Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter at the greenmarket

This is the time of year when I start rebelling against roasted root vegetables–I mean really dreading them. What was such a refreshing change from tomatoes and zucchini back in October is now about as welcome as another snow day. Although I don’t follow the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle diet by any stretch, I do try to support regional farmers by eating as locally as comfortably possible through the winter–and that’s no easy feat in the New York City. It can be limiting. Our growing season looks like a mirage glimmering in the distance right now, and our fresh vegetable and fruit CSAs won’t kick in again until June. And yet, on certain days–yes, even freezing ones–I find myself craving a nice crisp raw salad–one bursting with real, vibrant leafy things beyond the wan lettuces on the store shelves.

It turns out, thanks to inventive, intrepid growers, we have quite a few options around here now: wonderful, colorful creations that were actually grown within a morning's drive. Roots, of course, store well, and we still have some nice looking ones from this fall’s CSA–and believe it or not, roots don't have to mean cranking up the oven (more on that in a second). Our winter share, from a Hudson Valley-based cooperative called Winter Sun Farms, not only keeps us in frozen vegetables for our soups and berries for our smoothies, but delivers the sprightliest (greenhouse) pea shoots you can imagine, which we enjoy this fine way.


They're brave people, the farmers up here, and I'm grateful for that. Last Saturday I trekked to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket in Brooklyn with temperatures in the teens, and quite a few growers had shown up, offering wares such as grass-fed milk, crisp apples, sustainably raised pork, frilly mushrooms, and roots–and even some whole, frozen heirloom tomatoes from last fall.

Then, on Wednesday, at the start of another mighty blizzard, I hopped the subway to the Union Square Greenmarket to answer the burning question of what sort of inspiration can be found on a snowy day. The answer was this: plenty, including some truly amazing options for salad. And not just sprouts, like the psychedelically-hued selection at Windfall Farms. I also spied cucumbers, lettuces, and peppers at Bodhi Tree Farm. Peppers! Even my beloved shishito peppers, which I blister in a hot pan and dip in paprika salt, and to which I thought I had bid farewell until August. At first coming face to face with them in a greenmarket tent in January felt all wrong, until I realized that the bell peppers I occasionally buy in our organic market are raised in greenhouses and shipped all the way from Holland.
In the end, there were simply too many choices. I paid a pretty penny for some of the greenhouse items, but I believe supporting local growers will pay dividends in the end, on many different levels. The salad I ended up tossing together was a happy marriage of greens and of raw root vegetables. What's that? Raw root vegetables in a salad? Yes! If you have a mandoline or even a very sharp “Y” peeler, you can shave your root vegetables thin as petals, for texture and flavor that are brighter, more delicate, and leafier than what results from cubing and roasting those very same vegetables. Jerusalem artichokes, which are actually the roots of sunflower plants, taste especially nice this way and add a touch of nuttiness. Watermelon radishes and black radishes (below) supply color and drama and a hint of heat. Try it–just make sure to get them thin enough to let light through.  
My salad was mostly raw, but I did sprinkle some toasted hazelnuts on top because they work so nicely with the nuttiness of the sunchokes and the sunflower and rosy buckwheat sprouts. I used hazelnut oil too, and would recommend it, but there’s no reason not to use other nut oils, or olive oil. (The hazelnuts were not local, and if anyone could point me in the direction of hazelnuts grown around here, I would be grateful!). The recipe below is a loose guideline, meant to incorporate anything you might happen upon in the market, on any given day. If you sprout your own beans and seeds at home, this is a perfect place to use them.

Winter Greenmarket Salad: 
Serves about 2
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
  • pinch sea salt
  • crank of black pepper
  • 3 heaping tablespoons hazelnut oil (or other oil, such as walnut or olive)
Whisk together all ingredients except oil. Gradually whisk in oil a drop in a time, then in larger dribbles until it's all incorporated smoothly. Taste, and if you feel it's too acidic add a couple more drops of oil. 

  • Young greens: dandelion, mizuna, arugula or tat soi
  • Sprouts: sunflower, buckwheat, or radish
  • Roots: Jerusalem artichoke, radishes, turnips, celeriac
  • Hazelnuts
  • Optional: minced chives
Toast hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until deep golden brown. Cool them, and rub the skins off. Crush the hazelnuts under the side of a large knife, or in a bag, with a rolling pin. Wash the roots you have selected, dry, and then thinly shave them horizontally (see picture above of the pink watermelon radishes). It's up to you to decide the amount and proportion of roots and greens you want. Count on a small handful of greens per person, with about half the volume of roots. Put these in a large bowl and drizzle dressing, starting with about 1 tablespoon per person. Toss gently with clean hands, adding more dressing if needed. Gather up haystack bundles of salad and heap onto plates. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts and, if you like, fleur de sel (fine sea salt crystals).

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