Potatoes are the most flexible vegetable, happily fried, steamed, mashed, baked, boiled, grilled or roasted. They come in numerous varieties, each with its distinctive flavor and texture, so taste around, they’re all good.
Some varieties work better in specific dishes, but it’s also a matter of taste. For example, most cooks love a waxy red potato in a salad, because you don’t have to peel them, they’re lovely color and hold their shape. But others prefer the denser texture of their grandma’s peeled russet salad.
Once you know what a potato does when it’s cooked, you can decide what you prefer.
On the drier, starchy end of the scale, sit the ever-popular brown russet, often called Idaho — flavorful, flaky and classically used for baking, mashing and frying. These are often called bakers.
On the other end sit low-starch waxy varieties, such as the common red bliss, which all hold their shape, need no pealing and are often used for boiling or steaming in stews and salads. (Steam baby ones whole and toss in butter and dill.) These are often called boilers.
Common Yukon Golds sit somewhere in the middle, still starchy with a buttery color and flavor, but moister than russets. So do varieties generally called “all purpose.”
Fingerlings are heirlooms, named for their finger-like shape, which come in numerous varieties, including Peruvian Purple or Russian Banana, each with its own taste and texture. They can be cooked any which way, but are often roasted or steamed whole.
To tell, cut a potato with a sharp knife. Does the potato grab the knife or foam a bit? It’s starchy. It doesn’t, it’s a waxy. In-between? They’re “all purpose.”
(Tip: Potato improvisations next week)
Part II — A Taste of the Garden
leSenda Ecovillage near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico…
The new garden at LeSenda Ecovilla is designed to fed those who live there and for the surplus to provide income for necessities. Currently, farmer Luc Monzies, also sells its produce at the small organic store he owns with his American wife, Maya. (More about that later.)
These lettuce plants, transplanted three weeks ago, as well as the rest of the garden, are fertilized using only nutrient rich fish water from the tilapia pond nearby. Note the Mexican bamboo frame, and the row cover, which are pulled aside for viewing. After experimenting, it turns out that 50 percent shade density works for warmth, sun and wind control, protection from grasshoppers — a serious problem here — as well as for moisture retention, which is essential in this arid climate.
Every climate brings its own farming challenges. Here, plants can be nipped with cold at night, as happens in New England. But instead of simply defrosting and carrying on, the strong afternoon sun can burn them. Shade cover helps control this problem.
Luc Monzies, who I wrote about last year (here), has been farming for 6 years, experimenting with sustainable methods for arid farmers. During that time he’s been busy. He helped found Via Organia, a local store, non-profit and restaurant that is committed to sustainable agriculture; ran a year-long teaching CSA, where members built large garden and greenhouse; helped initiate a cooperative for moringa and stevia growers; jump-started a successful organic farmers market; and opened a small organic produce store.
Our eco-tour, overlooking the organic vegetable garden. Ecovilla founders Rick and Barbara Welland paid $1,500 for the garden infrastructure, while Luc and his team provide the labor.Winter crops include lots kolrabi, leeks and tons of greens.
Spinach-beet, the best of all worlds and a new green to me — lively and tasting intensely of GREEN.
Garden view from the walkway in front of apartments, esthetically molded to the contour of the land and covered for protection.
Sweep of garden up to the apartments. Note the kale and lettuce, transplanted only 3 weeks ago and nourished with water from the fish pond.
Luc and his son Manuel in front of the housing compound. The Mexican hills in the background are not as vacant as they look. Rather, they are home to small native villages, who settled there long ago.
This area, seen during the growing season, will be used for water intensive plants, such as celery and watercress. (The water lillies are composted)
LaSenda Eco Villa founder Rick Welland and his tiers of aguaponically grown vegetables
(LaSenda is part of the Global Eco Village Network)
As a longtime local food nut, the idea of living on a small farm in a stunning valley, dining year round on organic greens and tilapia, farmed from a pond out back, sounds mighty appealing.
