What a fabulous farmers market - the best I've seen, bar none. And mine is no solo act singing the market's praises. At least one of the chefs for the Niman Ranch annual hog producers appreciation dinner weekend before last agrees. "The farmers market is spectacular," he told me just as I was heading there, "way better than anything in Chicago."
The market is huge, as much a street festival with booth after booth of locally raised produce, meat, honey and fresh flowers along with artisan cheese and bread -- plus food stalls (have you had a pupusa, yet? delicious! or what about homemade biscuits and sausage gravy? swoon!) and market-appropriate crafts like bird houses made from gourds and t-shirts that read, "I'm an Iowa Girl". We were especially lucky to get the grand tour from market master Kelly Foss but my goodness - what a spread.
For vegetables, I expected typical farmers market fare for this time of year - corn, peppers, tomatoes, onions, winter squash and all the other fresh Midwestern produce that bridges late summer and early fall - but by serendipity, sat in the shade (with a glass of rosemary-infused lemonade that still has me wishing for more) near a booth selling fresh long beans, lemon grass and bitter melon, all staples of Asian cooking.
And by further serendipity, another shopper told me how to cook the bitter melon! Thank you, Carol Williams! (This is Iowa, folks, it's a friendly place!)
ACQUIRED TASTE Bitter melon is an acquired taste. Raw, it is pucker-up bitter and spit-it-out sour. To make it palatable, at least to my taste, you need to remove much of the bitterness -- scrape off the tips of the prickles, leach out some of the liquid, cook with something else (here, onion) and cook til WELL done. After that, it was good -- but I'm not really sure, honestly, it was still bitter melon.
MAKE IT A MEAL Bitter melon seem to be often paired with eggs, to further soften the bitterness so for this I recommend Alex's French Eggs.
MORE VEGETABLE RECIPES See the Recipe Box for nearly 30 months worth of new-to-me vegetables.
TWO YEARS AGO My very first time to unveil that year's obsession, slow-roasted tomatoes.
A YEAR AGO Potato Okra Curry, "Twenty minutes. One skillet. Truly tasty."
BITTER MELON SAUTÉ
Time to table: 90 minutes
1 pound bitter melon
Bacon grease or other oil
While the melons are still whole, use a knife to scrape off the points of the skin. Slice in half, lengthwise, then scoop out center material and seeds, leaving just the outside flesh. Chop into small pieces. Toss with plenty of turmeric and salt. Let rest for an hour or more. Rinse well.
In a large skillet, heat the bacon grease on MEDIUM till shimmery. Add the bitter melon and cook til beginning to soften. Add the onion and cook til the onions are done and the bitter melon no longer bitter.
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