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March 2008

February 2008

North Florida February Borscht

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I don't love beets.  But when I saw them at the farmers’ market this week, I bought some anyway. Maybe it was smiling Mr. Graham from Graham farms.  Or maybe because they were so pretty…

Then, strangely, while I was out walking the dog later that afternoon, my neighbor Harold handed me a cabbage.  This doesn't happen normally either. His wife works for the agriculture department at UF, and they had produced some extra ones that needed homes.

That’s when the thought of “borscht” popped into my head – even though I’ve never made it or eaten it.  I thought I might have some of the key ingredients.  And I did!

After searching for borscht recipes in my own cookbooks and on the web, I realized they were going to need some tinkering if I were going to use only local veggies. So, I tinkered – trying to keep the main idea.  And it was good.  It was also beautiful.

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I substituted sweet potatoes for the white potatoes (not in season), the celery (never in season here) and the carrots (rare).  I also substituted local honey for the sugar.  And I had just planted dill, which was a very good addition.  

Here’s the recipe:

NORTH FLORIDA FEBRUARY BORSCHT

2 T vegetable oil*
1 large (or several small) onion(s), chopped
8 medium beets, peeled and diced
Chopped beet greens if they look good

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

½  cabbage, shredded
3 large cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and very finely chopped
1 medium bunch dill, coarsley chopped
4 T honey

½ cup cider vinegar*

2 T salt*

Boiled eggs

Heat oil in a soup pot and sauté onions and garlic till onions are clear.  Add beets, greens, cabbage, and sweet potatoes along with approximately 8 cups of water and salt.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and cook till veggies are tender but are not falling apart (15-20 minutes).  Add honey and vinegar. Top with dill and sliced or chopped boiled eggs. 

*the oil, vinegar and salt are not produced locally. I could have substituted local butter for the oil (if I had bought local un-homogenized  milk at the market and whipped up the milk fat).  But I don’t think we’re going to be processing vinegar and salt in these parts soon.

Sour cream is traditionally used as a topping for this soup, and I think it would have been a good foil for the soup’s tartness. The boiled eggs did nicely, too, though.  And – to be perfectly honest – I enjoyed this soup more cold the following day.  “Tart” just goes better with cold to me.

Beets are still not my favorite vegetables, but this was really good. The thought of the beets growing out on the Graham’s farm and Harold gifting me with the cabbage – not to mention the jewel-like beauty of the red beets, orange potatoes, and vivid greens  - helped a lot.  I’ll make it again. 

This week's locavore meal: farmers' market borscht with backyard eggs, and a variation of the best salad ever (balsamic vinegar in the dressing, and red and green leaf lettuce instead of cabbage and arugula).


Locavore-ish Lentil Soup

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We've been using this recipe for years, for several reasons.  It's quick, it's healthy, and just about everyone likes it (including kids) - despite its unglamorous appearance. 

White potatoes are not in season yet, so we substituted sweet potatoes, which are, for both the carrots and white potatoes.  I think this is a big difference in how most of us cook now, as opposed to how our grandparents or great-grandparents cooked back when people relied primarily on things produced locally:  Now, folks who like to cook usually start out with a recipe and go get whatever ingredients are called for. But less than a century ago, diets were much less diverse. Good cooks then would use mostly what was growing, hunted or raised nearby, and create (or tweak) a recipe themselves.  My own grandparents were much more representative of this type of cooking - and thinking. Their meal plans were pretty consistent and consistently southern, what many of us now think of as "soul food."   They made the best (really, the best) of what was close at hand.   

Back to the soup: We doubled the recipe, and used green onions from the farmers' market supplemented with an organic sweet onion grown in Georgia (sold at Ward's).  Unfortunately, the closest location it seems lentils are grown (they need cool weather) is the upper midwest and Pacific northwest. So they have traveled quite a distance.  The tomatoes were grown within a couple miles though.  So, again, this meal was "locavore-ish."  We're working on it.

LENTIL SOUP             Imgp5408tiny_small_bright

2 cups dried lentils         

2-3 chopped carrots

4 chopped potatoes

Salt to taste

Rinse the lentils and pour into large pot. Add carrots, potatoes and salt, and cover with water – at least two inches over top of lentils.  Bring to a boil, then cover, turn to low and cook for 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat and let steam until sauce is ready.

Sauce:

1 large onion

¼ cup olive oil

½ tsp each ginger, turmeric, and black pepper (or just curry powder and black pepper)

Sauté onion in olive oil and add spices.  Mix well and cook until onions are clear.  Add salt to taste.  Combine with lentils. Place raw chopped tomatoes on top.  Best if allowed to sit an hour before serving. Serves 6.