Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dinosaur kale and other tales from the market tour..

Until yesterday, I had never heard of dinosaur kale. Now I have a bunch in my fridge, waiting for me to steam it with salt & pepper and then drizzle with lemon juice and serve alongside, say, the turkey burgers I'm fixin' to grill up this Labor Day weekend. I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.
Dinokale, as I've decided to call it, was just one of the "new-to-me" foods I found during yesterday's shopping tour of the Roslindale Farmers' Market, sponsored by A Teachable Feast and guided by Rozzi chef Lester Esser. There were 6 of us, 4 from out of town, and 2 Rozzi locals, following Lester from farm stand to farm stand in the center of Roslindale Square, listening with rapt attention as he picked up and described both familiar and strange foods, from zebra tomatoes to purslane, an edible and highly nutritious wild succulent. The market, with its crisp white tents billowing gently in the breezy sunshine, was abuzz with smiling shoppers toting their eco-friendly bags, pushing baby strollers or tugging their pups along. Live Celtic-inspired music filled the fresh air as we made our way around the market. Lester and I gave the group a challenge: buy at least one thing that you've never had before, an "adventure food." Lester would then give tips on how to eat that thing. We then spent a little over three hours exploring the farmers' goods, and then the many amazing shops surrounding the market square. [Watch this blog for a complete list of shops by name and location.] Lester brought us to a fantastic cheese shop, where you can ask for a taste if you want to try something new and where you can buy outrageously delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil and then come back to refill your bottles from beautiful self-serve tanks. They also sell locally made chocolates, salsas and other treats. I will definitely go back there often. We also visited a market specializing in halal foods—typically Middle Eastern foods that are sanctioned for a Muslim diet, similar to kosher foods. That market was great because you can get super-fresh pita bread, tons of spices at rock-bottom prices, limes and lemons @ 4 for $1, and wow--sesame seeds by the pound for around $3 ! If you like tahini, falafel, olives and dates you'd love that shop. We went to a couple of great bakeries, one of which was Greek, and of course, I left with a big serving of baklava! yum! Lester couldn't wait to show us Tony's Market, an Italian deli/meat market where Tony stands in the back of the store and cuts the meat to your liking, while you watch from a small viewing area. I've never seen a knife move so fast— and no one got hurt! We also ducked into a small Mexican market where you can find authentic Mexican ingredients for your next tamale feast or fajita night. The proud young shopkeeper, from Oaxaca, said people come from far and wide to find the real Mexican food that his shop offers. In that shop, my friend and fellow shopper Shari managed to stump the chef when she showed Lester a package of what looked like plastic tiles. We had to ask the owner who explained it was a kind of hardened paste that could be melted and used to make, what? I'm not sure. But Shari bought it for Lester as a challenge to see what he can make from it.

At tour's end, we were tired but excited to get home and try out what we found. As I mentioned, I bought the dinosaur kale as my adventure food. Others bought the purslane, a "hot" kind of garlic, a chili pepper, and black cherry tomatoes. I can't wait to hear how everyone experiences these new tastes at home. Of course, we all bought lots of other foods as well--baguettes and cheese, peaches, and sausages, chocolates and pastries. In all, we had a blast spending time outside in the glorious day, talking with a universally happy crowd of farmers (perhaps there's something to that!), and finding unique new places to add to our shopping itineraries. Lester was a magnificent and deeply knowledgeable guide who could answer just about every question we had about the foods we found. How lucky we were! I mean, how many times do you find something in a store or at a market and say to yourself--what IS that? or how would I use that? It was great to have someone right there to answer us.

A Teachable Feast will sponsor more trips with Lester in the near future. If you want to join us, leave a comment here and I'll get back to you! Until then, happy shopping and eating!

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