We all aspire to spend weekend mornings strolling the farmers market in search of beautiful produce to whip up into Facebook-postworthy meals. But those 40 kinds of greens, 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and stalls full of rare veggies (watermelon radishes, anyone?) can be confusing. And then you see apples! Sweet, familiar apples! So you buy a bag and get the hell out. Don’t worry — you’re not alone.
“Even for seasoned cooks, farmers markets can be really overwhelming,” says New York Times “A Good Appetite” columnist Melissa Clark. “You don’t know what the stuff is and you don’t know what to buy to go with what, so you end up buying things you’re really familiar with, and that’s totally fine — but then you get sick of them.”
Her new book, “Cook This Now,” is filled with 120 easy recipes for in season produce, as well as sweet personal stories to inspire you out of your “same ol’ dinner” food rut. We’re not running from the rutabagas anymore after Clark gave us some tips to shop the market like a pro.
Start with your old faves
“Look for things that are familiar but look better than you have seen them, like gorgeous apples — and when I say gorgeous, I don’t mean picture-perfect. Look for the coolest looking apples, like Pippin or Honeycrisp instead of Red Delicious, or the niftiest looking cauliflower like Romanesco. This way you’re in the realm of the familiar, but it is something more interesting that you couldn’t get anywhere else.”
Try something new
“Every time you go to the farmers market, buy one thing that you’ve never seen before. Even if you don’t use it, or you throw it out, at least you bought it and you’ll be more familiar with it for next time. And if you don’t know what something is, Google it! You’ll find a zillion ways to cook it. Also, just ask the farmer.”
Look beyond the veggies
“Don’t think of farmers markets as just for fruits and vegetables. They have amazing meats and butter, cheese and bread. And eggs! You’ll find amazing eggs there. The eggs we get from supermarkets are already 2 weeks old. And eggs last, like, a month. So fresh farmers market eggs will keep for a really long time.”
“Chances are, when people are talking while shopping at the farmers market, they’re talking about what they’re going to cook. So I get great cooking tips just by eavesdropping. Saddle up to people who look like they’re serious and just see what they’re saying and going to buy.”
Pick your farmers
“There are going to be certain stands that you just like better for whatever reason. Not that one is better, but you like the vibe. For me, I like this one stand [Evolutionary Organics] because the woman who works there has cool tattoos. So I’m like, ‘I like that place. I am going to go there.’”
In season in October
Clark tells us what to shop for at the farmers market right now:
Tomatoes: “Half-green tomatoes are so good in salads. Don’t overlook those.”
Grapes: “Fresh grapes taste nothing like the grapes you buy at the supermarket. It’s like another world.”
Winter squash: “They are particularly good at the beginning of the season and come smaller now.”
Plums: “[You’ll get] amazing Italian prune plums. When they get really ripe, they are almost like candy.”
Apples and pears: “They’re at their best right now.”
Cumin Seed Roasted Cauliflower with Salted Yogurt, Mint, and Pomegranate Seeds
When the nights turn blustery and the temperature drops, I know that roasted vegetable season has arrived, and I embrace it with reckless abandon. I’ll roast any kind of sturdy vegetable that I can cut up and fit into my oven, but one of my favorites is cauliflower, preferably tossed with whole cumin seeds. Not only does the cumin act as a natural remedy to help reduce the dreaded intestinal gas factor (or so I’ve been told), but it also adds a pleasant earthy flavor to balance the assertive tang of the vegetable.
Roasted cauliflower with cumin makes a nice and simple side dish. Even Dahlia will eat it if she’s distracted enough. But recently I made it into lunch. I roasted up a head all for myself, and added a topping of salted yogurt (which is simply a good, full-fat yogurt with a little kosher salt mixed in), a few leftover pomegranate seeds (which I can buy at my local market already picked out of the husk), and a smattering of bright green chopped fresh mint. It was a perfect light lunch. It could even be dinner, served over brown rice, bulgur, or some other filling, toasty grain, for a warming meal to start out roasting season right.
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Plain yogurt, for serving
Chopped fresh mint leaves, for serving
Pomegranate seeds, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Toss the cauliflower with the oil, cumin seed, salt, and pepper. Spread the mixture in an even layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and its edges are toasty, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Whisk a pinch of salt into the yogurt. Dollop the yogurt on top of the cauliflower and strew the mint and pomegranate seeds over the yogurt.
-Don’t worry if your florets seem unevenly cut. The bigger pieces will get tender and golden, while the little bits get crispy-caramelized all over. I think it makes for an excellent contrast of textures.
-I abhor the chalky texture of low-fat yogurts, so please use full-fat for this dish. The only exception I’ve found is 2% plain Greek yogurt, which tastes more or less like the real deal.
– If you don’t have pomegranate seeds, just leave them off. The dish is lovely enough without them.