This week the South of the James market saw the beginning of another seasonal change. We are just starting to see more of the vegetables that most people associate with summer. On the farmers’ tables this week, I saw the first piles of corn, a greater variety of peppers, and some green tomatoes with a few red ones mixed in. I feel that we are about to turn a corner, and around that corner is an abundance of tomatoes, eggplant, corn, and zucchini.
However, the weekly cooking demo is all about appreciating what we have now, rather than what we have to look forward to in the future. What can we do this week with the produce we have now? How do we resist the temptation to pick up next month’s Virginia produce a few weeks early – produce that was grown by a farmer located 3,000 miles away, and shipped to our neighborhood grocery store?
We learn to love green tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and fresh herbs. That’s what we do.
Inspired by the season, Chef Sam “Rude Boy” Baker created a green tomato salad made with gorgeous green tomatoes from Norma’s Produce, cucumber, purple carrots, lemon basil, garlic, herbs de Provence, sea salt and black pepper, and dressed with apple cider vinegar. These ingredients are delicious and easy to love.
Alongside the green tomato salad, Chef Sam served pan seared dry scallops from Barham Seafood. The Chef explained to the audience why dry scallops are worth the extra cash, as he seasoned the scallops with sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. He prepared seared eggplant the same way, for the vegetarians in the house. I had never seen eggplant as a vegetarian stand-in for scallops before, but it seemed to work.
The Veg of the Week was eggplant, a vegetable that started popping up at several farmers’ stalls this week. I think that most people associate eggplant with Eggplant Parmigiana or Ratatouille. The Chef set out to show people that there are plenty of things you can do with eggplant and basil before the tomatoes ripen.
Eggplant from Norma’s Produce and Amy’s Garden played well with Tuscan kale and lemon basil from Victory Farms in many of the dishes this week.
For the second round of the demonstration, the Chef did a stir fry two ways: one vegetarian version and one with scallops and fish sauce. He fried some kale chiffonade in a pan with oil and fish sauce and sampled the kale to curious passersby. Most people had not used fish sauce in their homes so Chef Sam answered a lot of questions about this mysterious ingredient.
The spicy stir fry included purple and white eggplant, white onion, mushrooms, green tomatoes, sweet peppers, Thai chili peppers, Tuscan kale, sorrel and basil. The second version differed from the first by the addition of seared scallops and fish sauce for flavor. The Chef explained that a stir fry can be made with whatever vegetables you have on hand, during any season, and he urged home cooks to get creative in the kitchen with their favorite vegetables.
Then came the curve ball.
The final dish for the demonstration showed some real creativity, inspired by a shortage of forks at the demo tent following several rounds of samples. When we ran out of forks and were left with only skewers and toothpicks, the Chef had to come up with an interesting way to prepare the remaining pile of produce for his last challenge. I suggested that we sauté the veggies and roll them up in the kale leaves for a vegan and vegetarian finger food. Locally famous for his North Carolina Tamales, which utilize steamed collard greens in place of the traditional corn husk, The Chef agreed to give it a try.
These kale rollups featured eggplant, mushrooms, green tomatoes, lemon basil and Thai chilies, seasoned with rice wine vinegar and sea salt, wrapped in a steamed Tuscan kale leaf and pierced with a toothpick.
In the ultimate challenge of working with what you have (and not with what you don’t have), he pulled off a healthy and delicious finger food that highlighted the flavors of the season.
Thanks to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, HaaShrooms, Norma’s Produce, Phal Vong, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.