local_foods_wheelBy Jessica Prentice

Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites illustrated by Sarah Klein (sarahklein.com). You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.
It is said that the perfect time to eat a feijoa—aka pineapple guava—is the moment it falls from the tree. Any sooner and the fruit retains some bitterness; a day or so later it will be overripe. Clearly, feijoas don’t ship or travel well, so the best way to enjoy them is to grow your own shrub. A beautiful landscape plant that thrives here, it makes gorgeous—and edible—red and white tufted blossoms in spring.

feijoa

 

It is said that the perfect time to eat a feijoa—aka pineapple guava—is the moment it falls from the tree. Any sooner and the fruit retains some bitterness; a day or so later it will be overripe. Clearly, feijoas don’t ship or travel well, so the best way to enjoy them is to grow your own shrub. A beautiful landscape plant that thrives here, it makes gorgeous—and edible—red and white tufted blossoms in spring.

romano-beansI am having a romance with the Romano bean. Its appeal might be the bean’s flatness, which shows off its insides, making it seem vulnerable, knowable, and a bit, well, naked. Or maybe I just find it irresistible that there’s a vegetable that can be either a green bean or a shell bean, depending on its stage of maturity. I’ve taken to sorting my Romanos into two piles: one for the mature pods with larger beans inside and another for the slimmer, tender pods. I’ll peel away the tougher pods and use only the fat white beans, cooking them separately from the slimmer pods, which I’ll slice whole and cook like slivered green beans. Both the slices and the shelled beans will go into the same dish, often a simple sauté with ample garlic, lots of olive oil, and some fresh tomatoes.

riceI eat brown rice almost daily, usually at lunchtime. It centers and sustains me throughout the day, especially when it’s been accompanied by plenty of nourishing vegetables, proteins, fat, and legumes. Soaking the grain before cooking it breaks down phytic acid, a demineralizing compound prevalent in brown rice. Each time I soak it, I save a bit of the soaking water in a jar in the fridge and add it to the liquid for soaking the next time. This creates a “starter” that is high in phytase, the enzyme that breaks down the phytic acid. We have an abundance of local brown rice available in California, but Massa Organics is my favorite source.

japanese-eggplantI simply cannot forget the Japanese eggplant I ate once at Ippuku in downtown Berkeley. It arrived hot off the grill, adorned with a super-fine chiffonade of katsuobushi (dried tuna), which was quivering as if alive. My companion and I stared at the dancing fish threads in astonishment. They kept dancing. “It must be from the heat,” we said. We had to wait until the performance was over to start eating, but it was worth the wait. This was the most delicious eggplant ever: melting in my mouth with a hint of charred smokiness. Eggplant loves smoke, and apparently it loves dancing katsuobushi just as much.

2-black-codI have heard black cod (aka sablefish) referred to as “the chocolate of fish.” Its extraordinarily high fat content makes it unctuous and easy to cook, but the delicious fat is also very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which all of us could benefit from eating on a regular basis. Lastly, it is local, available year-round, and the population is healthy. It pairs wonderfully with miso and eggplant, as you’ll find if you cook the recipe below, but it’s as versatile as it is flavorful.

apple-syrupAt the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, where I trained as a chef, we were restricted to using natural sweeteners for all of our desserts. One of my favorites was apple syrup, which I still like to have on hand for drizzling over morning pancakes or stirring into yogurt. It’s easy to make out of leftover apple juice: Just cook it down until it’s thick and dark-amber colored. I like to imagine a fall ritual where we harvest apples, press them into cider, and drink our fill. We start some cider fermenting into hard cider, and then we build an outdoor fire, set up a pot, and cook down the rest of the cider into syrup. But I might just go to Anderson Valley and stop by the Apple Farm in Philo for some of their Bates and Schmitt Apple Cider Syrup, or I’ll buy it from them at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.

tallowWith all the recent science reports on the toxicity of industrial vegetable oils, I was ready to give up eating French fries. But recently, a few restaurants (like Clove & Hoof in Oakland) have started frying their frites in beef tallow. When you eat one tallow-fried frite, you will think to yourself: This is what a French fry is supposed to be! Tallow rendered from grass-fed beef suet (hard fatty tissue from around the kidneys) is also my go-to fat for the occasional dinner of Baja-style fish tacos featuring batter-fried fish. The high percentage of saturated fatty acids makes tallow stable enough for frying, and these days, it’s not at all hard to find tallow from local and sustainable grass-fed beef. You can render your own or purchase it from any number of local vendors.

 

Recipe: Black Cod and Eggplant with Miso-Apple Glaze

Black cod and eggplant are both assertive foods that can stand up to the heat of broiling and the strong flavors of miso and apple syrup (see above on the next page). I used the Hearty Brown Rice Miso from South River Miso for this recipe, but try it with whatever miso you have on hand. Begin this dish a day in advance so the fish can marinate.

marinade-codFor the marinade:
¼ cup mirin (rice wine) or white wine
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari (fermented Japanese soy sauce)
2 tablespoons miso
¼ cup apple syrup
1½ pounds black cod (aka butterfish or sablefish) fillets
1½ pounds Japanese eggplant, cut each in half lengthwise
Olive oil (plenty!)
Sea salt to taste

To marinate the fish: Combine the mirin or white wine in a small saucepan with the vinegar and the tamari, then bring to a boil. Place the miso in a bowl and whisk the hot mirin mixture into the miso. Then whisk in the apple syrup. Remove 1/3 cup of this marinade to a jar and refrigerate. Pour the remaining marinade into a flat-bottomed glass or ceramic baking dish that will hold the fish snugly. Put the fish into the marinade, skin side up, and cover. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.

To prepare the eggplant: Pour olive oil to ¼ inch deep in a cast iron or stainless steel sauté pan and heat over a medium flame. Working in batches, sauté the eggplant halves, skin side up, in the oil until golden brown, then flip and brown on the other side. (The broiling phase will not cook it much further, so make sure the eggplant is tender enough to eat.)

To prepare the dish: Find a large cast iron pan, casserole, or baking sheet that fits into your broiler. Pre-heat your broiler and put the dish into the oven for a few minutes to get it hot. Place the marinated fish, skin side down, in the center of the dish, then arrange the eggplant around it. Brush the eggplant with the reserved marinade.

Place the entire pan of fish and eggplant under the broiler and cook until the fish is done all the way through. Depending on your broiler and thickness of the fish, this could take anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes. You will need to watch it carefully as it will burn suddenly, and you may want to rotate the pan after a few minutes. If you find the eggplant is getting too dark but the fish is undercooked, finish the dish in the oven instead of under the broiler. When the fish has opened up and browned slightly, it should be ready to serve. If the piece of fish is very thick, you should cut into it with a knife to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

Any leftover marinade from the fish can be brought to a simmer and served on the side as a sauce, which is especially nice if you are serving with rice.