Sunday, May 28, 2006

Eating Local - Vegetables 'Transformed'

Updated below
The Spring vegetables at the farmers' market again inspired me to cook a Japanese-style meal, using the same approach as the previous meals: preparing a variety of vegetables using several cooking methods. Most of the methods are well-known to me (simmering, searing, steaming) but my skills related to the "raw" method is currently limited to simple preparations like dressed greens. Therefore, to expand my horizons and add some zip to my meal, I made two Japanese-style quick pickles.

Japanese Pickles
The word "pickle" brings to mind an immense range of flavors, shapes, and textures that spans the globe: the saucy, spicy, incendiary pickles of India; the classic deli cucumber pickle; pickled carrots and jalepeno chiles served in Mexican restaurants; the incomparable and varied kimchee; to name a few. (There is also that abomination known as the sweet pickle, but I try not to think of those.)

Japanese cuisine has a variety of pickles (tsukemono in Japanese) using vegetables such as daikon, cucumber, plum, and eggplant preserved in media like vinegar, salt, rice bran, and miso (fermented bean paste). Donald Richie, in A Taste of Japan, writes "The appeal of tsukemono is that they taste so fresh. They may have been put up the year before, but the taste is that of living vegetables. One is not eating mummified food, but rather, something close to the vegetable itself, as it was last summer....Even in the dead of winter, one bite and you are in full summer again." (p. 88)

Somewhat counterintuitively, there exists a wide range of perishable pickles--pickles with a shelf life of just a few days, not months or years. For these, "pickle" might be the wrong word, and Elizabeth Andoh writes "It would be more accurate, perhaps, to describe tsukemono as ingredients that have been 'transformed' without cooking."

Update: The Cultured Pickle Shop in west Berkeley makes two traditional tsukemono, daikon in rice bran and carrots in sake lees. I bought a jar of the daikon and find them to be delicious. The transformed vegetable is intensely flavored, so just a few small pieces can enliven a meal.

My First Attempts at Transformation
The two batches I made did not rise to the culinary wonder that Richie describes, but they were certainly transformations. The first (daikon and carrot soaked in a vinegar-sugar mixture) were very easy to make. I just cut up the vegetables, mixed them with the liquid, and waited. They were delightfully crunchy, but had a musty, funky flavor--perhaps the daikon wasn't of sufficient quality. Many other vegetables can be pickled this way, so when cucumbers arrive at the farmers' market, I will try again.

The second batch was made using a recipe from the Washoku cookbook, charmingly titled "Impatient Pickles." The recipe calls for cabbage and cucumber, but since cucumbers were not at the market, I used only red cabbage. To make the pickle, I thinly sliced the cabbage, tossed it with some coarse salt, and waited for 10 minutes or so. Then, after pressing and kneading it with my fingers, I needed to "weight" a while longer. That is, put the cabbage under pressure so that it would release its liquid and be transformed by the resulting brine. There is a special machine for doing this (called a shokutaku tsukemono ki, "tabletop pickle pot"), and Andoh gives an alternative of using heavy books protected by plastic bags. But I think I found an even better alternative, at least for small quantities.

The photo to the left shows my method of weighting down the pickling vegetables. A large sized working glass on the outside, a standard pint beer glass on the inside (filled with water), and a bottle of liquid placed inside the pint glass. The pickles sit in that configuration at room temperature for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.

These pickles had a vibrant purple hue, a satisfying crunch, but a bitter and one-dimensional flavor. Again, when cucumbers are in season, I will try again.

The Meal
Despite the pickle disappointments, the meal that they were served in was quite delicious. It consisted of
  • Quick pickled daikon and carrots
  • 'Impatient' cabbage pickles
  • Sauteed summer squash and shiitake mushrooms
  • Snow peas, carrots, minced kombu, and mushrooms simmered in dashi, sake and soy sauce. The method is similar to the soup I described in a previous post, but to improve the flavor, I turned off the heat a few minutes before the vegetables reached their perfect level of doneness, and let the mixture cool to room temperature before serving.
  • Rolled omelet - eggs flavored with sake, soy sauce and sugar, then cooked in thin layers and rolled (this might be worthy of a post)
  • Lettuce with ponzu sauce dressing

