, white whole wheat flour and a little healthy oil. Imagine, filling all these nutritional requirements and it tasted wonderful and was ready in under 20 minutes from start to finish. My kind of fresh fast food.

One of my goals with this blog is to encourage the casual cook to stop buying convenience foods, fast foods and processed products and cook whole foods regularly with enthusiasm and confidence. One doesn't have to spend a fortune, slave hours over a hot stove, or have a culinary degree to enjoy healthy whole food meals. The few meals covered here, built around the beets, beans and corn, are a good example of simple foods prepared quickly and with ease—without sacrificing flavor.

The pale colors in this sweet and sour stir-fry belie the vibrant flavors. Perhaps a red pepper instead of the soft green of the cubanella would have been a better choice, but I used what I had in the veggie bin!

Here we have the green beans, leftover sautéed corn combined with onions, peppers, napa cabbage, bean sprouts and green onions in a sweet and sour sauce served with soba noodles topped with peanut dressing and crushed peanuts.
The sweet and sour sauce is a very unsophisticated slurry of equal parts: water, brown sugar, rice vinegar and ketchup. It tastes good, it's fast and easy, it didn't come in a bottle laced with synthetic chemicals, and it's made from items most folks have on hand. For this small batch of veggies, I used 1/4 cup of each item to make one cup of sauce. Taste for salt and pepper. Play it by ear. A bigger batch of veggies will need more sauce.
The buckwheat noodles (soba) provide both protein and fiber. The dressing is not homemade. Whole Foods' house brand organic peanut sauce works for me. Another item that's handy to have on hand.

And here are the beets, roasted and sliced, resting on a bed of sweet green leaf lettuce and peppery watercress. A few thin slices of Vidaldia onion, some crumbles of Gorgonzola and a few toasted walnuts all dressed in a light vinaigrette that includes a dash of fresh orange juice to complement the orange zest sprinkled over the salad.

Wash beets and place on a large piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil and fold up foil to form a packet. Place the foil packet on a baking sheet or small shallow pan and roast in a 400° oven for 40 - 50 minutes. They should be crisp tender. Pierce with the tip of a sharp knife to check. When the beets cool, peel, slice and toss with a little of the vinaigrette. Toss the washed, dried greens with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves then plate the items attractively, finishing off with some freshly grated orange zest (optional).
Citrus Vinaigrette: 4 TBS extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff); 2 TBS red wine vinegar; 2 TBS orange juice; salt & pepper.

Then I was left with green beans. A pound of green beans is a lot of beans for one person! I decided to do a Thai red curry with the beans and a few other vegetables, influenced, I suspect, by Prik King. With a fresh supply of red curry paste on hand, coconut milk in the pantry and lots of compatible aromatics to accompany the beans, it was a winner. While I made the curry, I put some jasmine rice on to cook.

Thai curry is made from a curry paste, a blend of more than 10 seasonings and spices. As opposed to Indian curries which are developed from a wide selection of dried seasonings and spices. Yes, I know. We can buy a can of yellow powder called curry powder but it doesn't do justice to the authentic taste and aroma of an Indian curry made from whole herbs and spices that have been freshly roasted prior to using. But that's Indian curry.
My little can of red curry paste contains: dried red chiles, garlic, shallots, salt, lemon grass, kafir lime, galangal, coriander seeds, cumin and cardamon, all conveniently packaged together, ready to go for less than a dollar. Similar to an Indian curry preparation, the curry paste is first cooked in oil to bring out the flavors and the color, then the coconut milk is added in two stages. Thai cooks separate the thick, heavy milk at the top of the can from the thinner coconut milk at the bottom of the can. Do not shake the milk before opening, then gently spoon off the top portion of the milk into a small dish until ready to use.
I used a medium Vidalia onion cut into wedges, a sweet red pepper cut into strips, a jalepeño with the seeds removed, cut into strips, two young carrots sliced on the diagonal for quick cooking in the stir fry and the rest of the blanched green beans. The veggies were sautéed in olive oil in layers starting with the onion and peppers then adding the carrots and green beans. when the veggies are crisp tender (just a little under done) remove them from the pan and stir 2 TBS of red curry paste into the oil in the hot pan, press the frying paste with a wooden spoon to blend it with the oil. Be careful about breathing too deeply close to the pan. The chiles and spices are very pungent. After frying the curry paste in the oil, spoon the thick coconut milk into the pan and bring it to a boil mixing it carefully with the paste. Continue cooking the paste and coconut milk, letting it boil very gently until the oils in the pan start to separate. Little oil droplets will appear on the surface of the sauce. Do not boil too rapidly as the oil won't separate. Once the oils separate, add the remaining thin portion of the coconut milk, 1 TBS Asian fish sauce, 1 TBS lime juice and 1 tsp sugar and the sautéed ingredients. Thinly sliced chicken or pork could be included and sautéed with the veggies. Simmer gently for another 10 minutes or so until the oil separates out again. A rich color and tiny droplets of oil in a curry means it was made correctly.

The veggies ladled over jasmine rice with a generous portion of sauce, served piping hot makes an exotic, spicy one dish meal.
A few selections at the farmers market, corn, beans and beets, inspired these dishes. All quick, easy, tasty, attractive and a little out of the ordinary. None requires exact proportions, all reheat beautifully.
Till next time . . . keep on cooking.

1 comment:

Freya and Paul said...

Joyce, you always remind me of how tasty vegetables can be and how far they can actually go in the hands of an expert!