Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Travel Bite: Santa Fe Farmers' Market

The Santa Fe Farmers' Market is located in the city's historic Railroad District. In the late 19th and early 20th century, this site was a key interchange point between three railroads. Today it's a thriving arts scene with converted warehouses, studios, restaurants and the departure point for scenic rail trips on the Santa Fe Southern Railway.

This sprawling market was jam-packed with locally grown produce, artisanal products, friendly folks and colorful characters. See the tower in the top photo? It's all the way at the end in this shot. There were more vendors in an area to the right of the tower, and there was also a whole building full of eye-endearing, homegrown comestibles.

As I mentioned in Chillin with the Chiles in Santa Fe: Part 1, I stopped here at the Tuesday market for a sneak preview before the big kahuna on Saturday. Who knew that the sight of chiles and their farmers could raise your spirits more than Prosac and big pharma?

There were vendors roasting chiles and selling them hot off the press, but I was leaving to go back to L.A. in a few hours, so I had to pass up a chile opp. Unfortunately on the plane, I suffered from PTCDD (Post Traumatic Chile Deprivation Disorder).

Not only were they roasting chiles behind their booths, vendors were sautéeing Shishito and Padrón peppers in pans with a little olive oil, garlic and sea salt. Free samples: come to momma!

The Shishito is a small, mild Japanese variety that seemed to be the star of the market. In the name of fair food criticism, I sampled every last one to ensure their mild, yet robust flavor. The verdict was in—utter deliciosity, so I brought some raw ones back with me. Next time I'm packing an extra chile suitcase.

But chiles weren't the only show in town.

The trip to bountiful had just begun.

The area is big on calabacitas or squash. You'll find it in enchiladas and as a side dish served with Mexican food.

The sign for these snakes said, Pepino Serpente—"Yard Long Cucumbers." If you bite one, will it hiss at you?

Apparently, stripes were in this season.

And purple was all the rage.

They had precious heirlooms sitting out in broad daylight.

Maybe they figured a kernel would protect them (ok, that was corny).

Too bad I bought my blue posole the day before. Bet this was fresher.

In case you were wondering, buffalo is not the other white meat.

This lamb shop had more than a lambchop.

Told you purple was all the rage.

This stunning bread came in unique flavors like porcini mushroom, green chile, and purple potato (bottom right). They even had green chile and cheese croissants—just to annoy the French.

Charming wreaths and bouquets made out of chiles, corn, sage, and dried flowers abounded.

This market had the hottest mix of everything. It's clearly one of the best in the country and the highlight of my trip to New Mexico.

Maybe that's why I spent my last three hours in Santa Fe there. Note to self: Next time drive and rent a U-Haul back (I don't hear my carbon footprint laughing).

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Simple Sautéed Squash-Blossom Parable

This is the story of "The Squash Blossoms and the Sloth."

Once upon a time there was a


girl (yeah, right!)

who had some squash blossoms in her fridge that were in peril of perishing. After sitting idly in front of a computer

all day

, the "

girl" had little energy to squander on squash.

Determined to save the delicate blossoms, she looked to the heavens and

asked them to use her as a vessel for squash-saving good

. Then voila, a brilliant flash of lightning sent an electrical charge to her brain, and she was


transformed into

Super Sloth

. So she simply sautéed the blossoms in a bit of olive oil and sea salt and lazily laid them on her leftover cumin-scented black beans.
Through her slothful powers, those blossoms bloomed into a delicious and decorative, exertion-free dish.

The earthy yet subtle flavor of the blossoms melded beautifully with their new black bean* and cumined counterpart.

The moral of the story? The early bird catches the worm, but the sloth catches the blossom.

Non Recipe

Squash blossoms, stems and stamens removed

Olive oil

Sea salt

Sauté the blossoms in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes until they are soft (but not limp), preserving their bright color. Give them a few good cracks of sea salt and serve.

*Super Sloth

was too sluggish to write down her recipe for the beans.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lentil Breakdown Turns One!

I can’t believe my little Lentil is a year old already.
Seems like only yesterday I brought her home from the bulk foods section, kicking and screaming. This photo was from that very first day. She's calmed down a bit, but still keeps me up nights needing constant feeding and changing. Some days I'm even sorry I had her. But when she looks at me with those big brown eyes, somehow it all seems worthwhile.

I've written anecdotes, recipes, travel bites, odes, articles and taken many a shot with my little Canon point and shoot. And while I’m no Miles Davis when it comes to tooting my horn (although I often feel Kind of Blue), I’ve decided to share a few milestones with you. So consider this my virtual wallet of fold-out snapshots that you don’t really want to see. With obligatory clicking.

Lentil Breakdown’s Year in Review, in order of appearance:

I went to Turkey and Conquered the Eat-oh-man Empire.