The Sources

#1 - Mendocino (130 mi), Seabreeze Seavegetables: konbu
#2 - Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs
#3 - Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil
#4 - Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: snow peas, carrots, cabbage
#5 - Vacaville (37 mi), Solano Mushrooms: shiitake mushrooms
#6 - San Juan Batista (84 mi), Happy Boy Farm: lettuce, summer squash
#7 - South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms: short-grain rice
#8 - Clovis (155 mi), Vong Farms: daikon, ginger
Not shown: Sake and mirin from Takara Sake in Berkeley (made from Sacramento Valley rice)
Non-local: rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce

Indexed under Japan, Eat Local Challenge
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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Eating Local - Featuring Spring Vegetables

My second Washoku adventure began much like the first: browsing through Elizabeth Andoh's cookbook to identify a few potential recipes, going to the farmers' market and buying a variety of produce, then figuring out what to do with it all. This time the "Temple Garden Chowder" in Andoh's book was the only seasonal and local recipe that jumped out at me. On this day at the market, Spring vegetables were out in full force (spinach, asparagus, sugar snap pea) and the mushroom stand had a special on a mix of shiitake and royal trumpet mushrooms. I also grabbed some winter hold-overs like cabbage and beets. With the washoku principles in mind, I created the following menu:

  • Spring vegetable soup. Carrot, mushroom, asparagus, and sugar snap pea in a Japanese vegetarian dashi (broth), flavored with locally-made mirin (Takara brand) and non-local soy sauce. My adaptation of Andoh's Temple Garden Chowder is below.
  • Vegetable pancakes. Inspired by the okonomiyaki I love so much, these pancakes were shredded cabbage, carrot, and home-made pickled ginger, in a batter of eggs, rice flour and wheat flour. I didn't follow a recipe, and the result was disappointing. Vegetable pancakes require a careful balance between dough and vegetable, and I didn't have it.
  • Sauteed spinach with garlic. After getting through the drudgery of cleaning the spinach, this comes together in a few minutes.
  • Seared royal trumpet mushrooms. Cooked over high heat in a Calpahlon skillet until golden-brown, then flavored with a splash of soy sauce and sake.
  • Pickled beets. I cooked the beets in boiling water, let them cool, then cut them into long, narrow rectangles (1 cm x 1 cm x 7 cm), and soaked the pieces overnight in a mixture of rice vinegar, water, salt and sugar. I
  • Steamed White Rice

How did I do on the five washoku principles this time?
  • Five colors: red (beets, red cabbage), green (snap peas, spinach, asparagus), white (rice, mushrooms), black (nothing), and yellow (carrots).
  • Five tastes: I only had four. I had sour, sweet, salty, bitter, but nothing spicy.
  • Five ways of cooking: I had four. There was searing (mushrooms), simmering (vegetable soup), steaming (rice), and sauteing (pancakes). I'm just starting to learn how to make quick pickles, and the beets I made don't really count as "raw" since they were cooked before soaking, so I was missing that element.
  • Five senses: sound (the crunch of the vegetables), sight (the variety of colors), smell (the mushrooms were intensely aromatic), touch (crunch again, and the softness of the cooked spinach), and taste (everything).

Although my meal was lacking a few of the washoku elements, it was harmonious and delicious. I think I am getting a handle on what Ms. Andoh called a "flow" in the kitchen at her San Francisco lecture. I don't know if I can explain it yet, but the meals like the one listed above and in my earlier post are built of a combination of ultra-simple and more complex dishes, with a variety of shared ingredients. For example, the vegetarian dashi is used in several dishes and the mushrooms appear in two dishes. This sharing simplifies preparation, as does the idea of including dishes in the menu that are served at room temperature and can therefore be completed early in the process. In many of the meals I cook, I go a little crazy over planning the final sequence of steps so that everything is done at the same moment. Learning to find my kitchen flow through washoku cooking might bring some calm to those last moments of other meals.

Spring Vegetable Soup
Inspired by Elizabeth Andoh's Temple Garden Chowder in Washoku

3 cups vegetarian dashi stock (see note below)

Approximately 4 cups of vegetables, placed in different bowls based on the time they require to cook so they can be added to the stock at the right time. For the soup mentioned above, I used asparagus (cut into 3/4 inch lengths), carrots (cut in half length-wise, then into 1/2 inch lengths), sugar snap peas (cut in half at an angle), and mushrooms (cut into bit-size pieces). The carrots and mushrooms went in one bowl, the asparagus in another, and the snap peas in their own bowl.

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)

Make the dashi, then pour it into a medium sauce pan. Add the mirin and soy sauce.

