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Saturday, November 15, 2008

wine-braised lentils with parsley root & potato puree


eating local for Thanksgiving

Sometimes I write stories about cooking and eating local food that also get posted on the Green Fork Blog, which is an arm of the Eat Well Guide. The Eat Well Guide is a spiffy website that helps you find wholesome, fresh, sustainable food wherever you are in the U.S. or Canada! Anyway, my friend Leslie, at the Eat Well Guide, emailed me to let me know that they are presenting a Thanksgiving Local and Organic Food Challenge.  They want everyone to visit the Eat Well Guide, find a local farm or market, and serve up at least one dish with local ingredients for their Thanksgiving feast. Then, we’re invited to post our recipes and experiences.

I wrote back to Leslie, “Right! I guess lots of farmers’ markets farther south will still be open!” Here in Alaska, it’s easy to forget that not everyone’s farm fields are covered in a nice thick blanket of snow, hibernating until spring in sub-freezing temperatures. The last couple of markets at our South Anchorage Farmers’ Market in October are punishing enough—there’s no way the produce or the farmers would last in an outdoor market in late November!

And likewise, Leslie had forgotten that our Alaskan markets are closed already! She wrote back, “To be honest, it slipped my mind how difficult this challenge would be in Alaska.  Or is it even possible?”

Well, that definitely sounds like a challenge to Alaskans, doesn’t it? What Leslie might not know is how many nourishing and savory staples we can store all winter long! Potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, red and green cabbages, onions, turnips, and parsley root, to name some! If we’d had a warmer summer, we’d even have hard winter squash!

But Leslie is right. Since the farmers’ markets are closed now, it’s not as easy to find local food. But there are still ways to get Alaskan vegetables! You can find Alaskan carrots and potatoes at our local grocery stores if you look carefully. You can order produce boxes from the new Glacier Valley Farm CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). And if you want to go to the farm yourself, many farmers in the Valley have produce like cabbages, parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes in cold storage, just waiting for you! Contact Mark Rempel (745-5554, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) or Alex Davis (746-0338, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) to arrange pickup of their veggies.  And if you’re looking for a local turkey, you can call Triple-D Farm at 376-3338 to order one!

Come on, Alaskans—let’s show our stuff! Whether you log in and share your experiences with the rest of the web-world, or just share your stories with your friends and family over your holiday meal, let’s take the challenge, and be conscious of the local food we can procure, cook, and enjoy together.

These wine-braised lentils would be a fantastic vegetarian option for Thanksgiving, especially accompanied by the mashed potatoes and parsley root!

parsley root & potato puree (or, for the less adventuresome, call it mashed potatoes with parsley root)

I had never tried parsley root until last fall at the farmers’ market, when I bought some from Rempel Family Farms. Mashing the parsley root with russet potatoes made the richest, most delectable and delicious mashed potatoes I’ve EVER eaten—and all that without a smidgen of butter, milk, or cream! Just using the stock from cooking the vegetables works really well instead of milk or cream, because it’s so flavorful from the parsley root!  Just season to taste with salt and pepper—the vegetables have lots of flavor all on their own. But of course, you can gild the lily if you like, and add butter, milk, or cream. As you wish!  This recipe is based on one in Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors.

½ pound or so Alaskan parsley root (or substitute celery root or turnips)
1-2 pounds Alaskan russet potatoes (you can use Yukon Golds if you like, though)
sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
butter, milk, half-and-half, or cream (optional)

1. Peel the parsley roots. Scrub the potatoes, and decide whether you want skins in your mash or not. I like to leave the potato skins on, but if you want a perfectly smooth puree, definitely peel them first. Coarsely chop the vegetables and put them in a saucepan, cover with water, and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables are tender (15 to 20 minutes). Scoop the potatoes and parsley roots out (or strain them in a colander), but MAKE SURE TO RESERVE THE COOKING LIQUID!
2. Return the vegetables to the pan and mash them, using the reserved cooking liquid to thin and loosen the mixture as needed. When smooth, add salt and pepper to taste. 
3. Serve right away with your favorite stew or gravy…  I’d suggest the wine-braised lentils!

wine-braised lentils

This recipe is one of my favorites… I love it over toast with sautéed spinach, but best of all is alongside a puree of parsley root and potatoes. These lentils are rich, flavorful, and wonderful, and they are beautiful, too, with the carrots and celery. They’ll taste even better the next day, and you can freeze them for later if you like. This recipe is based on one in Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

1 ½ cup French green lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups diced Alaskan onions
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced Alaskan carrots
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups dry red wine
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper
for garnish: chopped Italian parley

1. Parboil the lentils for 5 minutes in abundant water, then drain.
2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot. Add the diced vegetables and cook over medium-high heat for several minutes, browning them a bit. Add the garlic, mash the tomato paste into the vegetables, then pour in the wine and stir in the mustard. Add 3 cups water, the drained lentils, and 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.  Add more water, to your taste, depending on how soupy you’d like them to be.
3. Serve with mashed potatoes (or mashed potatoes with parsley root), and sprinkle the parsley over all.

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