Saturday, February 10, 2007

Think Global when Buying Local: Cure for the Locavore Blues

After three months of eating Kale, collards, mustards, and other in-season leafy brassicas almost daily, even the passionate locavore can get the blues.
My remedy: think Global when Buying Local. It's amazing how a simple variation in the treatment of a vegetable can transport you to more exotic locales. I'm going to break this post into four sections : The Locavore (a brief summary of origin), The Locavore's Dilemma (the problem that can present itself when one is committed to eating locally and in-season), and The Cure for the Locavore Blues (getting to the point).

The Locavore
I have to admit, the term "Locavore" is new to me -- I came across it yesterday. However, it describes an obvious trend: there are increasing numbers of people who, sympathetic with the Slow-Food movement's push to preserve the "local, the quirky, the rare" by rejecting cultural homogenization and embracing local character as well as supporting sustainable agriculture, have decided to become Locavores. The term "locavore" was coined in 2005 (long after Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Paul Nahban (Coming Home to Eat) had already passionately addressed the phenomenon), by a group of San Fransisco women who challenged themselves and others to eat only foods grown/produced within a 100 mile radius for a month. Others caught on, and in 2006 the locavore pledge appeared:

If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade.

Skipping past the fact that it took me until 2007 to discover the term, let me say that I don't intend to become a fully-fledged locavore. I love the availability of global ingredients that used to be hard to find. However, if kale is available locally, the I'll be buying it locally. My general habit is to buy all of my produce and eggs from local sources, get local meat and poultry whenever I can afford it, and supplement these local treasures with any foods (local or non-local) that fill in the nutritional gaps for my family and highlight the featured ingredients.

Although I find the experiment of the committed locavore intriguing, I don't feel obliged or compelled to kill my own chickens or search the depths of our local cypress swamps to appreciate local food traditions or support local agriculture. For me, the passion for local foods and the awakening to the global impact of "eating local" is a slow, warm pulse that gets louder with every food-related choice and revelation.

The Locavore's Dilemma
(Kale as my example) A familiar slogan to the Slowfood/Locavore movement is Think Global, Eat Local. We are urged to consider the Global economic and environmental impact of consuming foods that are grown/produced/packaged elsewhere and shipped to us. Eating locally usually involves eating with the seasons, and for Tallahassee, this is a season of greens, greens, and more greens (mostly members of the cabbage family and lettuces). I've been eating kale about once a week for three months (interspersed with collards, kohlrabi, lettuces, arugula, asian greens, mustards, etc). I could be getting the locavore blues, but...

The Cure for the Locavore Blues (getting to the point). This is thinking Globally on a much smaller scale: search your cookbooks or internet for international recipes using your local ingredients. It seems an obvious thing to do, but the results of a simple variation in technique or flavoring can be surprising. Kale is an interesting example, because it features in a simple recipe that spans the globe: Greens, garlic, red pepper. A cultural twist on these three ingredients completely transforms the character of the dish from one week to the next. This week's twist came from Madhur Jaffrey's Taste of India:

Kohlrabi Greens

1 1/4# Kohlrabi leaves
5 T mustard oil or olive oil
(she recommends mustard oil for an authentic flavor)
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 hot dried red chiles (deseeded --
I used red pepper flakes)
4-6 cloves garlic

Wash the... (greens)... and cut away the very coarse stems. If the leaves are large...cut them crosswise at 2" intervals. Heat the oil in a very large pan over a medium-high flame. Let it get smokingly hot (only if using mustard oil -- not if using olive oil). Let it smoke for a few seconds. This burns away its pungency and makes it sweet.)... Put in 10 cups of water, the kohlrabi leaves, the baking soda, salt, red chillies, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered over medium-high heat, for about 1 hour, stirring now and then, until there is just a little liquid left in the pan and the leaves are tender.

Although her recipe calls for kohlrabi leaves or collard greens, substitute any leafy green you like. The long cooking time results in silky, melt-in-your-mouth greens with a distinctly Indian character, and the addition of baking soda helps the greens retain their attractive, vital color. My usual treatment is to stir-fry or sauté these ingredients together, but the results of this method remind me of Palak Chole, a spinach and chickpea dish from Samrat (Tallahassee Indian Restaurant on Apalachee Parkway). I plan to ask for a hint at the recipe/ technique.

At the long end of every season, I guiltily look askance to the next season's riches, but thinking Globally could allow me to enjoy Kale for a final month.

Have you recently found a remedy for your locavore blues? What recipes take you through the end of a season?

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