Flavor // Making the most of the market

Like many aspiring urban sophisticates, I think of myself as a good cook. I have not been much of a farmers market shopper, however, and on a recent Sunday morning, I decided to remedy that gap in my résumé. 

 

Guests were coming over for dinner, and rather than my usual trips to the Wedge or Whole Foods, I decided to try my luck at the Kingfield Farmers Market and began to plan out, at least in general, what I might cook that night.

 

Hoping that sweet corn would be at the market, I turned to Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” and his recipe Corn on the Cob with Lime Salt. It feels less like a recipe than an idea, that of adding lime zest to the kosher salt used to

dress the corn. It’s a simple but profound addition. 

 

Knowing that grass-fed beef was available at the market, I crossed my fingers and hoped I could find flank steak, which I’d coat with a dry rub and then grill. Having fixed on flank steak and sweet corn, I decided to round out the

meal with some greens. Since cumin, coriander and chili powder were going to be on the steak and lime salt on the corn, I googled “Mexican greens” and wound up on mexconnect.com, which had a good, short article on leafy greens

in Mexican cooking and links to a few recipes, including Amaranth Greens with Poblano Chile Strips (Quintoniles con Rajas). The recipe includes the greens, roasted poblanos and queso fresco, which is a good thing to have if you

want me to make your greens recipe. Amaranth greens are a relative of and similar in flavor to spinach, an alternative suggested by the recipe, so I opted to look for spinach at the market.

 

When I arrived, my first stop was Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn, where Peter and Carmen Marshall were eager to discuss any and all things corn related. The ears on display were the first corn at this year’s market. The year’s

best comes in August, but do not wait. What I had that night was addictively sweet, and if better stuff is yet to come, I might be eating corn every Sunday until September — that is, if the weather cooperates. Across the Midwest

this year’s corn crop has turned from very promising to tragic over the past month, owing to consistent and prolonged high temperatures and a severe lack of rain. What farmers need and what Peter says he is praying for are steady,

gentle night rains. Despite problematic rainfall and extreme temperatures, however, Peter says his next crop looks amazing. Since Peter uses non-GMO corn and does not spray for pests, corn earworms can be a nuisance. He found a

few while we were chatting — and very promptly pointed them out — and two of the eight ears I bought had a worm. Do not toss out these ears. The worms start from the tip and work their way down the ear, and a quick cut is all

that’s needed to salvage the ear.

 

Searching the market, I couldn’t find spinach, so I scanned the other greens, which were mainly kale and chard. At Dawn 2 Dusk Gardens’ outpost, I noticed some small, sturdy bunches of chard that seemed the best substitute, and

they worked well. Poblanos were nowhere to be found, however. I had noticed a few banana peppers at the Marshalls’ stall, and I talked to Carmen about pepper season. She said that I was a week or two early and that later in July

would be better. I knew I would be swinging by La Alborada Market for the queso fresco, so I decided to pick up the poblanos there.

 

I was able to grab the last flank steak — an apparently popular cut — from Mike Braucher and his son, Brandon, of Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farm. They sell grass-fed beef that has been dry-aged 14 days, as well as lamb, pork,

chicken and eggs. Mike extolled the benefits of grass-fed beef, many of which were familiar to me, particularly in terms of animal health and well-being. What I didn’t know was that grass-fed beef has a better ratio of omega-6 to

omega-3 fatty acids, closer to three to one, respectively. Both fats are among the healthy, nutrition science–approved varieties, but apparently, in grain-fed beef the ratio of the former to the latter is less healthy at closer to 20 to

one.

 

The recipes were easy to prepare, which is a desirable quality in a summer meal. The day was hot, and I wanted my labor to be less so. The prep work consisted of mixing both the spice rub and the lime salt, washing and cutting

the vegetables, and roasting the poblanos under the broiler, all of which was easily done before my guests arrived. 

 

While they munched on corn chips and salsas verde and roja from La Alborada and drank beer (from Hudson, Wis.), I patted the flank steak dry, coated it with the rub and fired up the grill. While the coals heated up, I sweat the

onions for the greens and set a pot of water to boil for the corn. Grass-fed flank steak is lean and thin and does not want to be cooked long. I grilled it for three minutes and two minutes a side, and the steak was ruby red when

sliced. While the steak rested, I finished the greens and boiled the corn. The big tip of the night came from Peter, who insisted I boil the corn for only three minutes — instead of the five to seven minutes Keller indicated — until the

kernels had a pearly sheen. The longer corn cooks, the more sugar turns to starch, and at three minutes, these ears were tasting like candy — salty, buttery, slightly citrusy candy.