I lost the best mother I ever had and found The Last Butterscotch.

My Seductive Leek and Mushroom Tart had my dinner guests moaning.

I posed the question, What Lettuce Type are You?

I went to New York and

had a discussion with myself in
Ms. Frugal vs. Ms. Foodie.

I made fabulous new foodie friends at Camp Blogaway.

I met Mario Batali in Los Angeles and wrote a Memo to Mario Batali.

I weighed in on Al & Tipper Gore’s marriage via Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors in Six Freezing Degrees of Al & Tipper’s Separation.

I created Chelsea Clinton’s wedding menu.

I lost my old friend Howard and went Chillin’ with the Chiles in Santa Fe.

I also shared travel photos of street vendors and markets in Poland, Turkey, Mexico, France, England, New York and Hungary and

waxed poetic about an olive branch, a monk and a virgin.

But I've still got so many leguminous ideas up my sleeve, I could fill an Indian market. So thanks for reading, and I hope you'll be here for my next Lentil Breakdown.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vegan Blue Posole by Candlelight

Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to dine with you again.

I'll be the first to admit this is not the most attractive soup. On the ugly soup meter, it scores about an 8.5. But it's so tasty, in a dimly lit room, who's going to judge? Trust me, it's the most wonderful, earthy dish you won't want anyone to see. When you bite into that vibrant, chewy New Mexican maize, you'll see how amazing it is. Plus, you and your insatiable soup-loving significant other can both go back for thirds and the other one won't have to know. A dark room, two pigs and a pot of posole. Now that's my idea of a romantic dinner.

But before you call the grease police on me, I must tell you this only looks greasy. Believe me—I'm not into big oil. If you think I want BP getting its greedy, greasy paws in my posole, you're grossly mistaken. I kept big agro out of it too, by making it vegan, adapting the recipe from the package of posole that I got at the Santa Fe School of Cooking when I visited there (you can buy it here). I cut the heat by only using half the chile powder it called for ('cause I'm a wuss that way), but I added cumin seeds for extra flavor. I used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and I substituted olive oil for canola. And when the broth and the oil met that glorious chile powder I got in Chimayó, they all turned an irridescent orange. Sure, it may look like Chernobyl, but it tastes like Chimayó. And that's the important thing, right? That, and you won’t have to do your hair and makeup for dinner.


¾ pound (2 ½) cups) posole, picked over for any dirt or stones

3 TBSP olive oil (you can use less if you want to eat in broad daylight)

1 ¼ cup chopped onions

1 TBSP minced garlic

1 - 2 TBSP pure ground Chimayó style red chile powder (start with less and add more if you need to)

4 cups vegetable stock

1 teaspoon toasted and freshly ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

salt to taste

½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro*

Place cleaned posole in a large pot and cover with cold water by 3 inches. Cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, adding water as needed until kernels are soft and beginning to burst. Drain and rinse well. Heat oil in a large pot and sauté the onions until golden. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the posole, chile powder, stock, ground coriander and cumin and ¼ cup of the cilantro and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the salt and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Stir in remaining cilantro, taste and adjust seasonings.

*D'oh! I forgot the cilantro!

Serves 4 - 8, depending on how dark the room is.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chillin' with the Chiles in Taos: Part 3

After finding God in a chile relleno in Chimayó, my mojo was working again. Now I was ready for the Taos blues: blue skies and blue corn. Maybe even some blue posole if I got lucky. I finally found some alone time walking the sleepy streets the next morning, and a glorious Bent Street Cafe breakfast of huevos rancheros with scrambled eggs, blue corn tortillas, fresh green chiles, cheddar cheese and refried beans bestowed their curative powers on me much like the relleno had. What a difference a chile makes. My grief over Howard had subsided as I embraced the wide open space with a lighter heart and heavier stomach.

During breakfast the next day at Michael's Kitchen, I had but one question: "Atole-piñon pancakes, where have you been all my life?" These indigenous Southwestern hotcakes were made with earthy, blue cornmeal and roasted local piñon nuts in the batter. They were like piñon-packed piñatas—nuts falling out with every blow of my fork. I've made blue cornmeal pancakes before, and they were a murky, dark blue-gray color. But these beauties were golden brown on the outside with only a hint of blue-gray on the inside.

I asked the waiter, who might have been a farmer, what was in the batter, and he just shrugged. "How do I know? Go ask the cook," he said, motioning me to go to the kitchen. So I walked over there, stuck my head in the window and said, "What's in your piñon pancake batter?" The cook looked up, surprised at my gumption, and said "Half pancake mix and half blue cornmeal." Aha! A trade secret revealed straight from the horse's mouth. (I wonder if Thomas Keller would oblige me in the same fashion at the French Laundry.)

