real food right now
Real Food Right Now and How to Cook it (#realfoodrightnow) is our weekly series on the ABCs and 123s of seasonal food.
The thing I remember most about the first time I tried asparagus is dipping it in mayonnaise. I was about seven and also vaguely recall grilled steak and a 1980's-era version of my dad, but the mayonnaise I remember clearly. (Best Foods. I grew up in Washington State and wouldn't hear of Hellman's for another 20 years.) Even as a child, I liked vegetables, but I really liked condiments. I still enjoy a good sauce, but these days I appreciate asparagus as most people do, for what it symbolizes: the beginning of the growing season.
This week in Seasonal Food: Rhubarb. Get to know this fascinating, delicious vegetable -- er, fruit. (Which is it? Depends where you are!) Tangy and beautiful, these late spring/early summer stalks will lend a lot of zip to your seasonal eating.
Estimates vary, but Americans put back at least several billion burgers each year (a quick internet search shows 13 and 14 billion as the most common approximations). Patty contents vary; Burger King offers a veggie burger these days, and fancier burger joints like NYC's Bareburger offer exotic meats like elk, ostrich and bison. But the majority are still made from ground beef, a product that has taken a major beating in the press this year with massive consumer outcry over "lean finely processed beef" (more widely known as "pink slime") that led to the recent shutdown of three plants that produced the questionable product. Will the ick factor kill Americans' burger fetish? Not likely.
Three years ago, I started growing a few different varieties of heirloom lettuce. To me, lettuce - more than any other vegetable - represents the highs and the lows of urban gardening. Is anything more satisfying than seeing the bright neon green of Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce peeking up through the dirt in spring? Is there anything more soul crushing than the discovery that your perfect head of Speckled Bibb has been nibbled to the ground by a flock of rough-and-tumble Brooklyn sparrows? This year I got wise and outsmarted the sparrows with the clever use of bird netting and row cover - leaving me with a bumper crop of tender spring lettuce. (A delicious bonus: laughing in the face of my sparrow nemeses.)
The first time I saw kohlrabi was about 10 years ago at my local food co-op. I had just joined the co-op, and at the time my root vegetable repertoire was pretty limited. Of course, I was intimately familiar with the mighty potato, but the more esoteric root veggies still stymied me, especially the knobby, weird-looking kohlrabi. (OK, I'll admit that back then, even beets were pretty exotic to me. I've come a long way.) I had absolutely no idea what kohlrabi tasted like or what to do with it. Also, kohlrabi is not really a root vegetable -- but more on that here.
That first glimpse of strawberries at the market means that summer is finally here. I look forward to their arrival the way some people celebrate baseball's opening day. Once, as a kid, I ate so many strawberries that I got hives. I really like strawberries. When I say "strawberries," I mean those nuggets of red, delicious juiciness found at the farmers' market or a local farm stand -- not the giant (flavorless) ones you can find year round at the supermarket. Like most good things, strawberries must be waited for, consumed with biblical gluttony and then mourned as their season ends.
If there ever was a poster child for Real Food Right Now, it would be, hands down, the garlic scape. With a tangle of green curlicued shoots in your midst, you aren’t just eating seasonally; you're literally eating in the moment. Here’s what I mean: The scape (aka garlic shoot or curl) represents a specific stage of growth of hard-necked varieties of garlic. Like its brothers and sisters in the Allium family, garlic (A. sativum) grows underground, developing into a soft bulb. As the bulb grows and hardens, a green shoot pokes its head through the ground and curls in pig tail-like fashion before straightening. (A tangle of them always makes me think of Medusa’s fabulous mane.)
There is an old saying with many variations, the gist of which is, "Making laws and making sausages are both disgusting processes." The quote is often attributed to Otto Von Bismark but according to Yale's Fred Shapiro, it was actually lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe who said "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." In any case, jokes about the nastiness of hot dog production date back to the 1800s.
If you're lucky to have access to a garden with verdant clumps of basil growing in it, there's nothing like its heady smell hovering in the summer heat. Bonus: according to folklore, basil is a cure for scorpion stings. Intrigued? Read on.
If someone forced me to pick a fruit I couldn’t bear to live without, I would choose tomatoes in a heartbeat. (Yes, I said "fruit": although culinarily used as a vegetable, botanically tomatoes are actually fruit. More on this later.)
It was 1988 when musician Bobby McFerrin -- in his signature a capella style -- gave the world some practical, if magical advice: "Don’t worry, be happy." But many decades earlier, during the Great Depression, a songwriting team conjured up a similar sentiment, reminding us to let go of our troubles and instead think of life as "just a bowl of cherries."
In this week's Real Food installment, from the illustrious Kim O'Donnel, learn the difference between snap beans and shell beans, how incredibly nutritious they are, what to look for at the market and why it's important to buy this summer staple organic.
This week’s Real Food gets a bad rap -- it’s heavily subsidized and heavily monocropped, a whopping 88% of it is genetically engineered and most of it becomes animal feed, high fructose corn syrup or ethanol. But we've got a soft spot for sweet corn, and we bet you do, too.
Before moving to Seattle four years ago, I thought of the Pacific Northwest as ground zero for coffee and seafood. Little did I know that we were relocating to bramble country, where prickly bushes cover every untended parcel, producing inky sweet-tart drupelets in jeweled shades of indigo, deep purple and Snow White’s lips. I'm talking about raspberries, blackberries and their many mirthfully-sounding cultivars -- Olallieberries and Marionberries, to name just two.
This nightshade has been unfairly blamed for maladies from pimples to leprosy to "melancholy." Also, should you salt and rinse it, and why? Megan Saynisch leads us on a path winding through eggplant's exotic history and straight back to the kitchen.
If there's one crop that epitomizes the sultry essence of summer, it's the watermelon. As apples and winter squash make their pre-autumn debut, Mother Nature stops the rush hour traffic and allows the last bit of sun-kissed, lycopene-rich hunks of burning love to pass Go and keep on keeping on.