Eating local during the summer is easy. Anyone can go to the farmers' market, or choose a salad made with local greens off a restaurant menu. It's what you eat in the winter that separates the talk-walkers from the wannabes.
The hardest part of eating local in winter isn't finding enough to eat, because there's plenty. What's more difficult is giving up foods that are locally sourceable only in summer, and salad is the poster child of such fleeting meals. Some folks can't live without ripe tomatoes. Others need their lettuce. But if you can hurdle these hang-ups, a bounty of local winter salads can be yours.
I was introduced to winter salad in Siberia, where eating local year-round is not only a fact of life, but also one of life's joys. While Siberia has a reputation as sub-prime real estate, I wonder if this isn't just a smokescreen to keep away the land speculators. It's a beautiful landscape, with large tracts of butterfly-infested forest and clean rivers full of fish. But as I rode the train from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, to Irkutsk, Siberia, what struck me the most were the picturesque villages whizzing by my window, in which nearly every home had a greenhouse attached.
During my travels in the Siberian countryside I was served all kinds of preserved delicacies from jars, including pickled mushrooms, wild berry jam and ginseng vodka. I was also initiated into the Siberian custom of putting mayo—a fresh winter staple as long as the chickens are laying—on everything. And I learned that Siberians look forward to retirement so they can spend more time in the garden growing food for their families.
One evening after a cold afternoon in the mountains above Lake Baikal, in a house with an attached greenhouse, I had my first taste of winter salad. After a warm-up, literally, of beef broth, we feasted on fried trout and a salad of shredded carrots and shredded garlic.
It wasn't the most complex salad, but it suggested possibilities, and I came home with some ideas. While local leaves are hard to come by in winter, save cabbage and frozen greens, root crops like carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, garlic and onions abound. Shredding the roots gives them a leaf-like softness and increases the surface area, allowing more contact with the dressing. These shredded raw roots provide the base for a salad in which almost anything goes.
Last summer we had a bumper crop of tomatoes, and put away quite a few by sun-drying them (in less sunny climates, a dehydrator works just as well). If the tomatoes are completely dry and crispy, they store fine in sealed plastic bags. If you leave them a bit chewy, keep them in the freezer.
I like to crumble sun-dried tomatoes on top of shredded roots tossed in vinaigrette, and then grate some shavings from a hard local goat cheese on top. Presented as such, my sun-dried tomatoes are every bit as satisfying as ripe juicy ones in summer—which can't be said about the albino cardboard winter imposters imported from the southern hemisphere.
Many other summertime morsels, properly preserved, are worth adding to your winter salads as well, including dried fruits like cherries and apples; plant proteins like pecans, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds; animal proteins like dried or smoked fish, canned deer, bacon bits or chopped boiled eggs; pickled products like cucumbers or peppers; and what leaves and greens are available in winter, like chopped frozen kale or grated cabbage.
Many people have window boxes or greenhouses that allow them to grow limited amounts of spinach or salad greens during the winter. If you're so lucky, then tossing a handful of these wintergreens into your root-based salad adds some nice leafy diversity.
Another option for fresh, local winter greens is sprouts, which can be grown from many of the seeds available in the bulk section of your local store. Wheat, beans, mustard seeds, lentils, sunflower seeds and peas can all be easily sprouted at home. It's an inexpensive way to provide nutrient-rich fodder for your winter salads.
To make sprouts, soak 1 tablespoon of seeds or 1/3 cup of beans in a quart of tepid water overnight. This is the only time sprout seeds should actually soak, and they'll ferment if they aren't completely drained. The next day, rinse the seeds thoroughly in tepid water and drain. Place in a quart jar covered with a dampened washcloth that's fastened with a rubber band, and store in the dark. Rinse the seeds or beans twice each day, making sure excess moisture is drained off each time. Wheat berries are ready in two days; mung beans and lentils in three days. Alfalfa sprouts take five.
