Seasonal Eating: Expand Your Culinary Repertoire
For those of us who have sunk our teeth into the flesh of a plump summer tomato, it takes no further convincing that eating seasonally is worth it, based on flavor alone.
In my last post, where I listed the main reasons why I choose to shop at the Athens Farmers Market for the bulk of my groceries, I spoke briefly about the benefits of a seasonal-based diet. In addition to the heightened flavor of produce that is in season (and believe me, you can taste the difference), aligning your diet with the crop cycle has several key benefits that should not be overlooked.
Produce that is harvested and consumed in the proper season contains far more natural nutrients. Most grocery stores sell food that has been treated with pesticides, waxes and preservatives in order to make the produce appear fresh, which ironically compromises the health value of the crop.
Another point to consider is ripeness, which is undoubtedly compromised when food is stored or shipped before it reaches your table. Most crops reach maturity while on the plant, and after harvested begin to change in taste, aroma, color and texture. Eating produce that was harvested and sold in season is the only way to ensure your getting the full flavor and nutritious content the crop has to offer.
It makes sense: Food is easier to grow in its proper season. This means that in-season crops are more abundant, less time-intensive for the farmers, and more affordable for consumers. By purchasing produce directly from a farmer who harvested it that morning, you eliminate an expensive middle man who is part of an elaborate food chain.
It’s fun to experiment!
I’ll admit, when I first realized that okra would be a key part of my summer diet, I was a tad reluctant. I committed to stick with the seasons and try a few okra recipes, despite my slimy perception of the vegetable. It didn’t take long for me to find plenty of okra dishes that were easy to make and delicious.
Aligning your grocery shopping with natural crop patterns challenges you to experiment with unfamiliar produce. In my experience, I have found that there isn’t a single vegetable that I can’t get along with if I give it a chance. Shopping at the Athens Farmers Market has vastly expanded my culinary repertoire and has made me a more confident and experimental cook.
I understand that variety can be daunting at times; having access to new produce that you're not familiar with can be intimidating when you’re faced with vegetables of all shapes and sizes. Unlike Kroger, the food at the market doesn’t come slapped with a sticker that tells you exactly how to cook it so that your meals taste the same every time. Who wants their food to be that boring?
For those of us who are just starting to get our kitchen legs, it can be scary!
You are not alone.
I, too, have suffered from a market syndrome that I refer to as Acute Produce Apprehension (APA) and I am here to tell you, there is a cure: Just go for it!
The great thing about the Athens Farmers Market is that each farmer is more than willing to guide you through working with a new item. They are excited to share personal recipes and offer tips and recipes for optimal preparation. This week, Steve and Mandy O’Shea from Three Porch Farm have shared one of their most coveted sandwich recipes
1 loaf of Focaccia bread
1 lb of Fairytale Eggplant (or other small, tender, non-bitter eggplant)
1 medium to large onion
2-3 Jimmy Nardello Peppers (incredibly sweet)
2 crook neck squash
1/3-1/2 stick of butter
Goat cheese to taste
(optional: oyster or shiitake mushrooms, white wine, beer, or piece of bacon)
Thinly slice all ingredients and put in a pot with a lid. Cook slowly on stove top at medium to low. Should take a good half hour to 45 minutes to caramelize everything to the desired consistency (softer and sweeter is better for this meal). Monitor the process and stir occasionally. Add water, beer, or wine if necessary to prevent sticking to bottom of pot.
Slice focaccia bread down the middle to make 2 open faces. Toast focaccia, then with spread goat cheese. Take caramelized eggplant mix and spread on top of focaccia. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. For an added treat, break up 2 crispy slices of bacon add sprinkle on top.
“This sandwich is absolutely divine,” says Steve, the sandwich inventor.
Stop by the Athens Farmers Market on Saturday and Wednesday for more tips and secrets from the experts. Challenge yourself to grab a pound or two of something that you’ve never tried or are convinced you hate and mess around with it until you come to terms. Just a few trips to the market are sure to cure even the most severe cases of Acute Produce Apprehension.
AFM Public Outreach Intern