Top Ten Farm Market Ingredients to Buy and Eat Now!

February 11, 2014

It’s the time of year more near and dear to my heart than Christmas, the season of farmers’ markets. We are especially blessed in my region of the country, surrounded by some of the lushest and abundant farm land in the country.

So why should you be shopping at a farm market? The easier question to answer is why wouldn’t you?

I know what you’re thinking. In these economic times, can we afford to be elitist and run off to the oh-so-trendy outdoor market for designer veggies? In these economic times, you can’t afford not to buy local. One of the biggest misconceptions about farm markets is that they are unaffordable and only for ‘foodies’. And while you will see latte-sipping chic urban types strolling around eating freshly baked croissants, most of what you will experience at the market is local farmers and shoppers looking to create synergy between the city experience of food and the rural production of it.

Farm markets will give you the best bang for your buck…on many levels. With truly fresh produce…like picked this morning fresh…at truly affordable prices, the local outdoor market gives you the chance to experience food on another level. Since it’s so fresh, the flavors are off the charts; your nutrients are at their most dense…and you get to connect with the person responsible for growing your food. You create relationships when you shop regularly at a farm market, a sense of community.

But if nutrients are all you care about, well, the market is still for you. Check out these incredible powerhouses of nutrition…at the local farm market right now.

With 134 calories in a whole cup of peas, these seasonal beauties are tender examples of why we eat veggies. A great source of calcium (43% of your daily requirements), potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, fresh peas contribute fiber to our diets, folic acid for strong blood and immune-boosting vitamins A, C and K for you antioxidant lovers.

Leafy Greens
These antioxidant-rich tender leaves, like arugula spinach, watercress, kale, collards, dandelion and bok choy, are an amazing source of vitamins A, C and E, as well as calcium, iron and protein (yes, protein). With only 7 calories for 30 grams of most greens, you can binge deliciously until your heart’s content. Satisfying and nutritious, greens will keep you sated and not land heavy on your hips.

Just a garnish, you say? Not so fast. With 1 calorie in each tablespoon and dense with essential nutrients, these delicate alliums do more than make a dish look lovely. A rich source of niacin and thiamine (which help to regulate metabolism), these babies can aid in the battle of the bulge, so pile them on. Oh, and the vitamins A, K, C, B6, calcium, iron and folate make them all the more beautiful…you, too!

Not just the colorful bits in a salad, radishes offer great nutrition. With 16 calories in a cup, radishes are jam-packed with nutrients like vitamin c and folate, both essential to strong red blood. Great sources of fiber and riboflavin, radishes help to regulate digestion, particularly of fats. And the vitamin B6 levels off your nervous system making you…and everyone around you…less stressed and happier.

Baby Bok Choy
Part of the cabbage family, these sweet and tender beauties are not only delicious, but are one of the greatest anti-inflammatory foods on the planet. And since they contain the cancer-fighting compounds common to other cruciferous veggies, as well as beta carotene and calcium, can you think of a reason not to add them to your veggie repertoire?

With a season of what seems like minutes, when you see local berries at a farm market, grab them, especially if they are not sprayed or are organic. Their sweet-tart flavor is just one bit of their allure. With only 49 calories in a cup, these vitamin C rich berries give us all the immune-boosting power we need, deliciously. A great source of fiber, magnesium and potassium, berries go a long way in helping us feel balanced. And once you have tried locally grown? Well, you will be ruined for the flat-tasting, out of season, ripened-under-grow-lights versions you find at the supermarket.

I know…seriously, turnips? Yup. A member of the cruciferous family, turnips are cancer-fighting powerhouses with a mild flavor that lends itself to roasting or braising…or boiling to add to a potato salad. And this time of year, you can get them as Mother Nature intended, with their tops intact and get the added benefit of the vitamin C in those bright green leaves. In natural medicine, turnips are used to help lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar, as well as cardiovascular disease. Still think turnips are boring?

Romaine Lettuce
The epitome of summer, lettuce is more than the delicate leaves that serve as the base of your salad. Low in calories (8 per cup), high in fiber, folate, vitamins C and K and lutein (for eye health), Romaine lettuce aids in digestion and is said to aid in prevention of heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Makes you see your salad in a whole new light, doesn’t it?

There are few foods that scream summer quite like tomatoes. Richly colored, sweetly lush, these are the fruits of seduction. At their peak from July til September, tomatoes offer us more than 50% of the vitamin C we need in a day. Jam packed with nutrients we need for a healthy life (like lycopene), tomatoes are one of the most delicious ways we can nourish ourselves. In salads, soups, stews, casseroles and gravies, tomatoes come in a wide array of colors, flavors and varieties. The only bummer is finding enough time and meals to enjoy them all.

One of the most prolific crops of summer, zucchini gets a bad rap sometimes. Called bland and flavorless, I say you are missing out if you skip this lovely summer squash. Their delicate creamy flesh is a great source of the valuable nutrient, manganese, as well as vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, potassium, copper and folate. Loaded with moisture and minerals, these summer beauties will keep you cool as a cucumber in the dog days of summer.

Okay, I know I said ten items, but how can we talk about summer food without herbs? Basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon verbena…and any other herb that trips your trigger are at their best when they are fresh…during the summer months. And sure you can buy dried herbs for cooking, but there is nothing like the sparkle and nutrient-dense boost you get from fresh herbs. From blood purifying compounds to vitamin C and other antioxidants, herbs give your dishes more than just a fresh flavor.