Add the slower cooking vegetables to the stock and bring the mixture to a low simmer. When the vegetables are close to being done, add the quicker cooking vegetables in a sequence and with the timing that will allow them to be cooked properly when you are ready to serve. For example, the asparagus might go in 10 minutes after the carrots and mushrooms, and then the snap peas for the last 3 or 4 minutes. The goal is to have each vegetable at its perfect level of doneness when you serve the soup.

To make a vegetarian dashi stock, place a piece of kombu sea vegetable and several dried shiitake mushrooms into some cool water. The ratio that Andoh uses is 15-20 square inches of kombu and three mushrooms to 4 1/4 cups of water. Let this mixture steep as long as possible in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. A long soaking allows the natural glutamates (flavor enhancers) to go into the water. When ready to make the stock, put the mixture in a pan over medium heat. Bring it almost to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to keep it at a low simmer. Keep it at this point for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes more, and then strain into a saucepan.

The Sources

#1 - Vacaville (37 mi), Solano Mushrooms: shiitake and royal trumpet mushrooms
#2 - Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs
#3 - Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: aparagus, cabbage
#4 - Winters (50 mi), Terra Firma Farm: beets, spinach, carrots
#5 - Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil.
#6 - San Juan Batista (84 mi), Happy Boy Farm: Leeks
#7 - South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms: rice
#8 - Clovis (155 mi), Vong Farms: ginger root
#9 - Chowchilla (120 mi), Happy Boy Farm: snap peas
#10 - Mendocino (130 mi), Seabreeze Seavegetables: kombu seaweed
Not shown: Sake and mirin from Takara Sake in Berkeley (made from Sacramento Valley rice)

Indexed under Japan, Eat Local Challenge
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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Eating Local - Rise and Fall, Hit and Miss

With this latest meal, I swing back from the Far East to a California cuisine sensibility. California is blessed with an early appearance of Spring vegetables, which can make cooking local foods a simple activity. Just cut them up, cook them quickly, and let the vegetable's essence shine through.

Souffles can be a perfect place to feature Spring vegetables, and they also can be wonderful in the colder months, when less exciting produce is available. The base of a souffle--eggs, flour and milk--can be found locally throughout the year. The flavoring can be as simple as a distinctive cheese like a soft, fresh goat milk cheese or a sharp cheddar-like cheese. A few vegetables can liven it up and add some color. And a souffle, of course, makes a dramatic dessert. A little while ago--months past the end of apricot season--I made a delicious apricot souffle, using preserves from a jar. More thoughts about eggs and frittatas can be found at the Eat Local Challenge, or in one of my recent posts.

My dessert was also an all-season item: crepes with a sweet filling. This time I spread a mixture of almond butter and honey on a portion of the crepe, piled on some chopped strawberries, and rolled it up. Other great dessert fillings would be fruit preserves, chocolate ganache, or a fruit compote. Or, for some drama, make a classic crepes suzette and bask in the flame. Like the souffle, crepes can work in many places throughout the meal: layered with cheese and vegetables as an appetizer, or rolled around asparagus spears and cheese and drenched with herb-infused cream sauce as a main course.

The meal
The ingredients were almost all from within my 100 mile circle (the fava beans, salt, black pepper, vinegar, and mustard were not), and mostly from the farmers market (the milk and butter were not).

This meal required a lot of small repetitive steps--shelling the fava beans (remove beans from large pod, blanch for a minute, remove dark green inner bean from translucent casing), making crepes, cooking the leeks (a four or five step process)--but in the end came together nicely. And then somewhat fell apart.

I baked the souffle in a large ceramic dish, which prevented the "wow" of the souffle rising out of a single-serving dish (like in this photo), but had some advantages. Easy to prepare and clean up. Something might have gone wrong with the batter, though, for when I looked at a cross-section there was a major stratification of the egg whites and the souffle base: light and foamy on top, custardy on the bottom. But still delicious. And, if I want to think positively, I got a two-for-one: a souffle and a custard.

The other vegetables were hit and miss. The leeks vinagrette was boiled (then cooled) leeks with a dressing of wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and olive oil. Leeks are beautiful when cooked with potatoes to make soup, but for me they don't have what it takes to star in a salad (and had some exceptionally tough and stringy parts). The green garlic soup had the equivalent of about one head of garlic per serving, but since it was so young the flavor was intense but not sharp or overwhelming. Fava beans seem to have a mystique about them, and make a splash in high-end restaurants for a little while each year, perhaps because they are so much work.

