I hated cauliflower as a kid. Just a boring, bland waste of space on a veggie tray. Flavorless, albino broccoli.
Like many food groups that I disliked growing up, I have discovered that, if I revisit them, there is almost always at least one preparation that I’ve found delicious. Lately, this has inspired me to re-evaluate foods I once thought of as dull. I have been pleasantly surprised that cauliflower has been among those successful experiments, and am now a little bit obsessed.
It started with cauliflower’s charismatic, Fibonacci-shaped, chartreuse cousin, Romanesco. Being the color and design nerd that I am, I almost didn’t care what it was going to taste like when I made an impulse purchase at the Farmers Market. It was intriguing to separate the florets, and tasted a bit like cauliflower, but slightly different somehow. Curious, I visited The Google to learn how exactly the two are related. They belong to the cabbage family, along with broccoli, kale, collards, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. A curious group, all of which I love. Except for that monotonous white cauliflower. I decided cauliflower deserved another chance.
Summer may be winding down, but that’s no reason to lament the dwindling supply of the season’s best produce. You can take the taste of summer with you through the rest of the year by preserving the freshest, tastiest late-season farmer’s market tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes at the Mountain View Farmer's Market
I am particularly amused and charmed by food that grows in its own “wrapper”. Bananas. Clementines. Avocados. Grapefruit. Peas. It is nice to be able to transport a snack with you and not have to lug its container around afterward. Not only that, there is no waste involved since said “container” is compostable.
© Knife & Fork Project
Snow, Sugar Snap & English Peas
Since it’s spring, let’s explore peas, a handy nutrient-packed treat that is naturally self-contained. Peas are an excellent source of vitamin K, protein, iron, B vitamins, folic acid and starch. Pretty impressive, considering their size. The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as a phytochemical called coumestrol, which has been linked to lowering the risk of stomach cancer.
Not only are peas good for you, they are also good for the soil they grow in. The symbiosis between the bacteria that live in their roots and the nitrogen from the air that makes peas rich in protein is an effective process for replenishing the nitrogen levels in the humus. For this reason, peas have been grown as rotation crops since Roman times. Peas and other legumes are native to the Fertile Crescent… perhaps that’s why the Crescent was so Fertile.
There’s nothing quite like asparagus to herald the first days of spring. The vernal equinox may be the official indicator, sharing the sunlight and darkness evenly, but to me it will always be asparagus that puts me in the springtime mood.
While asparagus is available much of the year, it is the most tender and sweetest in early spring. Over the course of the season, the plant’s reserve of stored energy depletes and the shoots have less sugar content, so this is one of those vegetables you should look for on the early side to get the best experience.
Like all fresh produce, asparagus has a shelf life. Asparagus is exceptionally good at consuming its reserve of sugars, which means its flavor dulls, loses juiciness and becomes fibrous faster than many other vegetables. When the soft tissues of the asparagus break down, you are left with lignin. Lignin is a strengthening agent used by cell walls to enable stability in taller vegetation, which is handy for the plant, but bad news if you plan to eat it. In fact, lignin is actually the defining element of wood – the word for “wood” in latin is lignum. So when a recipe instructs you to “remove the woody ends” of asparagus, they’re not kidding.
One of the joys of living in a temperate climate is being able to go to a farmer’s market in the middle of January and peruse the offerings of the moment. Eating seasonally in California often feels like cheating, since so much produce grows here year-round. Typically, in January, we get a lot of root vegetables, avocados, mushrooms, and one final week of grapes.
While grapes aren’t the sort of thing that can be found everywhere, root vegetables are (generally) widely available across the country in the wintertime, being the type of produce that doesn’t mind the cold and can stand up to less favorable conditions. I’ve been growing beets and carrots in our community garden plot, and while they are growing slowly, they are growing nonetheless.
Atomic Red + Amarillo heirloom carrots, and their hybrid friends
Unfortunately, root vegetables can be a hard sell. It seems that people either love them or are really turned off by them. When roots are in season, they can be hard to embrace, but skipping vegetables altogether until spring will make you too unhealthy to embrace, well, pretty much anything.
Some roots are more palatable than others, but none seems to inspire quite as much consternation as the humble beet. Grown in the dirt, filled with highly-staining blood-red juice, simultaneously savory and sweet. It’s no wonder that we have trouble figuring out what to do with them.
I’m here to help.