In this perfect world, I imagine everyone getting along wonderfully, chipping in to get the work done, then finishing each day off with a spectacular shared meal. All this takes place on small, energy independent compound that’s radically affordable to maintain and manages to give something back to the local community to boot. Dreaming, eh?
I’m not the only one.
Last month, I staggered off the plane from chilly New England to join a group visiting laSenda Ecovilla, a tiny intentional community in its infancy, about 20 minutes outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
We started with food, my favorite. The agricultural system in laSenda Ecovilla runs on a closed cycle. The small tilapia pond produces fertilizer for the vegetables, which are grown using aquaponics . (Unlike hydroponics, where chemicals are fed into the water, here, no chemicals are needed). And better yet, in this arid climate, 98% less water is used then in conventional agriculture.
This balanced system uses both gravity and a solar powered pump to circulate the water, flowing from the nutrient-rich fish pond to aquaponic tiered vegetable trays. From there, the clean, aerated water is gravity-fed back to the fish and around again to the vegetables. There’s been plenty of trial and error, but the system has been working so well that plants grow ten times more rapidly.
The riverside location and climate appeal, especially after a winter in New England — a fledgeling papaya tree sits in an area protected from the cold, succulent aloe vera is grown, then juiced as a digestive, and there’s the promise of year-round growing.
West wing and fish pond at laSenda during the rainy season. (for more pictures, visit the website here)
The 6 attached living units are each self contained, stunning in their simplicity, fronted by south facing floor to ceiling glass, opening to a columned covered walkway looking over vista you see here. The 870 square foot apartments have two 2 rooms, one with a bed that rolls out, a bathroom and small kitchen. A large kitchen and sitting area are in a cheerful communal room. Members are asked to help out and share the bounty.
The solar building is outfitted to be energy independent, using stones that heat well in the cool weather and cool down in the heat, Mexican bamboo ceilings. The river-side location is ideal for good water, the holy grail here. The main pond, one of many is fed from the river, flowing underground through gravel, which helps clean it. Drinking water, always an issue here, is gravity fed from high in the canyon t their well below. Hence, the water is tested regularly and is clean enough to drink.
Living costs are low. Electricity is covered by the sun, fresh food grown on premises, as well as fish. A shared car goes to the neighboring city of Celaya every few weeks for wholesale tropical fruit. As of now they are selling surplus vegetables at the organic market in San Miguel each week to subsidize necessities. The land will be part of the corporation, so that members are buying a 1/6 share of the complex, including their living unit.
With its idyllic country setting, almost a micro-climate, only 20 minutes out of San Miguel Allende, fresh organic foods and economical lifestyle — $50,000 for an apartment and shared use of the land — this could be a fine match for the right people. But it isn’t for everyone. Although the apartments are self-contained, members make a commitment to communal living. And they have to buy into the eco-principles of the village, including a diet that fish, but excludes meat and diary. (And a no smoking or drugs policy.) Those interested are asked to rent for 6 months to make sure everyone’s happy before committing, a smart idea. With 2 units filled, there are 4 to go…..
The lower fish poinds next tothe Rio Laj.
The next move?
Community: In the future, laSenda Ecovilla will be running organic gardening training and art classes in the local native villages.
Interested in learning about eco villages?
The Senda is part of a Global Eco Village Network. Founder Rick and Barbara Welland recommend reading The New Earth, and following the eco village movement, which is growing rapidly.
I’ve been interested in intentional communities every since reading the picture book with Barbar the Elephant in idyllic Celesteville, a shared village where everyone flourished, even minorities. (Oh those elephants, working their chosen trade half a day, playing the rest.)
And then later Utopia, of course, and there was the 70′s, a bit of communal living and all that. Sure, as an adult, I understand the perils of shared living, but it still attracts me, because there’s got to be a better way….
What about you?
View from apartments during the dry season. Two weeks after I shot this it was green!
