As summer peaks with its bounty of fresh vegetables, shopping the local farmers markets can be an adventure. In addition to undertaking the parking and crowds, there is also the seemingly endless variety of vegetables to explore. Many vegetables are familiar — tomatoes, corn, and peppers are current beauties — but what about all the vegetables that are passed by because of our lack of knowing not only what they are, but also what to do with them?
For three lucky Facebook fans of Rainbow Chinese restaurant, this question was answered. Saturday morning, Shannon, Tracy, and Kim gathered for a Minneapolis Farmers Market tour with Rainbow Chef Tammy Wong (pictured at right above), who visits the market three to four times per week. An hour an a half later, they left the market with lists of vegetable varieties to try, Tammy’s suggestions of what to do with them, and a fresh perspective on navigating the market.
The Heavy Table tagged along. Below are notes on a few vegetable varieties and some farmers markets tips from Tammy.
While many are familiar with the large, purple eggplant variety (pictured in head photo), there are many more varieties of eggplants at the market. Also pictured above are Chinese eggplants (long, skinny, and purple) and Thai eggplants (on far right — round, green / white striped). For the Thai variety, Tammy suggests a recipe of Eggplant with Tamarind Sauce on her restaurant website.
More eggplant varieties are in the photo immediately above. Pictured at left are two sizes of bitter balls (an African variety also known as pea eggplants) and another variety of Thai eggplant. Cooking suggestions for bitter balls, which taste true to their name, are to wash, cut in half, and use in soups or stews or to finish on top of fish. The small white Thai eggplant are used in the curry recipe on Rainbow’s website.
Green and yellow zucchini are commonly recognized squash varieties at the market, but right now the market is full of additional, less recognized squash varieties, such as the bottle gourd (also known as opo squash), pattypan, and globe squash (pictured from left to right). One market shopper with a large bottle gourd shares a simple way to prepare it: peel, cube, and stir fry. Tammy prefers the smaller bottle gourds to the large ones, as they have no seeds. She suggests cutting the squash into julienne strips and then cooking them into a soup with pork stock, dehydrated shrimp, and white pepper and topping with cilantro and green onions. Bitter melon (center-right of head photo) is also a type of squash, used in stir fries with other vegetables and meat to cut its extremely bitter flavor.
The local beet crop has been lovely, but many tend to shy away from this vegetable’s earthy flavor. There are several varieties of beets, including red, golden, and candy-striped beets (which have the highest sugar content). After discussing the varieties and preparation suggestions, the simplest of which is to roast, slice, and serve, Kim states: “I guess I will give beets another try.”
The same goes for broccoli, which many either love or hate. Tammy suggests trying Chinese broccoli (pictured above left), which has a milder taste. Blanch, then stir-fry with beef, garlic, and oil and finish with a touch of oyster sauce.
Tomorrow’s Heavy Table will include three recipes from Tammy on using other market vegetables: cayenne and holy mole peppers and sweet potato (yam) vines.
Tammy’s Farmers Market Tips:
1. Arrive at the market early to avoid parking issues. If possible, try visiting a farmers market that is open on the weekdays. Arriving on non-weekend days also exposes shoppers to a different variety of vendors who may not have a reserved spot for the weekend market. The Minneapolis Farmers Market is open Monday through Friday 6am to 1pm and the St. Paul Farmers’ Market is open Tuesday through Sunday in a variety of locations.
2. Take advantage of free cooking classes and demonstrations at the market. Many farmers markets, such as Minneapolis, Mill City, and Kingfield, offer them. Tammy will be cooking and presenting on seasonal melons at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on August 29 at 10:30am.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask others how they prepare their vegetables. From the growers to other market shoppers, Tammy asks (and is often asked by others) for suggestions on how to prepare different types of vegetables. She cautions to be respectful of the vendors, as they often are busy with other customers, and with other market goers who may not be inclined to engage in conversation.
4. Support growers by trying different types of vegetables. In order to supply variety, farmers need the demand.
5. Expand your taste buds by giving vegetables another try — even if you think you don’t like something. The taste of locally grown, in-season vegetables is drastically different than off-season commercial vegetables.