If you don't have the patience to sprout seeds, you can cook them. Wheat berries can be cooked like rice until soft. Beans, like pintos, are a bit trickier if you want them soft but not soggy. Rinse a pound in cool water, removing any debris and shriveled specimens, then soak for 2 to 6 hours. With the beans covered by at least an inch of water, cook on high heat for five minutes and then reduce to a simmer. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic and a chopped medium onion. Cook, partially covered, until the beans are soft, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Then drain, cool, and add to your salad.
I'm not going to micro-manage you with exact salad recipes. You know what you like to eat and what you have, so shred and embellish accordingly. Unlike actual cooking, there's no particular salad alchemy requiring specific proportions. But to get you started I'll give you my vinaigrette recipe: three parts olive oil, one part apple cider vinegar, one part balsamic, and a splash of soy sauce.
Despite the plethora of winter salad options, many will still wish for a little romaine in their salad bowls. But skipping the imported leaves gives you something to look forward to in summer time. And if rooty salads like this can help nourish Siberians through their infamous winter, they should be enough for you.
Ask Ari: Something's fishy
Q: Dear Flash,
I'm trying to eat more fish, but my recipes stink more than three-day-old salmon. Can you offer a kitchen-impaired dude a few delicious—and healthy—fish recipes?
—Feel Like Making Fish
A: Eating fish these days can be a slippery endeavor, ethically, thanks to over-fishing and some destructive aquaculture practices. I suggest choosing your fishes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch (www.montereybayaquarium.org) list of environmentally friendly recommendations. It turns out that some species of fish are okay if they come from a certain region, while the same species are not okay if they come from elsewhere. Choose carefully.
I'm instinctively a crispy fried fish guy, but when I was in China I learned to override my belief that steamed fish is mushy and gross. Turns out, the Chinese have figured out that steamed fish is a delicacy when served with a ginger and scallion sauce.
Here's how to make it:
Position your oven racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place a long piece of aluminum foil on a large, shallow baking sheet (foil should be longer than sheet). Place fish on sheet. Season both sides with salt and pepper. In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sliced scallions (green part only), 2 tablespoons julienned ginger, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup peanut oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. This amount of sauce is good for 4 pounds of fish. Depending on how much you are cooking, spoon the appropriate amount of sauce over each fish. Seal the foil loosely around each fish to create a somewhat roomy pocket. Bake 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish at its thickest part (typically 20 to 25 minutes for a 2-inch-thick fish). Remove foil and serve with juices.
Damn, FLMF, you made me drool on the keyboard.
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Happiest Hours: Flippers
Claim to fame: The people. It’s easy to say that about any bar, but Flipper’s seems to attract a particularly endearing mix of opinionated barflies.
Donny Morey, who’s done a little bit of everything at Flip’s during 13 years of employment, concurs. “It’s always been the people,” he says. “It’s a mellow, welcoming crowd for a Montana bar.”
What you’re drinking: Kettlehouse specially brews Rosco’s Amber ($4 a pint), the bar’s signature draft beer.
What you’re eating: A pint of Rosco’s Amber goes well with a Flip’s burger (just $5.75 with fries), which many have called the best in town.
Who you’re drinking with: The night we stumbled in, we found two people at the bar doing crossword puzzles—with a hardbound thesaurus, no less—and overheard a table of four in a heated debate over health care reform. “What if you want a sex change?! How are you going to pay for that?!”
Bartender Fianna McClain says this scene is par for the course.
“It’s generally a smart, open-minded crowd,” she says, noting the usual talk of politics, religion and media criticism. “No one’s afraid to speak their mind in here.”
Atmosphere: Completely nondescript. Avid gamblers usually fill the darkly lit casino (open 24 hours), and regulars saddle up to a bar filled with the usual assortment of TVs and beer signs.
Happy Hour specials: 50 cents off “all beer” from 4 to 6 p.m. every weekday.
How to find it: 125 S. Third Street W., just off the Hip Strip.
Happiest Hour is a new column that celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.