Keeping with my eat local pledge, I had to use local flour, which is limited to Full Belly Farm's whole wheat flour (as far as I know). Thus, the crepes were a bit rustic, so to speak. The combination of almond butter, honey and strawberries was excellent. With all of the ingredients for crepes available within my 100 mile circle, I'll be making crepes a few more times.

The Sources

#1 - Marshall (40 mi) - Straus Family Creamery: milk.
#2 - Sebastopol (48 mi), Redwood Hill Farm: goat milk feta.
#3 - Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs, potatoes.
#4 - Petaluma (33 mi), Clover-Stornetta Dairy: half and half.
#5 - Middletown (63 mi), Michael Huber, honey.
#6 - Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: asparagus.
Full Belly Farm: whole wheat flour, almond butter.
#7 - Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil.
#8 - Davenport (54 mi) - Swanton Berry Farm - strawberries.
#9 - San Juan Batista (84 mi) - Happy Boy Farm - Leeks, green garlic.
#10 - Chowchilla (120 mi) - Happy Boy Farm - Fava beans.

Backyard: parsley, rosemary.
Non-local: white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, black pepper.

Indexed under Eat Local Challenge
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Eating Local - My Washoku Introduction

Inspiration from Afar
For my second meal of the May 2006 Eat Local Challenge, I took a culinary trip to Japan. It might at first seem strange to go so far during a local challenge, but Japan has a compatible food philosophy, with the foundations including seasonality and simplicity. The non-locality of soybeans--and consequently tofu--creates a large protein gap which can be filled by eggs (an aside about the locality of soy: most soy is produced in the midwestern United States, but how much tofu is made there? I would guess that a tiny fraction of U.S. tofu is made near the farms where the soybeans are grown, for cultural and economic reasons.)

The meal was inspired by Elizabeth Andoh's new cookbook Washoku, which presents a comprehensive kitchen philosophy along with many recipes. In an interview in the SF Chronicle, Elizabeth Andoh explained washoku:

It [washoku] has several meanings. Washoku is written with two characters. The first, "wa," has two meanings. It can mean indigenous to Japan, so when it is used before another word, it means Japanese. "Shoku," the other character, means anything that is consumed. So washoku means the food that is indigenous to Japan. Western food would be yoshoku. The second meaning of the "wa" calligraphy is harmony. So washoku is also the harmony of food. If you layer those together, you have the harmony of food that is indigenous to Japan.

Washoku is based on five principles: five colors, five tastes, five ways of cooking, five senses, and five outlooks (e.g., respect the efforts of those who grow, deliver and cook our food). By striving to include the five groups of five in your meals, harmony, balance and healthfulness can be achieved. For a complete description of the five principles, visit this post at Bay Area Bites.

The Meal
My meal consisted of the following dishes (ingredient sources are mapped and listed at the bottom of the post):

  • Chard-potato-green garlic soup: I simmered potatoes and green garlic in water until they were soft, then added chopped chard leaves (which came from my tiny backyard garden). At the end I used an immersion blender to make a puree.
  • Tokyo-style rolled omelet: eggs mixed with sugar, salt and sake, cooked on a skillet by pouring small portions of the egg mixture onto the pan, letting it cook, then rolling around the previously cooked egg. Not an easy operation. From a recipe in Washoku.
  • Seared oyster mushrooms: oyster mushrooms cooked over high heat, garlic, ginger and soy sauce added at the end.
  • Slow-simmered snap peas, carrots and leeks: vegetables slowly simmered in a stock made of water, soy sauce, sake, and kombu seaweed. Based on a recipe in Washoku.
  • Steamed short-grain white rice
  • Pickled radishes: radishes soaked in a mixture of rice vinegar, sake, kombu, and sugar. From a recipe in Washoku.
I thoroughly enjoyed everything, especially the oyster mushrooms and simmered vegetables. And how did I do on the five washoku principles?
  • Five colors: red (radishes), green (snap peas, chard), white (rice), black (mushrooms), and yellow (egg, carrots).
  • Five tastes: I had sour, sweet, salty, but not much in the line of spicy or bitter.
  • Five ways of cooking: searing (mushrooms), simmering (carrot-snap pea dish), raw (radishes), steaming (rice), sauteing (egg).
  • Five senses: sound (the crunch of the vegetables), sight (the variety of colors), smell (the mushrooms were intensely aromatic), touch (crunch again, and the smoothness of the soup), and taste (everything).
  • Five outlooks: more of a mindset than something you can check off.

