This month we review a cookbook that emphasizes buying produce locally and in season as well as supporting farmers' markets.
Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes
By Devra Gartenstein
Book Publishing Company, 2007
Gartenstein recognizes the necessity of supporting local farmers and stresses the urgency of discouraging the corporate food industry of globalizing our food choices and availability. She makes a clear case against industrial agriculture that focuses on monoculture rather than diversity and puts Third World farmers out of business.
Buying locally and seasonally brings to market the freshest and tastiest produce when fruits and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness and most nutritious. Supporting the local farmer is also a way to reduce the use of fossil fuel and become more attuned to eating different fruits and vegetables with the changing of the seasons. Local farmers tend to use fewer pesticides and offer better prices for abundant produce in season. The author says, "Ask questions about where your ingredients are produced. Read labels and signs at the supermarket. Support your local farmer's market."
In her brief chapter on Simplicity, Gartenstein coaxes readers back to the kitchen to prepare from-scratch meals with fresh ingredients rather than opting for processed convenience foods. There's even a section on optimal cooking techniques that are ideal for vegetables, like sautéing, braising, steaming, roasting and grilling. She agrees it does take more time to chop vegetables and cook them, but "The more often you do it, the less time it will take," she says.
The Seasoning chapter informs readers that foods from different parts of the world taste uniquely different because of indigenous seasoning combinations. A handy chart offers a number of seasoning suggestions for recreating international favorites at home.
The recipe section begins with Spring and offers new veggies at their most tender stages. Gartenstein favors simple recipes with familiar ingredients that allow the vegetables to play starring roles. Soups like Roasted Leek and Carrot Soup begin with roasting a pound each of sweet spring carrots and leeks, combining them with onions and garlic and roasting them until browned to create "an exquisite broth."
Only at the farmers' market will shoppers encounter vegetable treasures like garlic scapes, which are the garlic stems and tops considered a spring delicacy. Bring them to the table with the recipe for White Beans with Garlic Scapes.
Gartenstein says, "Summer produce is abundant and flamboyant, ripe and ready and easy to use." Tomatoes are one of the jewels of the summer season and are deliciously enfolded into recipes like Quick Tomato Sauce, Puttanesca Sauce, Casponata, Okra with Tomatoes, Minestrone, Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes, and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Summertime also delivers fresh fruits to the farmer's market for making homemade treats like Blueberry Bars, Raspberry-Almond Cake, Caramelized Apricots with Hazelnuts, and Nectarine and Blueberry Cobbler.
As summer concludes, the Fall portion of Local Bounty combines the last of the tomato crop into tempting dishes, while Gartenstein welcomes the first of the winter squashes into creations like Harvest Corn and Squash Soup, Pumpkin Coconut Soup, and Acorn Squash and Wild Rice Patties. Fall brings parsnips, fennel, broccoli, and greens like collards and Swiss chard and adds beans and whole grains to some of the dishes.
In Winter, when the vegetable variety shrinks to only the hardiest of offerings like root vegetables, greens, potatoes, cabbages, and squashes, this innovative vegetable guru dresses up Lentil-Barley soup with chopped spinach and blends pungent seasonings to create Pickled Beets.
Among the many features that give the book appeal is a helpful glossary to explain less familiar foods like capers, Israeli couscous, nori, nutritional yeast flakes, seitan, and quinoa. The earthy brown and olive green color accents bring warmth to the pages, while the vegetable photographs in muted tones complete the pleasing graphic design.
Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes is not only a vegetable treasure trove of innovative recipes with a seasonal focus, but it is also a book that brings home the important message of buying local produce and supporting the local farmers. The recipes are uniquely conceived and introduce unusual vegetables that may be available only at farmers' markets. Easy enough for newcomers to the kitchen and tempting enough to entice home chefs into preparing homemade dishes, the recipes really put vegetables in the forefront of the mealtime offerings.