As someone who cooks a lot, for myself and others, I use fair trade, seasonal and local, and/or organic ingredients, whenever possible. Call me crazy but I just believe in these defining attributes strongly, try hard to find them, and encourage others to prefer them over imported, old, pesticide-covered & water-polluting, factory-farm, long-distance food.
Having said all this, I don’t flog myself when I can’t find them. (Striving for perfection, not necessarily reaching it, right?)
As a city dweller without yard access, my fresh veggies with those descriptors come from the farmers’ market, the local grocery, and in the summer, my community garden plot. “Community garden” just means I grew it myself, or a friend did, in a local shared garden; in the Albany & Schenectady area, that would be part of Capital District Community Gardens.
So for me the literal ground-work of April and planting of May have now yielded July’s bounty—
Basil. Many poetic words have been waxed about its delicious properties, its pungent, fruity addition to dishes. But look how gosh darned pretty it is, coming out of the dark earth, growing hard in the night and day! I can taste the sun in it, taste other seashores and countries. As long as I pinch off the tops to keep it from bolting (flowering), it will continue to give me pesto and Thai-spiced vegetables and lime & basil vinaigrettes all summer.
And nothing like the morning light streaming through red chard….Yes, it got a bit old and spotted before I got to it, so I picked leaf after leaf, and tossed it all into green bags in the fridge until it could be washed properly; yes, I used the fancy salad spinner, rinsed it again and again to get the grit off, spin-spin-spin, and then finally cooked it all down. Mild and wonderful to float in soup or drop into stir-fry, it’s one of the “top ten vegetables” for nutrition. Go chard, you subtle thing, you.
Can I tell you what happens when you plant radish seeds in the ground, water them and then leave town without thinning them? You get a lot of radishes. I ended up with piles and piles of mildly spicy roots popping up out of the ground, mostly red but many pink, and a few exciting purple ones. You’ll see the basil here in the sink too, and a little parsley: clean flavors to go into my salads.
Finally, this is a picture of my bush beans, before they were beans, back when they were just beautiful pinky-purple flowers. I watered, weeded some, went out of town (see above), came back, and almost missed the long stems of bean, hanging hidden behind leaves. They would have been spotty themselves and over-ripe the next time I came to my plot, if another gardener hadn’t pointed them out to me while I was frantically weeding the nasturtiums and watermelons. The former-flowers now-beans have been turned into Five Bean Salad, complete with parsley picked the same day.
Marinated Five Bean Salad Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press, 1977:
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup fair trade olive oil
2 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper
½ tsp oregano and 1-1 ½ tsp basil
1-2 heaping teaspoons of minced garlic
zest (the yellow part of the peel, taken off with a tool handily called a zester) and juice from half a lemon
1 can each of well-rinsed dark kidneys, black beans, great northern beans, garbanzo beans—or whatever else you’ve got. Mollie recommends freshly cooked beans, but it was just too hot this week!
2 heaping handfuls of fresh community garden bush beans, washed and trimmed
½ bunch of community garden parsley, chopped
1 finely minced red onion; maybe 1 1/2 if you like more onion
Mix all the sauce ingredients together. Cook the green beans in a bit of water (1/2 cup to a cup) until tender (5-10 minutes depending on their age and your definition of “tender”; some people like a crunch to beans; others desire complete abdication). Mix green beans with canned beans and other ingredients in a big bowl.
This version is much lower fat than the original; I wanted to be able to taste the lemon and the different beans’ nuttiness more than just taste and feel the oil; a cup measures roughly 225 calories. Yummy cold or room temperature.