Breaking out of Your Vegetable Rut with Celery Root
Celery Root and Potatoes from Farm at Miller’s Crossing
Fair warning: I’m partial to celery root, also called celeriac. Maybe that’s because I didn’t grow up eating it. So its appealing but oppositional flavors — at once sophisticated and earthy — still surprise me.
And like all favorite foods, its pleasure is magnified by the memories it evokes. For me, that’s tasting my first celeriac salad in a French café in small town, as I was a young woman, first on my own. (I had no idea what it was, but I was hooked.)
Romantic roots aside, it’s likely you weren’t weaned celery root either. And its unwelcoming look hardly beckons. But knife away its knobby skin and take a whiff. It has a celery-like aroma, but with a rustic edge that isn’t starchy, like a potato, but brighter with a hint of the exotic. Its flesh adds punch on its own or blends happily as a team member with other vegetables.
Eaten raw or cooked, celery root sings.
Try it raw, grated into that classic salad I savored long ago, which has become a seasonal staple in our house, always a side with winter sandwiches. Just peel one pound of celery root and toss it very lightly 2 or more tablespoons of well-seasoned mayonnaise. (This salad loves apples too.)
Here’s a simple version. Season the mayo with 2 or more tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard and a clove of minced garlic, adding capers or cornishons and parsley if you want more punch.
Alternatives? If the flavor’s too strong for you — it isn’t for me — plunge grated celery root into boiling water for a few seconds. Drain it, then plunge it into ice water, before draining again and dressing it. Or, if you’re not a fan of mayo, use a simple oil and vinegar or lemon dressing instead.
Cooked celery root plays with other vegetables too, seriously jazzing vegetable combos. Cube and peeled it, toss in olive oil, then roast it with seasonal roots, like carrots, parsnips and onions. (You can also put the vegetables under roasting meat or poultry, so it can absorb the drippings.) Or pair it with its best friend, the potato, in the recipes below.
The wallflower of winter root vegetables, celery root gets stuck in the corner while all the rest boogie around America’s kitchens. Sure, it’s a homely root with a warty skin, but that belies its fabulous flavor. So break out of your winter vegetable rut and include celery root in your repertoire.
Some recipes links from this blog:
Smashed Potatoes and Celery Root with Chive
Potato-Celery Root Ravioli
Winter Root Soup
Greetings from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I’m savoring a smorgasbord of local foods, including freshly picked greens, which I miss so much during our New England winters. This picture looks like a river in the Northeast, but it’s near just outside of town here, where I visited an Eco Villa. (More about that later.)
For those of you who aren’t on my Locavore Way facebook page, where I post more frequently, I’ve selected some links from last month’s posts. (And I admire you for staying out of the Fray:) All links in orange…..
How to make a bouquet using local winter plants and trees.
Pigs ‘r Us
Sustainable farm guru Joel Salatin raises pigs in the forest, where sure beats those giant factory farms we’ve been hearing about. A primer on how to do it here! On the other side, a debate over hog farms vs scenery here. Although I don’t eat red meat all that much, pork is by far my favorite. In truth, I eat both sustainably raised and commodity pork, because all cuts aren’t available in the former, and I can’t always afford the former. (I know, I know.) But I always feel a bit odd when I savor the latter. Who knows what I”m eating? Do you eat pork?
Talk on Biochar
While we don’t usually discuss the science of farming on this blog, But, I met Lerner at a new year’s day party here in San Miguel, Mexico, and was intrigued by his Ted Talk on Biochar. Here it is. And this webpage on the topic helps clarify: Link here.
Fermented Cranberry Sauce?
This looks like something worthwhile to try when I get home, using regional cranberries. Let me know if you cook it up. The recipe’s here.
Homemade Sriracha anyone?
Are you as addicted as the rest of the US? Now that I’m in chili land AKA Mexico for a month, it’s time for fool around. And in the summer, I’m gonna try this up north. Here’s a recipe.
Smoking a chicken with corn for a class at my old home in West Stockbridge.
(Picture by Berkshire Food Journal)
Talk this Thursday!
January 8th, in San Miguel, Mexico, a talk on The Local Food Movement. For more, click here.