All in all, it was a good start to learning a new cooking philosophy.

The Sources

For this meal I had to go significantly outside of my circle for two flavoring ingredients: kombu seaweed and ginger. They probably comprised less than 1% of the total weight of the meal.

1. Vacaville (37 mi), Solano Mushrooms: oyster mushrooms
2. Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs
3. Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: snap peas, garlic, green garlic, potatoes
4. Winters (50 mi), Terra Firma Farm: carrots
5. Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil.
6. San Juan Batista (84 mi), Happy Boy Farm: radishes
7. South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms: rice
8. Clovis (155 mi), Vong Farms: ginger root
9. Mendocino (130 mi), Seabreeze Sea Vegetables: kombu seaweed

Final Notes
The non-locality of tofu and miso--two of the soybean-based foundations of Japanese cooking--create a large gap in the Northern California local pantry. The protein gap can be filled by eggs, but the flavors and textures provided by miso and tofu are irreplaceable. Miso, in particular, is a very distinctive product with uses in soups, sauces, and stews. Most soybeans are grown in the midwestern United States, but how much tofu is made there? I would guess not much. It is possible that not much tofu is made near soybean farms for cultural (Midwesterners aren't big fans of tofu) and economic reasons (shipping perishable blocks that are 50% water is expensive). The tofu I usually buy in the grocery store is made in Sacramento, San Jose or San Francisco using dried Midwestern soybeans.

Indexed under Japan, Eat Local Challenge
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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Eating Local Recipes - Frittata, Beet Salad, Rice

In my previous post about my first local meal of May, I promised to post the recipes to the three dishes I cooked. Here they are:

Beet-Orange-Walnut Salad
3 beets
3 oranges
1/2 c. walnuts, lightly toasted

Wash and peel the beets, then dice into 1 cm cubes. Place in a steamer basket over water in a small saucepan, cover, and steam until tender. An alternative method is to wash the beets, pierce the skin with a knife in a few places, place in a roasting pan, cover with foil, and bake at 400 F for 30 or 40 minutes, until the beets are tender.

Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the peel off of two oranges, slicing just past the outer skin of the segments. If the orange has tender inner membranes, chop it into cubes about the same size as the beet pieces. If the membrane is tough, slice the fruit from between the membranes and cut into pieces.

Toast the walnuts, and chop into rough pieces.

Make the dressing. Remove some pieces of zest from the third orange, and then juice it. Chop the zest into tiny pieces. Mix some of the orange juice (a few tablespoons), diced orange zest (a teaspoon), balsamic vinegar (a tablespoon), olive oil (4 or 5 tablespoons), chopped green garlic (a teaspoon), and salt (1/2 teaspoon or more).

Just before serving (and after the beets have cooled), combine the beets, walnuts, orange pieces and dressing.

Spinach-Feta Frittata
20 g sun-dried tomatoes (about 4)
175 g spinach (a few cups)
Several garlic cloves, minced
6 eggs
125 g feta cheese, in small pieces
Fresh mint and parsley (a few tablespoons)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring about two cups of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add the sun-dried tomatoes. Let them rehydrate for about 10 minutes then remove. When cool enough to handle, cut the tomato into small pieces.

Carefully wash the spinach to remove any sand clinging to the leaves or stems. Remove the tough stems. Heat some oil in a medium-sized skillet at medium heat, add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds, then add the spinach leaves. Cook for a few minutes until wilted. Turn off the heat, then set the pan on a slope and move the cooked spinach and garlic to the upper side, allowing the liquid to drain to the lower side. When cool, chop the spinach to your liking.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the spinach, sun-dried tomato, salt, pepper, feta cheese pieces, and chopped herbs. Combine well.

Turn on the broiler in your oven (you will be cooking the top of the frittata under the broiler).

Heat some oil or butter in a large oven-safe skillet that will fill under your broiler over a burner at medium heat. Pour in the egg-cheese-vegetable mixture and gently spread it into an even layer. Cook for a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown and the top of the frittata has started to set. Then set the skillet under the broiler and broil until the top is golden brown. Carefully remove (don't forget that the handle of the skillet might be quite hot!) and serve.

