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Food and Drink

Your guide to the overlooked, Part II

When it comes to edibles and comestibles, more than a few orphans are kicking around out there. By “orphans” I mean the overlooked, the neglected, the misunderstood; the things we never try because we think we don’t like them, or we don’t know how to use them and are too afraid of looking food-stupid to ask.

So last week I asked vendors at Whistler’s popular farmers’ market to open our eating horizons and palates and wax eloquent about one item they thought people should give a try, or try again with a fresh approach. The choices were beets, rutabagas and the natural sweetener, stevia.

I’m guessing I could write an entire book on the topic, because I had so many responses to my query that I felt I had to run the rest of the suggestions this week lest I compound any inferiority complex these overlooked foodstuffs might have.

So in the name of culinary adventure and open-minded eating, please delve deeper into the unexplored side of the farmers’ market:


Amazing arugala

Jordan Sturdy, a long-time market stalwart who owns and operates North Arm Farm in Pemberton, admits that arugala isn’t exactly an orphan. In fact, it’s a pretty hip item right now. But for many people, like my dad, who seldom venture off the lettuce path for their salad greens, trying arugala can be a real palate-popper.

This member of the cole family, sometimes known as roquette or garden rocket, produces tender, lobed leaves with the most amazing flavour — a combo of peppery spiciness and nuttiness. The key word here is “tender”. For as Jordan points out, the leaves must be picked at just the right time, before they get tough and when they’re at the peak of their flavour.

When it comes to picking out just-right arugala, Jordan has a few other tips he’d like to share.

“It should be fresh and bright green, not wilted or dry. And it shouldn’t look wet — if it’s wet it gets all slimy and black,” he says. That you don’t want.

“And I have to talk about holes. If your arugala has holes in it, you know it hasn’t had a pesticide applied to it. Look at it as diet arugala or something. You’re paying by the weight, so don’t worry about the holes.”

North Arm Farms plants arugala successively every two weeks from spring through to fall, so you’re sure to get the best in tender pickings. When you get it home, wash it then dry it with a salad spinner — the world’s best invention according to Jordan.

Most commercial salad mixes have about 5 per cent arugala in them, but Jordan and his family like to mix arugala and their salad greens 50/50.

His favourite approach: make a nice bed of greens, half lettuce and half arugala. Top it with potatoes or rice and a nice piece of grilled fish or chicken. Drizzle it all with a buttermilk/mayonnaise dressing: Jordan mixes equal parts buttermilk and mayo. Add a bit of fresh garlic or finely chopped or gently sautéed garlic scapes (those little curly flower tips that form on hard-neck garlic plants). Add salt and pepper, and/or dry mustard to taste. Enjoy.


Swish Swiss chard

On the basis of visuals alone, it’s worth trying a fresh bunch of Swiss chard these days. The beautifully coloured ribs come in a rainbow of colours — red, yellow, orange and pink — that contrast beautiful with the lush dark green of the leaves. If that weren’t enough incentive, Bruce Miller of Across the Creek Organics in Pemberton says Swiss chard has a great flavour, even when simply steamed with butter, salt and pepper.

You can also use the smaller, more tender leaves raw in salads. But it’s the bunching Swiss chard, with the larger, heartier leaves that we most often see for sale, and those are better suited for cooking.

“Those stems are a little heavier, so you want to cut them out separately, chop them up and give them a little bit more cooking time than the leaves,” Bruce says. If you’d like to take it one step beyond steaming, try them in a stir-fry. You can add virtually anything that takes your fancy — snap peas, baby carrots, and even arugala are delicious companions.

In either case, anything dried out or wilted-looking is a no-no. Pick out leaves that look fresh, beautiful and perky.

“The nice thing about buying at the farmers’ market is that you’re getting product that has probably been picked the day before, so that’s about as fresh as you’re going to get,” says Bruce.


Succulent secret condiments

You can hardly call Jean-Pierre Cote’s products orphans. If anything, they’re exotic creatures, the product of experience and imagination. Besides the Whistler Farmers’ Market, Jean-Pierre sells his original and highly tempting Maison Cote mustards, vinaigrettes and spice blends at two other markets. As well, he runs his wholesale business and factory in Vancouver, where he’s always coming up with ingredients that don’t exist anywhere else.

“I love to create a new flavour for your palate,” he says. “That’s what I do.”

Jean-Pierre comes by his craft honestly. Not only is he a chef by trade, his family has been in the food business for 17 generations. He produces so many interesting products, I couldn’t possibly limit him to one.

“Try our balsamic jelly. It’s amazing to put on a cheese or terrine and a cracker or to deglaze a chicken. It’s very fantastic and very different,” he says.

“The other one that’s very, very different is our basil sugar. It’s fantastic to mix with mascarpone cheese and pipe inside a hollowed strawberry or Italian plum.”

If those don’t tickle your fancy, try his raspberry and rosemary sea salt — great on duck or chicken, or on a spinach salad with a bit of toasted pecan and gorgonzola cheese, drizzled with walnut oil.

If that doesn’t get you to the market, nothing will.

Check out all the fine offerings, common and not-so-common, at the Whistler Farmers’ Market. It offers a huge range of products every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
 from Father’s Day through to Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 7 and 8, when a special Saturday market is held. The market is located in Whistler’s Upper Village next to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Contact Nicole Ronayne at 604-932-5998 or .

<> Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who promises to give Swiss chard another try.