Monday, February 25, 2013

Back to my roots

This past Saturday, aspiring and accomplished urban gardeners celebrated the 6th annual -- and best ever -- Rooting DC. It was the fourth time I attended the free, all-day conference, and the second time I've presented. (Me! An expert at something! I have been known to preserve a thing or two in my day....) This time, instead of demonstrating how one could make vegan kim chi, as I did in 2010, dozens of us made kim chi together. And pickles, too. It was an exercise in controlled chaos.

As soon as I finished giving a primer on the basics of pickling and fermenting, the workshop attendees pounced on the tableful of produce, spices, and equipment. (I forget sometimes that adults need instructions and parameters, too. At least they were all avid handwashers, if not so much washers of tables and dishes.) The enthusiasm was electrifying, though, and as I made a few rounds passing out additional kim chi mashers and suggesting folks pass along ingredients they weren't using to other groups who needed more greens or mustard seed, I couldn't help but smile.

There were easily double the number of people I'd expected. Luckily we had enough jars, kindly donated by my fellow Slow Food DC board members, supplemented with more jars donated by my friend Jessica at GrowingSOUL, and a random assortment of glassware I'd amassed in the weeks leading up to the hands-on workshop. Using a big, beautiful crate of beets, turnips, radishes, cabbages, kale, and onions from the lovely Farmer Mo at Moutoux Orchards, plus cucumbers from the grocery store (they're not in season yet, but I didn't want to get attacked by folks expecting traditional pickles at a pickling workshop) and a load of spices picked up at GLUT, we chopped, peeled, mashed, and stuffed jars full of savory treats. Cinnamon sticks were hammered on cutting boards, vinegar solutions concocted in mixing bowls.

People asked lots of good questions, and I left with some research to undertake. (Like what is this about pickling grapes?? I'm so on it!) Nobody lost a finger, and the only missing implement after all was said and done was a set of measuring spoons. Not bad.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Shhh, we're cooking!

Okay, well, no heat was involved during the 2-hour, hands-on food prep class I led this past Saturday morning at the beautiful, recently restored Mt. Pleasant public library, but those salads were smokin'. Tasty, that is. While the crowd wasn't huge, my aspiring sous chefs were certainly enthusiastic at this flavorful event, sponsored by the Mt. Pleasant farmers' market.

Families and kids (and kids-at-heart) joined up to make surprisingly sweet beet and apple salad, savory carrot salad, and the now locally famous massaged kale salad. They did love my 1960s food processor, and luckily none of the librarians complained about the high-pitched grinding sound or giggling during its use.

By noon, we had four sizable bowls of healthy, seasonal fare to share. Lots of folks sampled our brightly colored salads, including library staff and patrons strolling past on their way to the circulation desk. Many stopped back in to pick up the recipes. Some took ziploc baggies of salad home to friends and family, exclaiming things like "I've never tried raw beets, but this is delicious!" or "I'm so glad I learned about this kale salad -- it's so tasty and I can't believe how easy it was to make!" Me, I was glad to be about 25 pounds lighter, no longer laden with ingredients like the 5-lb bags of carrots and apples, for the bike ride home. (I did have to get a bunch of cooking equipment + the 20-lb food processor back to the homestead, so I still managed to warm up on the return trip.) We left the remaining recipe copies and samples for the good folks at Occupy DC, who were shuffling into the space for a meeting as we wiped down the tables. I think they enjoyed 'em.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cabbage coming out of my ears

I have spent the better part of the past two weeks preparing and eating cabbage -- a vegetable that I never particularly cared for in the past, one which usually ended up in a jar of kim chi for lack of inspiration on my part. But I had an assignment: find a tasty soup that included cabbage...that a 5th grader could help to prepare and then would actually eat. Ah, a challenge, to be sure!

Testing out various cabbage-based soups was part of my recipe research for a FoodPrints' 5th grade lesson, which, like all FoodPrints lessons, would include a hands-on communal cooking component. The final cabbage soup recipe became part of a pretty great lesson centered around WWII Victory Gardens -- a lesson made especially awesome by the inclusion of incredible historic resources like the 1940s ration books and stamps that my co-instructor Barbara found in her parents' attic. During our discussion and activities about rationing, the kids really seemed to get the sense of urgency, the critical importance of resource conservation, and the self-sufficiency that families on the American home front exhibited during World War II. Not only that, but they turned around and started volunteering all kinds of great ideas about why and how kids today should conserve resources and encourage their peers and neighbors to garden today. It warmed my heart. And the soup warmed my body. (Thank goodness for that with these recent freezing temperatures!)

We made two big batches of cabbage soup during last week's classes and I've got two more classes -- and thus two more giant pots of cabbage soup to make -- next week. Good thing I've grown to love cabbage and beans. And after a taste of the final recipe, it appears that a whole lot of 11-year-olds have, too. They were clamoring for seconds like you wouldn't believe!

Tuscan Bean and Cabbage Soup

This recipe is adapted from TheSoup Bible. (Thanks, mom and dad, for this timely Christmas present!) There are many versions of this soup which uses ingredients many American families would have grown in their World War II victory gardens. This one uses white beans, leeks, and cabbage. It is especially great alongside whole wheat toast with fresh herb butter.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, well-rinsed and sliced
  • 1 large potato, scrubbed and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups of dry white beans, pre-cooked and drained
    (or one 14-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 generous cups green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, washed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried oregano)
  • 1 jar of canned tomatoes, chopped
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, leeks, potato, and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock. Stir in cabbage, parsley, oregano, beans, and tomatoes. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a rapid simmer. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon out about 1/3 of the soup into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return puree to the soup pot and stir together. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with a generous spoonful of Parmesan.

(It's okay that I'm putting the recipe up: the free, open-source FoodPrints lessons will be posted online soon!)