Two Morrocan Cooking Classes
In Northampton, Massachusetts on January 28 and 29 (Click here to be put on the waiting list!)
Gift for Spring
Italian Spring Celebration cooking class on April 23rd in Northampton, Massachusetts. Click here.
The carrots here in Mexico are always distinctive — bright, a touch earthy, with a flavor that screams ORANGE. Longtime farmer David Inglis says an African friend told him that they are called “spears of light,” so perhaps the light is what does it for them here…..
It’s really true that we taste the place, any place, in its local food: its climate, water, soil….its terroir.
Here in Mexico, each time I put heat to food, I have little control over its ultimate flavor, because I don’t have a deep understanding of the taste of each ingredient, which is grounded in this particular place.
These place-based flavors are satisfying when they work wonderfully, as in the Mexican carrots, which taste so astoundingly carroty — so orange, unlike all but the very best carrots in The States.
But they can be frustrating too. Even the simple Italian-style pasta dish that I cooked last night, part of my workday repertoire at home — here with local Swiss chard, Mexican olive oil and garlic — tasted Mexican, which was hardly my intention!
Is this how cooking feels to those who don’t cook much? The end result always a surprise?
And then, to further complicate matters, there’s the difference, here and anywhere, between ingredients grown and produced in different ways. The fresh greens picked from organic farm above vs the Mexican commodity greens that I bought at the local market. You get the drill.
Cooking here is always both frustrating and fascinating. I’m a beginner all over again.
Easiest pasta with Swiss Chard (or any greens)
4 or so cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil, as you like it
One or two bunches of scallions, white and green, sliced
One pound short pasta, your favorite shape
One giant bunch of cooking greens, your favorite (I used chard)
Hot chili pepper flakes
Grated cheese if you like it
1-Wash and dry the greens (It’s OK if there is still a little water clinging to them.). Pile the leaves up, roll them and thinly slice. Set aside. (Note:If there are tough stems, cut them off before rolling the greens.)
2-Bring at least 4 quarts very well salted water to a rolling boil.
3-Meanwhile, saute the garlic in the olive oil with the scallion whites (reserving their greens) over low heat until fragrant but not brown. Set aside off the heat.
4-When the pasta is al dente, cooked but still firm, plunge in the chard, spinach or any other greens along with the scallion greens. Swirl with a wooden spoon and immediately drain.
5-Immediately toss with the garlic oil, salt and hot chili pepper flakes to taste. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with cheese.
1-Cook minced jalapeno with the garlic, omit the chili pepper flakes.
2-Use shells and raisins and garbanzos to the mix. (Just add to the colander)
3-Instead of plunging the greens into water, saute them in the garlic oil, just until wilted.
4-If you use spinach, add a some freshly grated nutmeg.
Happy New Year to all….
Cooking down here Mexico….
Margarita Granado checking on the hominy in Honey’s welcoming pale yellow kitchen.
This comes from Honey Sharp, via Margarita Granado, who graciously showed us how to prepare her grandmother’s terrific version of Pozole, a traditional hominy soup. (For more, scan down to green.)
A Mexican soup for a cold day or just to warm your tummy and your palette. Its basic ingredients: hominy, poblano peppers, and chicken stock. Spices such as cumin and cilantro jazz it up and garnishes are a must. There are many versions — such as a pork base with red peppers — but I love this bright and subtle green one. Serves 8 people
3-5 chicken pieces, white or dark, with bone*
2 cups hominy**
1 large sweet onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, sliced (or more if you like)
2 large poblano peppers
A generous handful of cilantro and celery leaves
A dash of cumin and oregano
About 1 cup of diced radishes
About 1 cup of sweet onion, diced, or sliced scallion, whites and greens
About 1 cup of cilantro leaves, or 1/2 cup coarsely chopped
8 lime wedges
*Chicken parts may be replaced with a flavorful chicken stock
**Here the hominy came in a plastic bag. In the use try to pick it up dried. Last choice, canned.
1) Simmer the chicken and hominy, onion and garlic in 3 quarts of water for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is very tender. Remove the onion and chicken. Discard the onion and chicken bones. Shred the chicken and reserve for the soup. (If the hominy isn’t quite cooked, simmer until slightly al dente.)
