Last week I caught a show on NPR with celebrated chef Dan Barber talking about eating local. He said that for him it has nothing to do with ethics. It is just about taste. Fresh food tastes better. True enough. But there is a bigger picture that cannot have escaped Dan Barber.
Whether he is weighing ethics into his choices or not, a complete disregard for where our food comes from is not sustainable. Eating food grown locally has many benefits. It uses much less energy to get to us if not to produce, it supports local economies AND the food tastes better and lasts longer. It turns out that fresher food is more nutritious as well. And what I liked the most about what he said is the idea that we can still have our bananas and Italian cheese, but we treat these far away items as a luxury and hence eat them in the proportions fitting a luxury, not everyday, all year long Basically, he's just putting it back into perspective. This is how our grandmothers regarded food. Remember the days that kids got an orange in their Christmas stockings. Oranges were a huge treat. Imagine getting back to a point where you could put a piece of fruit in your kids' stockings that they considered a special treat.
Now we just have to translate that into our own sensibility. For my family, we absolutely do not need plums in March flown on a jet plane from Chile (when they taste awful too). We can wait until we have local plums that taste delicious in July and August. If you absolutely cannot live without plums until they are in season (or any other fruit for that matter), consider getting a bushel at the height of freshness and preserving them.
On the other hand, we'll never have bananas grown within 100 miles, or 200 miles of New England. Therefore, when we want to have bananas, I bring my consiousness to the idea that this is a luxury that comes from far away. In our house, it is mangoes and avocados that are our biggest winter luxury food items. I stop buying them in the summer when there are so many other choices. When the salad choices start dwindling in October and the local apples and pears have all but disappeared in November, I put avocados and mangoes back on the grocery list. But we eat them in moderation interspersed with the applesauce I preserved and the berries I froze.
Now, if I could only apply this principle to chocolate . . .
This may seem like a conversation that is better suited to the fall, but to have preserved food available in the winter takes planning, beginning right now. Do you plant a garden? Think about what you may want to preserve and plant extra. You may be surprised by all that you can preserve. (I sauteed chard and beet greens with garlic last year and froze it in little baggies that I added to soups and stews all winter long. Delicious!!) Strawberries will be in season in just a few weeks. Simply cut off the greenies (as they are referred to in our house) and freeze in little ziplock bags. Some people like to par-freeze on cookie sheets and then put them in the baggies. This ensures that they won't stick together in the bag. The key to this is to pick clean berries. I don't pick right after a rain for two reasons: 1) the berries tend to be waterlogged and less tasty; and 2) the berries tend to be dirty. I don't like to wash berries that I'm going to freeze because they develop ice crystals. On a sunny morning, the berries are clean and tasty. Make friends with the farmers at farmers market and ask them about getting boxes of tomatoes, or a deal on several dozen corn. Whatever you can't live without all winter long, there is probably a way to preserve it.
The possibilities are endless. If you don't have a lot of freezer space, you may want to think about making an investment in a big freezer in the basement or barn. This was one of the best investments we ever made. Right now the freezer bounty is pretty sparse, as it should be in May. I'm trying to use those last bags of grated zucchini, corn cut off the cob and grilled veggies.
Which leads me to the very delicious meal I made last night. Quinoa salad with grilled vegetables with tofu and tempeh. We grill lots of veggies in the summer. Zucchini, summer squash, peppers, onions, fennel, eggplant. Whatever we don't finish, I pop into a ziplock and voila, February here we come. Or May as the case was last night. This is also my preferred way to cook tofu and tempeh which I am often asked about. So here it is.
Quinoa Salad with Grilled Vegetables, Tofu and Tempeh
For the Vegetables: Make your favorite marinade (one of mine follows). Summer choices include zucchini, summer squah, peppers, onions, whatever is ripe in the garden. Right now you could make this with asparagus, spring onions and shitake mushrooms, all available at farmers markets. Slice the vegetables and layer them in a long pyrex pan. Pour the marinade on top and cover with plastic. Once in a while, shake it, stir it, whatever you prefer to move the marinade around. Set the oven to 350. 20 minutes before you are ready to grill, put the veggies in the oven (take off the plastic). This gets them going and they don't need to spend as much time on the grill. Then grill until fork tender and each has a good char. Set aside.
For the Tofu and Tempeh:
Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch slices then cut in half to make squares. Slice the tempeh into 1/8 inch slices. Layout in one layer (as much as you can) in a pyrex dish.
Make your marinade: (this is one of my favorites, but is open to lots of interpretation)
1/4 maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespooon lime juice
1/2 cup vinegar (half balsamic, half red wine or any combination that you like)
1 Tablespoon tamari (soy sauce or shoyu are fine)
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup water
Whisk it all together. Pour over the tofu, tempeh reserving 1/2 cup.
Put tofu, tempeh in the oven at 350, uncovered for 30 minutes. Shake the dish a couple times to coat the tops of the tofu and tempeh. Sautee in olive oil on medium high until each piece has a bit of a char on both sides (this only takes a minute or two for the tempeh and a minute or two longer with the tofu). You can also grill them but you may want to leave the tofu larger.
For the Quinoa:
Combine the reserved marinade and 1 1/2 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Add one cup quinoa and reduce to low. Cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. About 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
At this point you can serve the components separately or you can cut up the veggies, the tofu and tempeh and mix into the quinoa and serve as a one bowl "salad" of sorts. I do it both ways, but find that I get more veggies into the kids if I combine the veggies and the quinoa.