Shopping farmer's markets is very personal and important to me. My first book, Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, is an ode to the American farmer.
Purchasing produce at the peak of its season and freshness is a privilege. Many people do not have access to fresh produce and to be able to have a conversation with the farmers is special. These are the folks making fresh and seasonal produce happen.
Here are some of the reasons I celebrate market season and shop as often as I can:
• Fresh produce in the supermarket frequently travels thousands of miles on a refrigerated truck. Produce at the farmer's market is picked hours before you see it at the market and is the antithesis of supermarket produce.
• Most small family farms do not spray with pesticides and herbicides. They are also not using GMO seeds or plants. This makes a huge difference when stocking up on berries, leafy greens, and other items that are usually heavily sprayed. Talk to your farmer and get to know them. Often, your farmers will allow you to visit the farm and see how they grow all that delicious food.
• One look at the color and variety of produce at a market will tell you that this food is at its peak of freshness-and that means taste and health for you and your family. Every buy berries in January? They are completely tasteless. Now, buy them in June and July when they are at their peak. They are bright, perfume-y, and bursting with flavor.
• I like to support local economies. Most farmers travel less than 100 miles and are likely to put their dollars earned back into the local economy.
• Food that is transported only 100 miles saves fuel, is better for the planet, and saves in shipping costs.
• There is nothing better than chatting with folks at the farmer's market. People are eager to learn, share, and hang out with the farmers, beekeepers, bread bakers, and other cool folk who come to market. Bring your kids and teach them about clean food and local produce.
Keep market produce market fresh
When you get home from the market be sure to unpack your bags, (I hope you stock up on cloth bags to shop at the market as plastic is a no-no at many markets).
• Herbs can be stored in mason jars with several inches of water to keep them fresh.
• Tomatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in a single layer at room temperature.
• Berries should be taken out of the cute boxes they come in and spread out on sheet pans in the refrigerator. Their weight crushes the bottom layer and they also get mildew. Wash them right before you use them. If you do have crushed berries, make smoothies or preserves.
• Store zucchini, snap peas, carrots, beets, and eggplant in the refrigerator.
I often panic when an item is going out of season at the market. Making preserves, freezing, pickling, and confit are some of my favorite ways to extend the season. Explore new methods of cooking to keep your family's meals full of farmer's market produce.
Here are some ideas to get you cooking and using some of that beautiful produce:
The Lebanese classic dish gets a makeover as a vegan side with crispy shallots and sauteed Swiss chard.
The greens at the farmer's market are one of my favorite purchases. They are tender and sweet, with no bitterness.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (don't worry you will use the oil again to saute the chard!)
5 large shallots, sliced very thinly
1 ½ cups basmati rice, rinsed until water is clear and not cloudy
1 cup brown lentils
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems sliced thinly and leaves coarsely chopped
Freshly cracked black pepper
Line 2 small plates with several layers of paper towels.
1. In a small saucepan or saute pan, cook shallots and extra virgin olive oil over low heat, stirring frequently, until shallots are medium brown and crispy (patience is key here, this will take 20-30 minutes). Transfer shallots to lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
2. While shallots are crisping, simmer rice, partially covered, in a saucepan with 2 ¾ cups of water. When the water level is even with the top of the rice, turn off the heat, cover, and allow steam to finish the cooking.
3. Cook lentils in 2 cups of water, over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain lentils.
4. In a large saute pan, coat with the oil used to cook shallots; add garlic and crushed red pepper and chard stems. Stir frequently for about 2 minutes until stems are tender. Add leaves and saute for just a minute. Add rice, lentils, and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
5. Transfer lentil mixture to platter. Top with shallots and garlic chips. Serve with fish, chicken, beef, lamb, or favorite vegetable dish.
Green Carrot-Top Tahini
Yields: scant 2 cups sauce
Prep: 10 minutes
Green tahini is all the rage and I love this version for many reasons. Soft carrot tops (the greens, save the tough stems for making vegetable broth) have a delicate carrot flavor and when combined with honey, a splash of lemon, and a bit of garlic, create an addictive sauce you will want to schmear on everything. Ok, maybe not on cake, but for sure on everything else.
Don't get hung up on exact measurements here. Just go for the bright green color and flavor.
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot greens
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup fresh mint
5 garlic cloves
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon silan (date paste) or honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Up to ¼ cup warm water
1½ cups tahini
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1. Place carrot greens, parsley, mint, garlic, lemon juice, honey, and extra virgin olive oil in food processor. Blast at high speed until a bright green pesto has formed. Add tahini and pulse to mix.
2. Taste the sauce-it probably needs salt! Adjust seasoning. Leftover tahini can be stored, covered in the fridge for up to five days.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
1 bunch carrots (colorful carrots are nice here)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons za'atar (Middle Eastern herbs)
1 tablespoon sumac
Freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: coarsely chopped carrot tops
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut carrots in half lengthwise and arrange on prepared baking sheet.
3. Drizzle carrots with extra virgin olive oil, za'atar, sumac, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender and browned.
To serve: Schmear a platter with a good dollop of Carrot-Top Tahini and arrange carrots on the sauce. Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and additional chopped carrot tops.
Laura Frankel is a noted Kosher Chef and Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchens and Kosher Network International. She is the author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes (Agate Publishing). Her third book, Clean Slate Jewish Cooking is to be published in 2018. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurants in Chicago, Skokie, and New York, and she served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck for 8 years.