On Saturdays, at the Portland Farmers Market, I usually prepare a soup for shoppers to sample. Sometimes, I go to the market, recipe in hand, then acquire the necessary ingredients from various vendors, and get to work on the recipe. There are days when I expect a particular vegetable to be available, and because of weather variables affecting crops, decisions of farmers as to what to bring to market that day, or that the vegetable decided that this was not the week to be harvested, I go back to my makeshift kitchen empty-handed. I have to then re-think my plan. Will I substitute fennel for the celery I desired? Will I make an entirely different soup? I have to think on my feet, relying on my intuition and kitchen know-how to guide me.
Farmers Market shopping takes a certain amount of flexibility. So, more often than arriving onsite, intending to cook a specific recipe, I formulate an idea of what I’d like to make. I stock my pantry with non-farmers market staples (dry spices, kosher salt, etc.), and then stalk the market in search of inspiration. I let the market guide me. Which is easier to do than you might think. In fact, it’s kind of fun. It’s more like shopping for clothes that appeal to you, than trying to find that certain blue dress to match the shoes you have. You get to shop for what catches your eye, what looks fantastic, what is delicious.
Let’s say the leeks look particularly interesting. You know they taste mild, onion-like, with grassy notes. You know you’d like a pasta for supper. Leeks sound like a pretty good start. Oooh, mushrooms – let’s get a few of those. Hey, that fresh pork sausage looks good. For those cooks who know their way around a basic sauté, their work is cut out for them. Others, still skeptical about how to pull these ingredients together have a few options. One is to ask the farmers. Farmers cook a lot of what they grow, perhaps the gal who raised those leeks has a favorite way of preparing them. Many times, I’ve heard someone ask a farmer about a product, and a nearby helpful shopper will give their tasty two cents, too. Another good source for piecing together ingredients is the internet. Just jump online and type in your ingredient list, and viola, your search engine is likely to produce at least a dozen ideas. Maybe you’ve found a sausage pasta dish with onions or shallots instead of leeks. No problem, just substitute in ingredients where it makes sense to do so. Of course, the obvious solution is to find me at the market and ask me for some Sage Culinary Advice! I’d be happy to help!
On a related note, I made a soup last Saturday for which I had an idea, but no plan. The sound of mushrooms with a coconut curry sauce sounded appealing. I brought along curry and coconut milk and a few other spices and set out to see what the market was offering. The result was good enough that dozens of people asked me for the recipe. I replied, “There isn’t one – I just made it up…but I’ll tell you what’s in it and how it came together.” Then I did promise that I’d work out a recipe…and post it here. Feel free to substitute ingredients as you see fit!
Maitake Mushroom Soup with Coconut Curry
makes a cup more than 2 quarts
4 Tbsp. butter, plus more as needed
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
3/4 pound maitake mushrooms
2 leeks, the white and light green stalks chopped
4 or 5 green garlic, the white and tender green parts chopped (or 2 large cloves garlic, chopped)
1/2 tsp. ground cardomom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
a small grating of nutmeg
1/4 tsp. each of fennel and caraway seed, slightly pulverized with a mortar and pestle (or a pinch of each ground spice)
pinch of chili flake (I chop up a dried chili, Aci Sivri, a mildly hot, Turkish variety grown by local farm Ayers Creek)
4 good sized sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 tsp. salt (I use Springwater Farm truffle salt, but unseasoned salt will work fine)
7 cups mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
2 good sized potatoes
1 1/4 cup coconut milk
1 small basket of sugar snap peas, the whole pod sliced into pieces about 1/4-1/2 inch thick (about 1 large handful of peas)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
- Pull the “petals” of the maitake apart, and either break up or chop the centers of the mushrooms.
- Heat the 4 Tbsp. butter and 2 Tbsp. oil in a soup pot over a medium-high flame. When the butter begins to brown and smells nutty and fragrant, add the maitake and sauté until the mushrooms are cooked and browned, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms to a plate. Take care as to leave as much of the oil as possible in the pot.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the chopped leeks. If the pot looks dry, add more butter or oil (1-4 more tablespoons as needed – you can add more as the leeks cook). Stir them frequently, and when they begin to soften, add the green garlic. Lower the heat if the ingredients threaten to brown.
- When the leeks and garlic are tender (this will take about 10 minutes), add the dry spices. Fry the ingredients for 5 minutes over a medium-low flame, stirring often. The spices will toast and become very fragrant. Add the chopped thyme leaves and stir again. Sprinkle in 1 tsp. salt.
- Stir in the broth. Bring to a boil. While the soup is heating, peel and dice the potatoes. Add them to the soup, bring the soup back to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are just barely tender (about 10 minutes). Add the mushrooms and simmer 5 minutes more.
- Add the coconut milk and the sugar snap peas. Adjust the salt and stir in the chopped parsley. Serve hot as is, or use as a sauce for chicken and rice, or rice and grilled vegetables.
*I procure my spices from a wonderful spice company called Kalustyans. They are NYC based, but ship, of course. Though…I’d rather shop in person when I’m visiting New York – the place is amazing. I always come home with something new to experiment with!