'Why don't you write about normal food? You know, food people who shop in grocery stores eat?'
I hadn't thought that I was writing about anything BUT normal food. Please forgive me if in my quest to Eat Locally I left some of you at the grocery check-out stand. It seems very 'normal' for me to buy food directly from the farmer, but I realize it's more 'normal' for people to shop for all their food at one convenient location.
Because we are demanding it, local groceries are bringing in more local and organic food items and offering more produce choices in general. Your grocer is excited about what he is able to offer on his shelves and produce prices are relatively low, so take advantage of the opportunities to try new foods.
Today's column is dedicated to exploring options for some vegetable bin staples: potatoes, lettuce and, just to shake it up a bit, radishes.
Your neighborhood grocery is stocking bins with colorful apples of the Earth - new potatoes, America's most loved vegetable.
You will find new potatoes with red, white, blue, yellow, purple and tan skins. Some have colored flesh, others are creamy white. They come in all shapes and sizes with varying starch contents, too.
New potatoes have thin skins and tend to keep their shapes better after cooking than russet potatoes, making them ideal for potato salads, gratins and scalloped potatoes.
Just a little different from the russet, a new colored potato may become a family favorite.
In the greens section, grocery stores are stocking a nice variety of lettuces. Red leaf, green leaf, bibb and butter lettuces, mixed baby greens, spinach, kale, romaine and iceberg are all common varieties. Arugula, watercress, mustard greens, chard and other more unique greens are becoming commonplace as well. Dark leafy greens are more nutritious than lighter colored lettuces; hence spinach will add more nutritional value to a salad than iceberg lettuce.
Nobody gets excited about eating a ho-hum salad. Salads need to be visually intriguing; an easy way to add intrigue to a salad is by adding color. Think red, yellow or orange peppers, tomatoes, berries, beans, nuts and seeds, fresh herbs, mushrooms, etc., etc. You are limited only by your imagination, friends - anything goes in a salad.
A well made salad deserves a great dressing. Homemade dressings are a snap to make and taste so much better than their bottled counterparts. When you discover how simple it is to make your own dressings you will be hard pressed to buy bottled dressing again.
And finally, because they make a great salad addition, let's talk about radishes. Your grocer will stock small red radishes and possibly daikon radishes. Slice these thin and toss with your salad, or eat them as the French do: thinly sliced on buttered bread for breakfast.
Easter egg radishes are popular because they look just like Easter eggs with their pink, purple, red and white coloring.
Many other varieties are available however the vegetable department manager has limited space to designate to radishes; if you are crazy for radishes and want a variety you will need to seek them out at the farmers' markets. Can we create some unique dishes with these 'normal' foods? These recipes are perfect for summer dining and will surely become household favorites. Try them this weekend!
Bon Appetit! Eat Local and Colorfully!
Chilled Radish Buttermilk Soup
Makes 4 cups
A perfectly refreshing marriage of buttermilk, radish and cucumber!
½ pound trimmed radishes, quartered (1 ¼ cups)
¾ pound English seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped (2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
Garnish: thin slices of cucumber and radish
Puree all ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Gourmet 2006
Roasted Zucchini and Radishes
Makes 8 servings
Roasted radishes lose their bite and are a perfect accompaniment to the mellow sweetness of cooked zucchini.
2 pounds zucchini
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 bunches large radishes (2 ¼ pounds with greens) greens discarded
special equipment: 2 large 17 x 11 shallow baking pans
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, then put baking pans on racks and preheat oven to 450°F. Halve zucchini lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ¼-inch pieces. Toss with ¼ cup oil, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper in a large bow. Halve radishes lengthwise, then cut crosswise into ¼ inch pieces. Toss with remaining 3 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper in another large bowl. Working quickly, spread zucchini in pan on lower rack and radishes in pan on upper rack.
Roast vegetables, without stirring, until lightly browned and tender, 20 to 30 minutes, then toss together in a large bowl.
Gourmet June 2007
Green Bean and Red Onion Salad with Radish Dressing
5 radishes, unpeeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey mustard
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 ½ pounds slender green beans, trimmed
4 cups mixed greens (such as red leaf lettuce and baby spinach), torn into bite-size pieces
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 large radishes, sliced paper thin (optional)
Place 5 radishes in processor. Add oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic; process until thick dressing forms. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring just to room temperature before using.)
Cook green beans in large pot of boiling salted water until just crisp tender; about 5 minutes. Drain beans and rinse under cold water. Drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Wrap in kitchen towels and place in plastic bag. Chill until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Place beans, mixed greens and onion in a large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with sliced radishes, if desired.
Adapted from Bon Appetit, Feb. 1995