What’s For Dinner? Find out at your farmers market
We are grateful for the warm and friendly response that we have received from our readers at So There’s That. Just last week my niece texted me and said, “You should open a food truck.” While that’s a venture best reserved for another blog entirely, I did get a suggestion from her for our next food post: Salad.
Where better to find great salad fixings than at your local farmers market. A brief glance of weekly listings just in our area shows that farmers markets are not a cute fad or ultra hip phenom, but rather they are here to stay. To be sure, it is not practical for us to get all of our produce from a farmer’s market once or twice a week; we still go to supermarkets if only because they’re just so darn convenient.
Still, our farmer’s market on Wednesdays at Marine Stadium in Belmont Shore has so much that the supermarket reliably does not. Fresh, local food. Fresh air. Family friendly. Every Wednesday the park fills with after-school kids from Rogers Middle School two blocks away. It’s a meeting place, a drop off place, a picnic place. It’s a place for where a meandering, aimless walk ends and, with a few dollars in your pocket, begins with something like blood oranges grown an hour’s drive away.
The blood orange grower told me that I was buying the last of this year’s crop. The juice is sweet, thick, and cold; so refreshing that I don’t care about the deep red juice running down my hand and staining my arm, making me look vaguely like a murder suspect. Later that night we squeezed the last of the season’s blood oranges into a glass, drink it like a tequila shot and we feel drunk on its flavor.
In a typical farmers market stall you might see rows of fresh lettuce lined up next to piles of zucchini, garlic, several types of onions, several more types of potatoes, dark green cucumbers, or radishes in a deep purple color like the last of a fading sunset. Nearby, catch the piles of cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, carrots, more lettuce and spinach.
In other stalls, fruits predominate: our blood orange friend had at least five other varieties of oranges alone, along with lemons, deep green limes and grapefruits. Elsewhere, cherries fought for prominent display space alongside strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
Farmer’s markets have something else that supermarkets do not: Fruits and vegetables with blemishes. Maybe a scratch, a discoloration, a ding. This is not a bad thing. As human beings we are perfect in our imperfections, and so is that orange staring back at you from the farmer’s stall. Try it! It may wind up to be the sweetest, juiciest you have ever eaten. And by choosing less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables you will help reduce part of the 40% rate of food waste in the U.S.
Back to my niece’s salad. Our original plan was to grab a few things from the farmer’s market, make a salad for dinner and have a nice blog post. In the end, it took us a few hours to go through a few dozen stalls as we got sidetracked visiting friends and neighbors with babies and kids, trying foods samples that couldn’t possibly fit into a salad, or doubling back to try a few more samples of blood oranges.
Halfway into our first pass through the food stalls, Charla ran into her friend and fellow photographer Lyndsey Yeomans and young son Henry. Charla and Lyndsey caught up while Henry and Charla’s daughter Brooklyn ran in circles around them. Meanwhile I sampled more oranges alongside my daughter’s favorite math teacher. In other words, just another day in the community. What would have taken a terse 30 minutes in the supermarket was stretched into a more relaxed two hours in the park.
It is a good problem to have, as long as you’re not in a hurry. That day my daughter met her friends from school, and we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon before putting the salad together at home. Much like anyone else, we cannot do this every day. On other nights this is not so easy if we are shuttling between work, late meetings, errands, kids’ sports, and the usual parent-taxi activities. So find these leisurely days and enjoy them when you can.
In the end, we came up with an eclectic mix for our salad. How did we know what to put in the salad? Just ask! The local vendors at the farmer’s market will gladly show you what is in season, give you a sample, and help out with some tips on preparing at home.
But here’s a quick tip: Find something new. Mix things you haven’t thought of before. Blueberries and raspberries in the salad? Sure! Jalapeño-spiked goat cheese and sprouts? Why not! Blood-orange-marinated red onions? Yes, please! The only rules are what tastes good to you, and by extension what tastes good to your guests.
Along the way, Charla came across a fried potatoes recipe that is one of her favorites at Open Sesame Mediterranean Grill in Belmont Shore – garlicky, lemony, crispy tasty fried potatoes that would be a perfect counterpart to a salad with a glass of wine. So let’s start with that, since they will take a while in the oven.
- Any variety of potatoes, about 1/2 – 3/4 pound per person. Avoid russet potatoes since they do not hold together as well.
- Garlic. Lots of garlic: 2-3 cloves per pound of potatoes, or to taste
- Rosemary (optional), about 1 TBSP per pound of potatoes, or to taste
- Salt and pepper
- Olive Oil
- Juice from 1-2 lemons
- Canola or other oil for frying
Cut the potatoes into uniform-sized cubes, about one inch in diameter. They can be peeled or not. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Put potatoes on a baking sheet or oven dish and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
When you can just pierce the potatoes with a fork, remove from oven. Pour 1 TBSP frying oil in a sauté pan over high heat and add minced garlic. When garlic begins to cook, immediately add enough potatoes to cover the pan in one layer. Do not crowd the pan but you may sauté in batches. After the potatoes brown a little, about 4-8 minutes, squeeze lemon juice liberally on top and serve.
And those blood-orange-marinated red onions? Oh. My. They were amazing. That is a perfect side recipe that you can throw into almost anything, like a salad, sandwich, scrambled eggs, pasta, and more. Stay tuned: that recipe is coming up in a future post.