2) While the stock is cooking, roast the poblanos directly on a gas flame, turning occasionally, or in a broiler. When blackened, cover with a kitchen cloth to steam. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the stem, seeds and burned skin. Slice. (See picture below.)
3) Add poblanos, cilantro and celery leaves, cumin, oregano to a blender with just enough water for smooth blending.
4) Add to the cooked stock. Cook another 20 minutes. The soup is ready when the hominy is soft but not mushy. (Think of pasta al dente.)
5) Before serving, add salt to taste and the shredded chicken. Ladle into bowls and let diners help themselves to the garnishes.
Note: This can be made with a flavorful vegetarian stock and cubes of tofu to replace the chicken.
A Few Comments on Honey’s Guest Post
Honey Sharp — http://honeysharp.com — is avid gardener, landscape designer and writer, who divides her time between Berkshires, MA and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, where I’m staying for the month, as usual.
Currently, as we’re both in San Miguel, she invited me over to make a version Pozole with her housekeeper, Margarita, a fine cook. .It’s unusually rainy and cold here, but happily the local ingredients morphed into a back-to-the-womb kind of soup that my Jewish grandmother would have made if she’s been Mexican.
Years ago, I’d developed a chunky pork version of pozole for the Joy of Cooking, but this is even better. Perhaps that’s because the flavors are local — fresh from our trip to the farmers’ market. Also, this hominy was tastier than the canned variety I’d used. (In the US, try to pick up dried hominy, often available at Mexican markets.)
Of course, all cultures have savor comforting soups, and this one really warmed the soul as well as my wet feet. Feel free to concoct your own version with whatever is on hand. I plan to add local vegetables to mine once I get home, and will try a tomato-based version next summer, maybe mixing hominy with fresh corn and adding a touch of smoked paprika for mystery.
Let me know what you come up with!
Roasting the poblanos direction on the gas flame
Otherwise elegant Honey looking kinda goofy:)
Merry Christmas! I’m in Mexico for the month, but I wanted to share some goodies from my facebook page, where I post more frequently. (The picture? From left to right, my husband, Tommy, my daughter, Emma, me, my sister, Ellie, her daughter, my niece, Sadie Rose, my mom, Vera, my uncle’s wife, Renee, my brother in law, Mark. My middle sister, Joanna, is taking the picture.)
Two cooking classes in Northampton
Join me! Morrocan and Italian Spring Celebration. The former is filled, but they’re filling a second session.
Greens with Faro, Currents and Golden Garlic
Saute greens — I used broccoli rabe with a bit of kale, but anything goes —in olive oil and a nice amount of slightly browned garlic. (Don’t burn it!) Toss with cooked faro and currants to taste. Sweet and bitter. Lovely.
Don’t you just love home fries?
Here’s my millionth version home fries, a big love of mine.
Saute bacon, remove and chop, leaving fat in the pan. Add a small dice of onions, local Mt. Florida turnips (or any good rutabaga) and potatoes. Saute in a HOT pan — love cast iron— until very browned.
I served under Jennifer Trainer Thompson‘s fresh eggs. You can fried, or poached ‘em. Or use the best fresh eggs you can find….(Jennifer gave me her fresh her terrific egg book as well as her eggs after I interviewed her.)
Last of my CSA share…
From Red Fire Farm —Leeks (leek potato soup with kale?), Spinach (tossed into the boiling water at before draining egg noodles, then again with garlic simmered in butter with freshly grated nutmeg?), Kale (that kale salad I posted earlier sounds good), Parsnips (grated into veggie fritters? blended into soup?), Carrots and Turnips (a quick pickle together?), Black Radish (ideas?) Shallots (in everything, as ever), Adirondack Red & Blue Potatoes (roasted with shallots, cumin and chilies), and imperfect Brussels Sprouts (we’ll see, maybe roasted with some left over radicchio and sprinkled with currents plumped in something fun?). What are you cooking?