Herb-Scented Rice

400 g white rice
Water as directed by the rice maker
80 g carrot, peeled and diced
Branch of fresh rosemary
Branch of fresh thyme
2 T. chives, chopped

Combine the rice, diced carrot, salt and water in a pot. Cook the rice as directed, placing the rosemary and thyme in the pot after about 10 minutes to infuse the rice with their essence. After the rice is done, remove the herbs, and gently mix in the chopped chives.

Indexed under Miscellaneous, Eat Local Challenge
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Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo and Food Traditions

Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, is a big holiday in some parts of the U.S.--mostly bars and restaurants that serve Corona beer--but few seem to know what it is all about. Some have the mistaken impression that it is Mexican Independence Day (September 16, 1810). Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico's victory in the Battle of Puebla (1862) over the French forces of Napolean III. The history of this holiday in Mexico and the U.S. is complicated, and discussed in a fascinating episode of the Eat Feed podcast series called The French Flavors of Cinco de Mayo. In Anne Bramely's interview of Professor Jeffrey Pilcher, the basic history of Cinco de Mayo is in the first few minutes of the podcast, but since it is only about 20 minutes long, I recommend listening to it all. If you can't, two key food-related points that I remember:

  • At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the favored food of the elite class was French. In fact, during lavish banquets celebrating Mexican Independence, the entire menu was often French, without a speck of chile, corn, beans or squash in sight. Foods based on indigenous traditions were considered the food of the lower classes, and therefore inappropriate for the elite.

  • Because the holiday wasn't celebrated among normal people (i.e., non-elites), there are no traditional Mexican dishes associated with the holiday.

I started reading Pilcher's book Que Vivan Los Tamales (University of New Mexico Press) last week, and it is fascinating. As I noted in two previous posts, Mexico's culinary history is one of fusion and tension between ancient indigenous traditions and colonial imports (from Europe and Asia).

Indexed under Miscellaneous, Mexico
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Eating Local - Frittata, beet-orange salad, herb-infused rice

The Sources
The numbers in the map above indicate the approximate origins of the ingredients for my meal:

#1 - Sebastopol (48 mi), Redwood Hill Farm
#2 - Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm
#3 - Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm
#4 - Winters (50 mi), Terra Firma Farm
#5 - Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani
#6 - Hollister (84 mi), Avalos Farm
#7 - South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms

The Meal
My first meal for the Eat Local Challenge was a delicious success, but possibly required a slight stretching of the boundaries in the southeast section of my 100-mile circle. The culprit was one of the only grains grown in large scale in California: short-grain rice. The Koda Farms website says that they farm in the San Joaquin Valley, which is an enormous place that is partially within my circle. But whether the rice is inside or outside of the circle, the Koda Farms Kokuho rice is significantly more local than the imported basmati and jasmine rice that I typically eat (from India and Thailand, respectively).

I don't have anything profound to say about this meal, as it was not terribly outside my normal cooking style. In this post, I'll give a summary of what I cooked; recipes will be posted separately in a few days.

The photo shows herb-infused rice in the background, beet-orange-walnut salad in the left foreground, and a fritatta in the right foreground.

The herb infused rice consisted of short-grain white rice (#7, 105 mi), carrots (#4, 50 mi), herbs from my backyard (rosemary, chives, chive blossom, and thyme), and some sea salt. The purple flower is a chive blossom, which has an intense onion-like flavor--it looks better than it tasted. I used my Japanese onigiri molds to shape the rice into little triangles.

The beet-orange-walnut salad is an old favorite of mine. It combines the earthy sweetness of beets with the sharp, acid sweetness of orange, with the walnuts adding some richness and bitterness. The oranges and walnuts were from Winters (#4, 50 mi); the beets and green garlic from Guinda (#3, 67 mi); and the olive oil from Sacramento (#5, 70 mi). I used a little bit of Italian balsamic vinegar in the dressing.

The frittata was a great success. Spinach provided the background, the large pieces of goat-milk feta and sun-dried tomatoes were delightful bursts of tanginess, and the pieces of mint and parsley were a perfect match for the feta. The eggs were from Santa Rosa (#2, 50 mi); garlic, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes from Guinda (#3, 67 mi); feta from Sebastopol (#1, 48 mi); and the herbs from my backyard garden. Note that the sun-dried tomatoes were from last year's crop, reminding me that eating local is a year-round activity (more on this topic in future posts).

For dessert, I had some fresh strawberries from Hollister (#6), a town that is much more famous for rowdiness than farming.

Note: map above downloaded from the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, numbers and circle added using Microsoft Visio.

Indexed under Miscellaneous, Eat Local Challenge
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