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Support for fire-ravaged farmers

Beets and other produce at the Petaluma Farmer's Market at Walnut Park. JULI LEDERHAUS FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER

JULI LEDERHAUS, BY JULI LEDERHAUS

Like everyone in Sonoma County, the wildfires left a mark of sadness and concern on me. One of the things I was immediately worried about was the plight of the farmers I have come to know at the local farmers’ markets in Petaluma. Many of them have their farms in the parts of the county that were impacted by the fires.

I was especially saddened to learn that Corrie Leisen lost everything at Leisen’s historic Bridgeway Farms. This vendor at the Eastside Farmers’ Market had the widest selection of items of any grower there, and I will sorely miss him in the near future. Hopefully he and is wife will be able to rebuild and get their farm going again as soon as possible.

This post on their Facebook page tells the story: “Our lovely farm is no more. Our family history up in smoke. Five generations of heirlooms reduced to ashes. The hard work of 30 years destroyed in an instant. We have our lives but not much else. ... We will rebuild but it will never be the same.”

The hopeful part of my news is that on Saturday, Oct. 14 the farmers market at Walnut Park was indeed open. It had about half the normal number of vendors and about one quarter the number of shoppers, but it was open. Wanting to support the farmers who came, I stopped by and bought as much as I could.

On Tuesday the Eastside Farmers Market was relocated to the back of the Petaluma Premium Outlet Mall, so I went there and bought more things, and thanked each vendor for coming.

There is so much to be harvested right now, and the farmers need the income from the fruits of their season’s work, so the most important thing you can do this week is to go support your local farmer. Buy things and figure out what to do with them later. It will work out, and if you need ideas, just email me and I will help you with ideas and recipes. Just let me know what you have to work with.

Here are some of the things I bought this week, and what I made:

Beets

If you think you don’t like beets, you probably never had them properly prepared. The entire plant is edible. If the greens are on them, wash the greens, chop them up and then quickly stir-fry them with a tiny bit of garlic, olive oil and a finishing spritz of lemon juice. They are so delicious and sweet.

For the beets, scrub them, cut off all but the last inch of the top stems and the bottom root, wrap individually in tin foil, and roast at 350 degrees for 60 to 90 minutes or until a fork or very thin knife goes in and comes out easily. Cool until you can handle them, and then slip off the jackets.

Once they are cooked like this you can keep them in the fridge for up to a week or so. I like to use them diced, with some fresh ricotta cheese, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and some toasted pistachios on top of some buttered cooked (fresh or dried) pasta. Makes a great vegetarian meal or pasta course.

Or you can slice them and put together a light vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar, a touch of Dijon mustard, a tiny bit of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Use this to dress the beets and serve at room temperature.

Another way to use beets is to peel them raw with a vegetable peeler (I like to wear gloves when I am handling beets so my fingers don’t get stained) and then run them through the fine cutting blade of a spiralizer. Serve them as a salad, again with the dressing of your choice, but a nice vinaigrette dressing is perfect.

Of course the classic way is pickled beets. I like to cut the acid in red wine vinegar in half by adding some red wine to it. Pour over the sliced beets and add some sliced raw onions if you like onions. Let marinate for at least an hour, or overnight or longer depending on your taste. You can add a sprinkle of salt if you wish.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are in season. This is a lovely fall fruit, one that so many people don’t know how to eat. My Italian grandfather taught me to cut them up this way: With a very sharp small knife, cut a small square around the topknot end. Then make four shallow cuts just though the leathery skin, each one starting at a corner of that square, and going around the pomegranate to join together at the bottom.

Now break the fruit into roughly four segments, holding them over a bowl of cool water. The water is key. Flick the pips (or seeds) out with your fingers. The fruit will fall to the bottom of the water, and the little bits of yellow skin that divides the fruit segment pockets will float on the top of the water where you can just scoop it away. You don’t want to eat that yellow part because it is not tasty, and quite bitter. Then drain the pips and enjoy them.

Pomegranates make a great addition to so many things. I love them just sprinkled on a plate of cut up fruit or added to a salad. One of my favorite recipes is an Indian dish called Channa Chaat Anardana or Chickpea Chaat Salad with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Whenever I bring this to a potluck meal it always seems to be the first thing that disappears. Everyone can eat it – children, vegans, omnivores, people who want to eat healthy, and people who just want to eat deliciously. If you want the recipe, email me.

Another lovely dish is Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta topped with pomegranate seeds and puffed wild rice. Really any kind of white or light colored dessert is brightened up in a lovely way with pomegranate seeds on top.

One last tip, if you want to make the puffed wild rice I mention above, just put a little bit of uncooked wild rice on a small heatproof plate in your microwave and cook at full power for about 45 seconds. Be careful as it can burn, but unlike popcorn, you can pull off the puffed grains and microwave the remaining grains a bit more.

You would not need to make a lot, as it is just used as a lovely crunchy and nutty garnish. I usually do just about 1 to 2 tablespoons of raw wild rice to start.

(Contact Juli Lederhaus at julilederhaus@gmail.com.)