Spring is a beautiful time to shop seasonally and to shop for fresh Oklahoma Food. April is Made in Oklahoma month and it is a great time to chow down on some seasonal favorites. Thanks to hoop houses spring arrived a little early in spite of some winter chill not minding the calendar. If you've lived in Oklahoma for a while, you know this is a common occurrence.
It is a great time to get acquainted with local growers at both year round markets and those opening up in April and May. As the fields of grain and grass green up with the season fresh greens are also popping up in the markets, community supported agriculture and grocers. Be sure to check okgrown.com for a list of farmer's markets in your area.
Cooking seasonally to highlight those fruits and vegetables at the peak of ripeness is a great way to enjoy these foods at their best. This helps ensure their nutrient value isn't lost during weeks of transport and storage before you bring them to your table.
Collard greens and Swiss Chard gathered from a farm 50 miles away and brought to you through a coop or farmer's market was probably harvested within the last 24 hours. Those same leaves that traveled 1,500 miles before being cooked and served on your table could have been harvested a week or more earlier. Refrigeration is great, but time from the field to the table takes its toll in the nutrient value left.
You'll find plenty of other greens at the markets in addition to the collards and chards: Several varieties of both spinach and kale as well as a variety of lettuces and small baby greens for braising and for salads are destined to be healthy happenings on Oklahoma tables throughout the spring.
I found some wonderful fresh picked broccoli from Sunrise Acres where Robert and Barbara Stelle grow amazing things at their farm. If you want to know about growing greens, cruciferous vegetables and other garden gems visit with Robert at the OSU-OKC Farmer's market. They have beautiful organic plants for sale with free advice on how to get the best performance from them. I made a yummy easy salad with some of their beautiful broccoli this week.
Another great find were the mushrooms from the Oklahoma Mushroom Company in Edmond. Wow ... talk about fresh grown and picked — these are wonderful. You have to know how to best cook them for maximum flavor and texture. A sliced mushroom can become a sponge for soaking up oil or butter in a saute, so there are several tips to remember when you prepare them.
If at all possible, try to avoid washing mushrooms. Look for the cleanest ones you can find in the market. J and M Mushrooms grown in Miami deliver up some beautiful mushrooms to groceries all over the state. These folks know how to deliver fresh so opt for the Oklahoma-grown ones if possible. Use a dishtowel to wipe away any dirt or debris. When cleaning shiitake mushrooms, remove the stems and save them for adding to stock. The stems of these flat little jewels are just too tough and chewy, but they are worth coaxing out their flavor for a soup or sauce.
Key to cooking mushrooms that are sliced, quartered, chopped or whole is to not crowd the pan. For quiche, saute mushrooms first for best results. Be sure the oil or oil and butter combination is hot, but not smoking. When oils are hot enough to smoke, they can be transforming to harmful trans fats. Safflower oil has a higher smoking point so use it for sauteeing things hot. Be sure oils or butter (not margarine) are not so low that mushrooms simply soak instead of saute. I keep a wok on my stove for larger batches and grab a small nonstick skillet for smaller jobs.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be sauteed or steamed as you like. The same is true of snow peas and sugar snaps. I prefer steaming or blanching when possible to keep things as healthy as possible. When you have a large amount to do, switch to a larger pan and blanch these nutrient rich veggies in batches so they cook evenly. Again use that ice water bath to arrest the cooking and keep them nice and crisp.
If you've never tasted broccoli fresh from the field, head out to the OSU-OKC market early to try them, or buy the plants from Robert Stelle and grow your own. With spring coming a little late this year you just may be harvesting some of your own. I'm gathering collards now that I planted last fall. I had never had success at a fall garden until this last year and now those hardy collards are continuing to bless us through the spring. What a healthy homegrown treat.
I love this simple recipe and when you have wonderful fresh broccoli on hand it can be extraordinary. Sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts can be used in lieu of raisins or dried cranberries and walnuts.
Spring Broccoli Salad
2 cups fresh broccoli, coarse stems peeled and coarsely chopped along with tops
½ cup plump raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Place raisins in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover while remaining ingredients are prepared. Wash broccoli, trim away tough outer skin of stalks and coarsely chop. (Measurement does not need to be exact.) Drain plumped raisins and combine with broccoli. Combine walnuts olive oil and vinegar with broccoli raisin mixture. Stir well to coat all ingredients. Enjoy right away or serve later.
Cooking notes: toasting nuts adds a nice layer of flavor. If adapting the recipe using pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes in lieu of raisins and walnuts, use only ¼ cup of pine nuts. If sun-dried tomatoes are extra dry they can be plumped like raisins.