Monday, March 1, 2010

Kale and Sweet Potatoes

I worked at Athens Locally Grown last Thursday for the first time since last summer when I was "laid off". For one reason or another, I was sent home with armfuls of vegetables. Now, some of my nearest and dearest know about my secret bachelorette habit of eating popcorn and drinking beer when I should be eating kale and sweet potatoes. I know, I know. But I come by it honestly...just ask my dad.

In my mind, the whole point of cooking and eating is sharing. So, cooking a lovely meal for myself and sharing it with approximately no one makes me feel more lonely than I already was feeling before I started cooking and made a mess of the kitchen. Guess who is going to clean that up? At least popcorn is something I can share with my hound dog--Ksanti--who finds the project of catching flying popcorn endlessly interesting.

To remedy this sad state of affairs, I've been having friends over for dinner once or twice each week. So when I brought home cauliflower, potatoes, spinach, carrots, collards, cream, milk, etc, etc, I knew I needed to cook for somebody(s), or all this loveliness was going to go to waste. Looking at a gallon of milk I couldn't dream of drinking by myself and two adorably little and lacy heads of cauliflower, I couldn't help but think of paneer makhani (fresh cheese in tomato cream sauce) and aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). Best girlfriends, Regan and Erin, were more than happy to assist with dispatching the yumminess, and even volunteered to sample my ever-evolving attempts at making paratha (stuffed Indian flatbreads).

I am always impressed with how Indian cuisine lends itself to the produce available here, and everywhere but at the Arctic Circle, really. Regan pointed out that Indian cuisine just does a good job of working with vegetables, which is a really good point. Other cuisines tend to have wheat or other grains as an essential base. Italian has its wheat, Mexican its corn and Thai its rice. Indian food obviously has rice and wheat breads as an essential part of the plate, and you probably won't go anywhere in India without seeing one or both on a thali (platter of three or more main dishes complete with breads, dessert, salad and condiments, served family style).

Having said that, you could eat a plate of potato subji (vegetable dish), paneer (cheese) or gosht (meat) masala, sauteed greens and dahi (yogurt) and never miss the grains. Which is what I just did. And it was delicious. As a diabetic, I've never been too worried about whether I was eating wheat or potatoes--it's all carbs to me. I think this is an important strategy for local eaters to adopt. It's next to impossible (as I've railed about before) to get grains in local markets. Forget local, organic grains grown by small-scale farmers. Unless you're Amish (who do this for their communities) you won't be able to produce a large enough volume of grains to make it anywhere near affordable for people to buy...I think the buying and selling of it is actually the problem here...but I digress.

In an otherwise fiber rich diet (read, a base of fresh fruits and vegetables) the complex carbohydrates from grains aren't really that necessary. Regan related some statistics about vegetable consumption in the United States, which are actually too horrifying to repeat. Suffice it to say that the CDC is concerned enough about this to launch a whole new campaign of research and outreach around vegetable consumption as disease prevention. When I expressed some concern about my popcorn habit and my long term health, she said in reference to the meal I had cooked for her last week, "You have kale and sweet potatoes in your life. You're fine". Whew.

So, just a little bit of advice and encouragement--support your local farmers and don't worry about what you might be missing by not eating grains. They are overrated anyway, as Marion Nestle points out in her book, Food Politics. The FDA/USDA tells us what to eat with their cute little pyramid according to who pays them the most money. I guess if I had that kind of money, I would try to pay the government to tell you to eat local. But I don't. I just have this blog, so thanks for reading and get some kale and sweet potatoes in your life. You'll be fine.

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