And don’t forget to indulge your tummy in peaches, plums, melons and all the other sexy, lush fruit of summer…

Who says you can’t eat your way to health?

Corn Soup with Red Pepper Salsa
A midsummer night dream, this soup. Fresh corn in a creamy broth, topped with a slightly spicy salsa. Its sweet and spicy flavors dance on the tongue, sensual, with just a hint of the heat of the season.

Makes 4-6 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
_ yellow onion, finely diced
sea salt
2 small carrots, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 _ cups fresh corn kernels
2 teaspoons white wine
3 cups unsweetened organic almond milk
1 cup spring or filtered water
Red Pepper Salsa, for garnish

Place about a tablespoon of oil, garlic and onion in a small soup pot and turn the heat to medium. When the vegetables begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Stir in carrots and celery, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in corn, mirin and add milk. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until corn and vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt, but remember this is a sweet soup, so go easy with the salt–and simmer 3-4 minutes more. Serve garnished with a generous tablespoon of Red Pepper Salsa and a drizzle of fruity olive oil.

Red Pepper Salsa

Makes about 1 cup salsa

1 small tomato, diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded, diced
2-3 leaves fresh basil, minced
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
_ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine diced tomato and pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss in basil and drizzle generously with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper flakes. Gently mix to coat the vegetables. Spread tomato and pepper mixture on the baking sheet and bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, tossing occasionally. The vegetables should brown slightly. Mix well to combine and set aside. The salsa will keep, refrigerated for about 4 days.

Pappa Al Pomodoro
Visions of a Tuscan summer come in each spoonful of this simple, richly flavored Italian tradition. Using only the freshest tomatoes at the peak of their flavor, this simple soup is summer at its best.

Makes 4-6 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2-3 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, diced, do not peel or seed
4-5 cups spring or filtered water
1 carrot, left whole
sea salt
1 small loaf whole grain, sourdough bread, coarsely crumbled
2 teaspoons sweet white miso
1 small bunch fresh basil, finely minced

Place a small amount of oil and the garlic in a soup pot and turn the heat to medium. As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle (do not burn it), add the tomatoes and the water. Bring to a boil, add the carrot, several pinches sea salt and the bread. Stir well, cover and return to the boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 35-40 minutes, until the bread is quite soft. Remove the carrot from the soup and discard.

Remove a small amount of broth, dissolve miso and stir back into soup. Simmer, uncovered for 3-4 minutes to activate the enzymes in the miso. Stir in fresh basil and serve.

Note: Adding the whole carrot to the soup will draw excess acid from the tomatoes into itself, making them easier to digest, so you can add a whole carrot to any tomato soup or sauce to ease digestion.

Pasta with Summer Vegetables and Chickpeas
I love, love, love to serve this main course in my garden on a sultry summer evening. Laced through fresh vegetables and richly flavored olives, this sensual, colorful dish is the perfect centerpiece with a crisp fresh salad and whole grain bread on the side. Summer doesn’t get better than this.

Makes 6-7 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, diced
sea salt
2 small yellow summer squash, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled, seeded, diced
3 tablespoons capers, drained
_ cup dry white wine
10 ounces medium-sized shells
2 ripe tomatoes, diced, do not peel or seed
_ cup coarsely minced, pitted, oil-cured black olives
3-4 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed from stems, finely minced
lemon wedges

Place a generous amount of oil, garlic and onion in a deep skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in yellow squash and zucchini, a generous pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in roasted pepper, capers and wine. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

While the vegetables cook, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook shells al dente, 11-12 minutes. Drain well, but do not rinse.

When the vegetables are ready, adjust seasoning and stir in tomatoes, olives and basil. Finally, fold in cooked shells and transfer to a serving platter. Serve garnished with lemon wedges.

Note: Take care when seasoning this dish as the capers and olives can make the dish too salty, should you have a heavy hand with the pinches needed.

Crispy Zucchini Chips
A spectacular party dish, but not too shabby as a starter for a special dinner for two, either. Lightly battered, so they fry up delightfully crispy and nicely balanced with lemon slices so that we can digest the oil with no problems.

Makes 6-8 servings

avocado or sunflower oil
1 cup sprouted whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup organic yellow corn meal
sea salt
4-5 firm zucchini, sliced into paper thin oblongs
2 fresh lemons, sliced into paper thin rounds
4-5 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced
8-10 sprigs watercress, stems trimmed to create 3-inch sprigs

Put about 3 inches oil in a deep saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Line a baking sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to warm.

Mix flour, corn meal and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl. Add about a third of the zucchini slices to the flour and toss gently with your hands to coat. When the oil is hot, fry floured zucchini until crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain and arrange on lined baking sheet and place in a warm oven. Repeat with the balance of zucchini slices.

Dredge the lemon slices in flour mixture and fry until golden, about 2 minutes. Drain and combine with zucchini in the oven, keeping oil over heat.

Just before serving, toss fried zucchini and lemon with parsley and transfer to a serving platter. Quickly fry watercress sprigs until crisp and mound them on the zucchini and lemon as garnish.