New Mexico is renowned for its piñon nut, a name derived from the Spanish word for pine nut. The piñon pine tree is a two-needled pine which grows wild in the high desert mountains. Out of the 100 recognized species of true pines, only a few produce nuts that are worth eating. The piñon is smaller with a smoother, more delicate flavor than the ones we use in the rest of the country. Pignolias from Italy are supposedly the closest in flavor to piñons, but these days, a lot of the pine nuts are coming from China. The bag I got at Trader Joe's says they're either from Russia or Korea. Unfortunately, most of these imports are overly intense and astringent, unlike the subtle and creamy piñon, which is far superior. But hey, that's just my 'pinion.

About five miles outside of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge—the second highest suspension bridge in the country. Needless to say, the view of the gorge is gorgeous. And while you're in the neighborhood, you can do a little emu oil shopping. The emu experts claim the oil from this ostrich-like bird offers arthritis pain relief, calms psoriasis and eczema, increases hair growth, regenerates skin cells and more. But as far as healing powers go, I'm standing by my chile theory.

After spending a couple of nights in Taos and conquering a few breakfasts on my own, I was feeling healthier. I had felt the powers of the chile and knew I could face the world again with the strength of a Habanero. It was time to head back to Santa Fe, and with less than 24 hours left on the trip, I still had posole to buy and farmers to meet. I would be spending those final few Saturday hours at the grand daddy of farmer's markets. And it was gonna be good.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Chillin' with the Chiles in Chimayó: Part 2

I had been in New Mexico for three days, 19 hours and 27 minutes and had yet to eat a chile relleno. But on day four, destiny called. My aunt and I were off to Taos, and our first stop was the town of Chimayó. This tiny village in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the high road to Taos is known for two things—the best chiles in the country and an old sanctuary purported to have healing powers. In fact, so many pilgrims walk to El Santuario de Chimayó each year, it’s referred to as the Lourdes of America. If you ask me, you’d have a better chance of being healed by the chiles, with all their vitamin C. But that’s not as romantic as a chapel full of holy dirt and crutches that were supposedly left behind by those who were miraculously cured. Call me a spiritual killjoy, but I’m standing by my chile theory.

The legendary Chimayó chile is a Native American heirloom strain that’s been growing for about 400 years solely in Northern New Mexico. It has a distinct pottery red-orange color and a deep, robust flavor that’s superior to the hybrid commodity chile grown in Southern New Mexico, like Hatch and Socorro. Its supremacy is due to the region’s optimal growing conditions and the chile’s natural adaptation to it, which has created a more disease-resistant crop and can grow without fertilizers. Since Chimayó chile powder sells for about $20 for four ounces, big agribusiness and identity thieves are hot to brand their chiles as Chimayó. Hence, they genetically modify crops and engineer flavors, which threaten the survival of the native seed strains.

The Chimayó chile was nearly extinct a few years ago since only a handful of farmers were still growing it. Then a consortium of farmers and activists started the Chimayó Chile Project to protect the native crop and the farmers’ intellectual property. They started with seed preservation and then began working with the local farmers. In 2006, the Native Hispanic Institute helped provide the farmers with legal and technical assistance so they could incorporate and apply for the trade name Chimayó. Today it’s a registered mark owned by Chimayó Chile Farmers, Inc.

We stopped in a little store (above) called El Potrero Trading Post to buy some chile powder. They told me they didn't have the real Chimayó heirloom variety since it was only available for two months, in October and November. They assured me, however, that the quality of the type I got was very close. It was so fresh and fragrant—far superior to any chile powder I’d ever smelled. How could the real stuff be that much better?

It was finally time for our highly anticipated lunch at the Rancho de Chimayó, a charming restaurant in a century-old adobe hacienda surrounded by three mountain ranges. Our sunny patio table overlooking the handsome terrain and azure sky was a vivid setting for my moment of truth. Would this be the life-affirming chile relleno I'd been waiting for or would I give it all up to become a culinary nun? Would a case of sour grapes lead me down a dark, eat-to-live path devoid of all decadence and rapture?

As the first bite of relleno kissed my lips, I heard a ringing in my ears: Hal-uh-loo-ya. As it gracefully slid off the fork and onto my tongue, my mouth heard it too: Hal-uh-loo-ya. Hal-uh-loooooo-ya. Hal-uh-loooooo-oooooo-ya! That green chile was so fresh, it was practically still on the vine. I was convinced that whoever had the divine vision in 16th- century Mexico to take a fresh green chile and roast it, stuff it with cheese, dredge it in an egg batter, fry it to golden-hued perfection and top it with fresh, chopped tomatoes should have a sanctuary built in his or her honor. And whoever had the vision in 21st-century New Mexico to serve it with Spanish rice, white posole and fresh sopapillas for $7.25 deserved some kind of shrine. I was cured. I was a believer. And it was well worth the pilgrimage.

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