If ever there was a time to know where your food comes from, it is now. The message from our forthcoming book, The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook (The Countryman Press/W.W. Norton & Company; May 19, 2020) is this: Focus on fresh, local foods. Support local farms when possible.
Locally produced food is subject to the least amount of handling. This is also the time for a renewed focus on healthy eating, to not giving in to sitting on your couch and noshing on potato chips. We’re personally supporting take-out from local restaurants, especially those that buy from local farmers, and opting for the most local products in the supermarket.
We know what you’re thinking: Fresh produce especially has a shorter shelf life than those seductive bags of chips but the point is to use and cook your fridge food starting with the most perishable. There’s a hardiness hierarchy among fresh produce.
Cooking Vegan with Nava Atlas
I turned for advice to prolific cookbook author Nava Atlas, whose titles include (among many others) the recent 5-Ingredient Vegan: 175 Simple, Plant-Based Recipes for Delicious, Healthy Meals in Minutes (Sterling Epicure, NY, October 2019) and the earlier Wild About Greens: 125 Delectable Vegan Recipes for Kale, Collards, Arugula, Bok Choy, and other Leafy Veggies Everyone Loves (Sterling Epicure, NY, June 2012).
Nava told me the health food store she frequents (and which is only letting in 10 people at a time) had abundant produce—something we also observed during our infrequent supermarket trips. She had just “picked up an extra cabbage and carrots…and a gorgeous cauliflower.” These vegetables last fairly long, as do potatoes, sweet potatoes, and kale and collard greens. In fact, collards have way more calcium than kale, as per the National Osteoporosis Foundation, and more protein and iron. (Nava says she likes collards more than kale for its “better flavor.”)
Make-ahead tip: Nava cuts the leaves off the collard stems—wash them first, like all produce, particularly now—rolls them like a cigar, and wilts them before storing in the freezer, in airtight storage containers.
There’s lots of other hardy produce to stock up on, including garlic and onions, of course (keep these in a cupboard or other cool, dark, dry place), and celery (refrigerate) and a host of different types of fruit—think oranges (and the many other varieties of citrus), apples, and pears.
Simple Ingredients for Satisfying Meals
Like Nava’s latest cookbook, our forthcoming The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook keeps ingredients to a very reasonable number (okay, not five!), relying on the quality of the starring ingredients—with a focus on fresh, local foods—for flavor. So in addition to using recipes from our own book, I decided to cook my way through Nava’s book this week, focusing on recipes that incorporate produce with a long storage life, to give you a snapshot of some easy ways to produce savory meals with minimal ingredients and maximal payoff (nutritionally and flavorwise).
We’re sharing two of Nava’s recipes below (both receiving an eager “thumbs up” from our son and his fiancée who are living with us temporarily), Chickpea Masala and Tofu and Green Beans Teriyaki, both reproduced below with permission from Nava in a slightly abridged form. We also loved Nava’s Miso Soup with Mushrooms, Bok Choy & Tofu—there’s a miso soup in our cookbook too, inspired by a hardworking Berkshires-based husband-and-wife Korean/American farming couple.
All these recipes contain normally easy-to-find ingredients, though this is the time to practice substitutions. Miso soup is a great case in point: Nava’s is bursting with bok choy and mushrooms, while ours features carrots, onions, and spinach, arugula or mustard greens—swap these out as you wish. Just remember when making any miso soup, don’t let the soup boil after you add the miso (and don’t add it to boiling water), because this will destroy its nutritional properties.
A quick note on Indian simmer sauce: I found it amply stocked in our local supermarket—look in the section that features common Asian and Indian foods—despite empty shelves elsewhere.
3 to 4 Servings
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large or two medium tomatoes, sliced
One 12-ounce jar or container Indian simmer sauce of your choice
4 to 5 ounces baby spinach, rinsed
¼ to ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the chickpeas, tomato, and Indian simmer sauce in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the spinach, cover, and cook until it wilts down. Stir the spinach into the mixture.
2. Stir in the cilantro and serve.
Tofu & Green Beans Teriyaki
3 to 4 servings
One 8-ounce package (or two 5.5-ounce packages baked tofu)
One 16-ounce bag frozen whole green beans, preferably organic, thawed
½ cup bottled teriyaki marinade, or as needed
3 to 4 scallions, sliced
Sriracha or other hot seasoning
1. Cut the tofu into strips or dice.
2. Combine the tofu and green beans in a stir-fry pan or large skillet with the teriyaki marinade. Cook over high heat, stirring often, until the green beans are tender-crisp, about 8 minutes.
3. Stir in the scallions and taste to see if you’d like to add more teriyaki marinade.
4. Season with sriracha (or pass around for everyone to spice up as they’d like). Serve at once.