Culinary Adventures at Your Local Farmers' Market
Think there’s nothing new in the vegetable world? Bored with the same lettuce, green beans and frozen corn your mother served?
For a complete change of pace and an instant broadening of your culinary horizons, try your local farmers’ market, urges Chrissy Wellington, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox.
“We’re moving into prime farmers’ market season,” says Chrissy. “Find a market near you and you’ll have access to an ever-changing array of fresh, bright-tasting, sustainable, affordable produce that’s in season and has traveled, on average, 50 miles or less from the field. That means your greens – and all the other fruits and vegetables you enjoy – will be more nutritious and better-tasting, as well as ‘greener’ in the environmental sense than most supermarket produce.”
By contrast, food at the supermarket originates an average of 1,500 miles away from where it’s grown.
Fresh, in-season & delicious
In addition, the variety and quality of the local produce featured at such markets – which often includes unusual, local specialties and heirloom varieties – can be inspiring for cooks.
“You can build meals around whatever’s most abundant and best at the market – that’s exactly what many great chefs do, and it’s a big reason their food is so special,” says Chrissy.
But what if you’re not sure whether you like arugula, or you’ve never cooked kale or bok choy? Chrissy suggests that you talk to vendors, who will usually be happy to let you taste and can offer advice on simple, time-tested preparations for their wares.
You can add further variety to any diet, she points out, by letting the calendar, to some extent, determine your menu. “Greens and asparagus in spring, on through the summer berries and tomatoes, and then into the squashes and root vegetables in the fall – eating with the season means that you’re enjoying all these wonderful foods at their absolute peak – while saving money.”
Chrissy mentions that Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating, has calculated that each of us makes an average of 200 decisions about food every day. Unfortunately, many of those decisions tend to take us straight into nutritional ruts.
“Shopping farmers’ markets is one way to make our food environment healthier, more varied and just more interesting,” says Chrissy. What’s not to like?
No type of food offers more nutritional advantages than the edible leaves of plants.
High in fiber, packed with vitamins and other beneficial phytochemicals, ridiculously low in calories and, in many cases, rich in bio-available calcium, greens – from spinach and mustard greens to chard and kale – are among the most healthful and delicious foods you can choose.
What’s the easiest and most appealing way to prepare greens? We asked Canyon Ranch Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein for advice.
“Greens are fantastic,” says Chef Scott. “I cook them in two different ways: Very fast and very slow. Actually, make that three ways. The third is, not at all.”
How you deal with greens, he explains, depends not so much on the variety as the age and tenderness of the leaves.
“Very small, tender leaves are great in salads,” he explains. Slightly older leaves are best just barely heated through, says Chef. “Treat them like spinach.”
Mature greens, including collards and kale, get the long, slow treatment.
“Tenderness is what determines how you cook them – just take a bite and see for yourself.”
Chef Scott’s Super-Easy Greens Cooking Guide
Baby greens: Use fresh in salads. Wash, dry and toss!
Young greens (3 to 4 inches long): Heat olive oil. Sauté chopped onion and garlic until soft. Wash greens carefully and just shake off water so that a few drops still cling to the leaves. (Remove stems if desired.) Add to pan and cook a minute or two, until wilted. Stir and serve.
Full-size greens: Wash, strip off and discard thick stems. Roughly chop leaves. Sauté chopped onion and garlic, then add a few peppercorns and some stock. (For those who eat pork, a hambone is the classic, savory addition to the pot.) Add greens. Cover and simmer gently for several hours, until tender and fragrant. Drain and sprinkle lightly with olive oil and apple cider vinegar before serving.
For more cooking tips and recipes:
Canyon Ranch Recipes – Indulgently Healthy Cuisine
Three Reasons to Love Farmers’ Markets
1. “Farmers’ markets represent the epitome of seasonal eating. The food you see at a farmers’ market is often picked the day, if not hours, before the market opens. That freshness equates to quality of flavor and quantity of nutrients.”
2. “Food is not packed, waxed or irradiated, and consequently, provides you with three less things to worry about on the topic of eating clean and green.”
3. “Farmers’ markets make for pleasurable food shopping.”
from Lori Reamer, R.D., nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, author of The Food that Fits: A Guide to Mastering Your Food Style.