Monday, July 30, 2007

Seasonal ingredients

Tonight I'm making "Asian" cucumber salad (it has rice vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil and is yummy), a testament to the fact that our CSA's cucumber plants are still going at it with gusto. As I searched my cookbooks and the web for ideas for my cucumbers I started to notice a trend: everyone has/had too many cucumbers in the summer. There's Indian cucumber salad, Greek cucumber salad, Armenian, Hungarian, Japanese, Turkish, Spanish, Israeli...It's a big world, but we're all struggling together to figure out what to do with these damn cucumbers.

Which brings me to my second point. I'm sure you've noticed the not very new trend among restaurants and chefs of a certain caliber (or those that fancy themselves of a certain caliber...) to note that they use "seasonal ingredients" in their menus. At it's heart this is a wonderful thing. By eating seasonally you are (hopefully) also eating locally, thus decreasing the amount of fossil fuels needed to get your food out of the ground and onto your plate. You're also supporting small farms, the local economy, and often, responsible land stewardship. As if these karmic delights weren't enough, locally grown/seasonal food often tastes better since it can be harvest when actually ripe instead of being picked early and allowed to crawl toward that mealy-cardboard state that, we are assured, is "juicy", "delicious", and of course "peak ripeness". Blech. No wonder so many people think they don't like vegetables.

The thing is, I realized, as I salted my cucumbers today, chefs who use seasonal ingredients do so selectively. They practically have to, because who wants cucumbers at every meal? Or even worse, turnips?? (Oh how I dread the Turnip Months in the fall...) Right now is a great harvest time for produce, and our CSA is giving us lettuce, swiss chard, zucchini, summer squash, onions, beets, corn, peppers, and of course, cucumbers. But pictures a menu with just those vegetables on it- just those!- and you quickly realize that what "seasonal ingredients" really means is something like "well, we're not using raspberries grown in Chile, at least. But it's summer time, so tomatoes must be in season, right? Oooo and maybe just a few potatoes...they could keep! In celler. Yeah! Man, we are SO heirloom."

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