Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to get The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, by Amelia Saltsman. My initial hesitation was because I worried that despite cooking often and having access to the same farmers' market, I would find the recipes too difficult or labor intensive. Well, I'm glad I bought it. There is a degree of labor involved, but nothing too scary. A bit of chopping, mixing of dressings/sauces, and other such prep work, but that's to be expected. I have found no recipes that start "Day One."

To date, I've made the following, all of which have been successful:

  • Shrimp, Mango, and Avocado Salad
  • Melon, Cucumber, and Mint Salad
  • Tomato and Cucumber Bread Salad
  • Indian-Style Cauliflower Soup with English Peas
  • Halibut with Fennel
  • Roast Pork Loin with Red Currants and Provencal Herbs
She designed the book so that with the exception of certain pantry items, everything can be purchased at this particular farmers' market. In the back of the book, she breaks down the recipes and crops by season. Several topical informational references on foods like citruses, apples, and tomatoes are included, which provide the reader with an understanding of how to choose and work with the best ingredients at his/her disposal. You'll also get tips on how to shop at the market, basic kitchen techniques, ideal pantry items, and so on.

Overall, I've gotten some great recipes and culinary ideas out of this book, as well as a greater appreciation for the changing supply of food I find at the market. As a relatively new FM shopper, I'm used to having certain foods year-round, so the lack of certain foods as seasons change is quite a dramatic thing for me to accept. It's nice to have a bit of information on when to expect certain foods, and even better, how to use new and unknown foods like sapote (a "custardlike South American native with hints of pineapple, citrus, and banana"). I'll let you know how that one goes ;-)

As for our favorite recipe thus far, here it is. It was so good, I made the salad 3 times so we could use up the dressing. Once without shrimp, once without basil, each time delicious! The dressing feels very Thai, which we love, and the mango and lime compliment each other very well. On that note, this past week was the last of the mango crop at the market, which saddened me. Hence, the picture...golden, delicious lovelies.

Shrimp, Mango, and Avocado Salad
1 large mango, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Thai chile paste
1 pound shrimp, grilled or boiled and peeled
1 large head butter lettuce, torn
1 cup sugar snap peas, strings removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 green onions, including several inches of green, thinly sliced
1 Reed or other avocado, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup small cherry tomatoes, preferably Sun Gold, stemmed
1/2 cup each fresh mint and basil (preferably Thai or opal) leaves, torn
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn

To make the dressing, put one-forth of the mango, the oil, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, and chile paste in a blender and process until smooth. You should have 1 cup; set aside.

Place the shrimp, lettuce, peas, green onions, avocado, tomatoes, remaining mango, lime zest, basil, mint, and cilantro leaves in a large bowl. Toss the salad with just enough of the dressing to coat well. Reserve the rest for another use; it will keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

How To Choose Mangoes: Seek out fragrant, smooth-skinned fruits that give a little (like a ripe avocado) when cupped in your hand. Ripe mangoes will keep on the counter for up to 1 week, and in the refrigerator for up to 1 month with some dehydration (skin will start to shrivel).

I have yet to see a bad review of the book. Here are a few others I've found: Cook's Library, Sustainable Table, The Boston Globe, and an interview on Good Food.