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Archive for January, 2011

If you’ve ever ogled the fresh salsa selection at your favorite natural foods store, and then, upon scrutinizing the price tags, glumly walked out with naked tortilla chips, I have good news for you.

When I arrived for work at the J.R. Organics stand last weekend, my friends from the Rodriguez family gestured toward a huge pan of chunky salsa verde in the back of their truck. My first bite must have contained about half a jalapeño, but it was the kind of electrifying zing that keeps you hovering in spite of the pain. And the best part: Nearly all the ingredients were available at the J.R. booth. (The rest I found at the same farmers’ market a few yards away, with the exception of salt, which we would all probably do well to omit anyway.) I glutted myself on that salsa for the rest of the afternoon, and then went home and made a bulk batch of my own. I recommend that you do the same.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos, peeled
  • 1/2 lb jalapeño peppers
  • 2-4 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste

Directions:

Roast the whole tomatillos, peppers, and (unpeeled) garlic. A barbecue would be ideal, but you can also use a frying pan, or stick your roastables in the oven on aluminum foil (to save yourself the work of scrubbing a pan). If you use a hot enough flame, this should take no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Some blackness is good, as that will add a smoky flavor. Combine roasted items with cilantro and lime juice. If you want smooth salsa, put everything in a blender or food processor. If you want it chunky, simply chop everything and mix it using a mortar and pestle (or another sturdy bowl-utensil combo). Taste the salsa as you go, and add salt as needed.

Note: If you like garlic as much as I do, consider chopping it up raw. The health benefits of raw garlic are numerous.

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Growing up in drizzly northern California, I developed a list of cozy winter meals that will forever carry a seasonal connotation for me. Root vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, and yams come to mind, and there is a Brazilian-style black bean soup that fills an especially sacred page of my mental cookbook. Another food (actually a fruit) that never fails to hit the spot for me is squash.

Winter squash refers to over a dozen hard-skinned squash varieties (think pumpkins) that are harvested in the fall, but traditionally stored through the winter. It has been a staple at the Hillcrest market for the past few months, and there are few things that are as easy and satisfying to cook. My favorite variety has always been the delicata (hands-down the sweetest), which is great stuffed with bean and rice pilaf, or simply baked with butter. However, I have recently found myself with a surplus of butternut and acorn squash, and these two blend perfectly as a soup.

My recipe varies based on what’s in my fridge, but I usually go with something along the lines of Michelle Madden’s minimalist Squash Soup with Ginger and Cumin. The flourishes are up to you, but I recommend a few cloves of garlic and a generous pinch of garam masala for a savory boost.

Also, save your squash seeds! Lubricate with olive oil, spread out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven at 150 degrees F until they start to brown (about 15 minutes). Yum.

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I scored a work-exchange job at the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market last fall, and I was hauling home bags of Escondido-grown heirloom tomatoes every Sunday until December. Meanwhile, I was eating strawberries from the same farm, passion fruit from Vista, avocados from San Marcos, and rose apples, pomegranates, and pineapple guavas from my backyard. To top it all off, I greeted 2011 with a New Year’s watermelon from Temecula.

It was hysterical, really. Did nature forget? How was it that I could eat so well without straying 60 miles from my house? And in December!

My point is that if you have even the most nonchalant interest in incorporating more local food into your diet, San Diego is just about the easiest damn place to do it. With over 6,000 farms in the county and farmers’ markets every single day of the week, there’s really no reason to buy your apples from Chile. We have one of the longest growing seasons in the world, and most markets are open year-round. Plus, with sun in January, why wouldn’t you want to get on your bike and go meet the people who grow your food? There are lots of flowers and excellent people-watching opportunities, too.

The goal of this blog is to get you — the frugal, yet adventurous, eater — to join me in embracing the local bounty that San Diego has to offer. I will do my best to keep you up-to-date on the fruits and vegetables available each week, and also share some recipes that will help you make the most of these seasonal delights.

I hope you will follow me from soil to market to kitchen. And remember, a little dirt won’t kill you. ¡Buen provecho!

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