Roasted everything in the fridge
I have a giant bowl from my old catering days, big enough to toss everything in my fridge, literally.
So, when it was time to empty my fridge for our trip to Mexico, I cut up everything edible, including the rest of my CSA share, tossed it with spices and roasted it on three large trays. The apples were sweet, the vegetables spicy — the dish a hot and sweet ying yang delight!
Use what you have on hand. I combined good-sized chunks of cabbage —who knew they’d turn out so sweet? — beets, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes, brussels sprouts cut off the stalk with thick slices of sweet onion and apple halves. Toss with olive oil, minced garlic, smoked paprika, cumin seed, salt and cracked pepper, garlic and onion powder. (I was generous with the spices.) Spread in a single layer on parchment paper and roast until dark. (I did remove the sprouts a little earlier.) Now I have lots of Red Fire Farm roasted veggies to munch or as is or to toss on a baguette with sun-dried tomato pesto or goat cheese. But right now I’m roasting some chicken over the last tray.
Bizarre Food Story?
Mom Gives Kids Homemade Lunch, School Forces Them to Eat Ritz Crackers
Another version with Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s fabulously fresh eggs….
Thinking of a locavore treat that you can make in the winter?
(Full and festive winter locavore meal below)
These truffles were so popular last year that I’m blogging them again. They’re extraordinary in their simplicity — fresh local cream mingles with the best chocolate you can find. I used Belgium Callabuat chocolate with butter and cream from Highlawn Farm, where the vista is classic New England and Jersey cows bat their long lashes. I couldn’t find local butter, but the vanilla is aged in wooden barrels at Baldwin’s right here in West Stockbridge. And so, local meets global in this last gasp of holiday decadence. Makes about 40 or so small square truffles, but I doubled ‘em
7 ounces top-notch semi sweet chocolate , chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, sliced
1/3 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
A generous pinch cinnamon
1-Melt the truffle ingredients together in a double boiler or microwave, then whisk to combine thoroughly. Pour into a lightly oiled 8 by 8 pan and chill well.
2-Cut in half or into quarters. Use spatula to remove the squares of chocolate from the pan. (If you have any trouble removing them, run a very hot kitchen cloth over the bottom of the pan and a knife along the edges.) Cut each square into approximately even squares. (Your choice on size, but keep ‘em small.) If the chocolate gets melty while you are working with it, return it to the fridge until firmer.
3-Add half the squares to a bowl with confectioner’s sugar and half to a bowl with cocoa powder. Toss to coat. (They coat best when they’re getting a touch soft, so wait if you need to.) Serve in truffle cups, stacked like tiles or any which way.(For later use, store in fridge. They also freeze great.)
Fun variations: Coat with any kind of toasted chopped nuts; shredded coconut (for an upscale mounds bar); a pinch of cinnamon or instant espresso added to the cocoa powder. Try anything; you are only limited by your imagination.
Locavore Winter Meal? It isn’t easy to pull off an economical locavore meal when the ground is rock hard and covered with snow. But this year I’ve done well, thanks to the holiday markets and end-of-the-season CSA sales that seem be thriving everywhere. (There are now 900 winter season markets.) Fear not, recipes that aren’t highlighted are coming during the winter!
The Menu —
Maine Shrimp Ceviche with Berry Farm Arugula
Winter CSA Potato and Celery Root Ravioli with Parsley Pesto
Wilted Baby Greenhouse Spinach with Farm at Miller’s Crossing Roasted Beets, Shiitakes, Monteray Chevre and Balsamic Syrup
Ginger Bread with Highlawn Whipped Cream and Fresh Windy Hill Apple Sauce
Looking for a virtual local food vacation on a snowy day? Check out Caroline Alexander’s site, Berkshire Food Journal, where she chronicles regional farmers with audio interviews and accompanying photos.