Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vashon Island, Five Flavors, and Use It Up Soup

I joined writing group friends for the Vashon Island Studio Art Tour last weekend. As we rode the early ferry, I started thinking about the usual Northwest local foods, I might have scored at the market this week--Brussels sprouts, squash, kale and of course some crusty Tall Grass Bakery bread.

In Vashon, we stopped for coffee and I noticed the familiar canvas market tents next door. Before going on the art tour, I grabbed a bag and we headed to the market.

The Vashon Island farmers’ market isn't a year-round market like the ones in Seattle, and this late in the year this market seemed very small town. It reminded me of the market in Forks where I’d stopped years ago, but that market was so small I don't even recall seeing any farmers there, only local artisans. Apparently the Vashon summer farmers' market is quite different. The regular farmers market is closed for the year and this annual art tour is a special occasion when some farm vendors return.

I bought eggs from the Bad Bunny Farm, and I also got some squash, onions and shallots--no kale or greens here now. Suddenly I realized that I now take the year-round markets in Seattle for granted. How quickly we get used to the way things are when they suit us. In winter I get hearty greens, Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots available at year-round markets -- Ballard, West Seattle and the University District.

Anyway, our market visit didn’t take long, then we headed to the studios, which are scattered around Vashon. One of my favorites was right in town-- Pam Ingalls. Her oil paintings sparkled with earth tones, light and reflections. I loved the rustic feel of the paintings and some depicted simple kitchen images— a shiny toaster and a cube of butter or a peanut butter jar, a honey bear and an empty bread plate. A great gift for any chef--if only I had a bigger kitchen for an actual painting.

Immersed in art for the day, it wasn’t until I returned home that I realized I my meager farmers’ market purchases wouldn't see me through the week.

I rarely shop at grocery stores (maybe more on that topic later), but this was going to be a creative cooking week as I used up stray produce, plus pantry and frozen items that I keep for these kinds of challenging weeks.

As I rummaged through my refrigerator, I thought about my mother as I selected candidates for our meal.

Mom always added old leftover cooked vegetables that no one wanted to casseroles, soups, and meatloaves. As a child, I was suspicious of green beans in meatloaf; and week-old creamed corn just wasn’t right, tossed as an afterthought into the stew. Whenever we asked how old an ingredient from some covered container was, Mom shrugged her shoulders and casually replied, "I just had to use it up." I was always on guard because Mom incorporated old ingredients almost randomly and it rarely improved whatever she made.

Luckily I had more than enough fresh produce left to make something good, but I couldn't let it go another day or I might really become my mother, so I used as much as I could. I just had to figure out the flavors of this vegetable stew.

Five Flavors
Years ago a Chinese chef from Vancouver told me the palate senses five flavors:


"Put these together in a meal and it works," he'd said. I always remember that when putting an impromptu dish together. These flavors are definitely notes to keep in mind when creating dishes.

This recipe is dedicated to Mom whose watercolors and pastels were way better than her cooking!

Use it Up Winter Vegetable Stew
This recipe uses lots of vegetables—about 12--but don’t let that discourage you. Use less if you want, just cut back on the amount of water. Also the amount of coconut milk is small and this soup could take a larger can, if you have it. And it doesn't matter if your apple is slightly mealy because the apple imparts a tang that marries the flavors. If you don’t have an apple, use lemon juice. The herbs, garlic and bay leaf came from Stoney Plains Farm, Rent's Due Ranch and Rockridge Orchards. The sweet potato was leftover from a recipe article that I wrote recently for Vegetarian Journal. I froze the corn last summer and the celery-- I was lucky to have some left for this soup.

1 cup diced shallots
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 peeled, chopped sweet potato
5-once can coconut milk
3 to 4 cups water
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium turnips, chopped
1 cup cubed delicata squash
1 peeled and cored apple
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 to 1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's pepper
2 cups frozen corn
3 to 4 leaves kale, thinly sliced
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt to taste
Your favorite cheese, grated (optional)

1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and olive oil. Stir and cook over medium low heat until golden—about 15 minutes.

2. While shallots caramelize, in a large pot, combine coconut milk sweet potato, water, celery, turnips, delicata squash, apple, bay leaf, basil and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and simmer until vegetables begin to soften.—10 to 15 minutes. The cooking time depends on how large the vegetables are cut.

3.Add corn, kale, and white beans. Cook for ten more minutes or until kale is tender, then salt to taste. Garnish with the shallots and your favorite farmstead cheese, if desired. Serve with Beechers Cheese Crackers or your favorite crusty artisan bread.

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