This week’s cooking demonstrations at the South of the James farmers’ market had an unplanned theme of fire and ice. It was another gorgeous day, and with the mercury gradually rising in Richmond, Chef Sam “Rude Boy” Baker showed us some ice cold summer salads along some hot and spicy entrees. Without explicitly stating the theme, the Chef finished hot dishes with cool relishes, and paired crisp, cold salads with warm, spicy accompaniments.
The colorful fresh produce gathered from market vendors that morning was a big draw for market shoppers. A small crowd gathered at the demo tent early on, as the Chef talked about his ingredients and chopped a rainbow of peppers, onions, squash, and other seasonal ingredients. The purple peppers from Norma’s produce and the bright yellow lemon cucumbers from Victory Farms were big conversation starters at the cutting board. In an impressive feat, the Chef held the audience’s attention for about 45 minutes without ever heating a pan.
It was evident that the Veg of the Week had to be these long awaited peppers. We have been dying to get our hands on some local peppers for the last few weeks and it was such a nice surprise to see them all come in this week in beautiful and varied shapes, sizes and colors.
I highlighted some quick facts about peppers on the Veg of the Week board, but I wished I had more room to include all of the other things that I love about peppers. What a versatile and delicious vegetable! Did you know that the capsaicin in hot peppers does wonders for kickstarting your metabolism? How about this incredible fact: according to whfoods.com, one cup of bell peppers contains almost 200% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C!
The Chef started with fresh salmon from Barham Seafood and an array of vegetables, including green beans, bell peppers, white onion, golden zucchini, eggplant, and jalapeno. While he prepared the ingredients, market goers enjoyed a cool cucumber salad that featured green cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, purple bell pepper, white onion, pickled okra, cilantro, basil, salt and pepper, dressed in the brine from the Empress Farms pickled okra.
As market shoppers cooled off, the kitchen heated up. Several onlookers stuck around for the Chef’s Thai style noodle dish with salmon, basil, and fresh market veggies. He showed the crowd how to improvise with what they had. Lacking several key ingredients for Thai cooking, the Chef made do with taglierini from Cavanna Pasta instead of rice noodles, sweet basil instead of Thai basil, and fresh jalapeno instead of Thai chilies. And the dish was completely delicious. The message is that while you may slightly compromise authenticity, you do not have to sacrifice flavor while working with just what is available locally.
The salmon’s next starring role was over organic mixed salad greens. The Chef prepared herb crusted salmon (herbs de Provence to be exact) and showed interested market goers how to remove the pan from the heat when the salmon was just underdone. The fish continued to cook in the hot pan so that it was perfectly cooked by the time of plating.
The warm salmon over the cold, crisp greens was well received by the crowd and the vendors who generously donated the ingredients for the presentation.
The icy component of this salmon dish was a relish made with Korean melon, cucumber, peppers and fresh herbs. The Korean melon from Amy’s Garden was cool and sweet, and it was just what the later market group needed as the temperature rose. Of the two melons used, one was ripe and sweet, and the other was slightly underripe and a bit tangy. This relish was great on its own and people loved it on the salmon. I bet it would be great on tacos too.
Finally, the Chef demonstrated the difference between cold cabbage and wilted cabbage by creating a raw, cold slaw and then sauteeing half of it in some hot oil. The “market slaw” contained cabbage and fennel from Tomten Farm, bell pepper, jalapeno, Korean melon, golden zucchini, white onion, flat leaf parsley, and the juice from some pickled okra. When asked about the pickled okra brine as dressing, the Chef explained, “it’s all in there – you’ve got your vinegar, your spices, all your flavor – you don’t need anything else.”
The flavor differences between the cold slaw and the hot were incredible. I couldn’t believe I was eating the same ingredients, with the only difference being heat and a little oil. Chef Sam Baker asked market goers which they preferred and no one could commit. We heard the same thing over and over, “they’re both just so different… and so good.”
I preferred the hot, pictured below. I thought the heat brought out the flavors a bit more.
But then again, I wasn’t standing in the hot sun. If I had been at a backyard barbecue in the peak of Richmond summer, I might have gone for cold. I suppose that’s why it’s important to have options. And that’s probably why the best dishes have a little of both.
Thanks to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, Cavanna Pasta, Empress Farm, Norma’s Produce, Tomten Farm, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.
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Have a question for Chef Sam Baker? Send me an email at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com or put it in the comments. We’ll get you an answer AND your question may be included in an upcoming Vegology Ask the Chef post!