The Seasonal Cooking Challenge

01/20/2010 5:55 AM |

One of the most rewarding green practices is, in my humble opinion, eating home-cooked, local food, purchased from one of NYC’s awesome greenmarkets (hands down my favorite city institution: I get teary sometimes walking into Union Square…). But folks seem to be daunted by the prospect of cooking from scratch, taking a sack full of still-dirty vegetables and turning them into something fit for ordinary appetites, not just ascetic vegan health-food types. The problem intensifies in the winter, when produce choices dwindle, and strange aliens from underground proliferate on farm-stand tables: what the hell is a rutabaga, and how do you make a turnip taste like anything but the dirt that it came from?

Never fear, the Conscientious Cook is here. With 18 markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan open year-round (to find out which ones, visit, there are plenty of sources of great local, seasonal produce, and countless easy ways of preparing same. To get us through the slough of despond that is the next few months, I’ll be shopping, cooking, and explaining local, seasonal dishes in weekly installments online at Look for my shopping lists, photos from the markets, and, most importantly, recipes, to keep you on the path of culinary righteousness.

To jumpstart the process, here’s a quickie recipe for a wintertime staple: mashed potatoes. Comforting and filling, potatoes are available all winter long at every greenmarket: they’re cheap, usually cheaper than at the market (my potato guy sells ten-plus varieties for a dollar a pound), and they’re WAY more nutritious than you think. Five ounces of potato, with the skin on, contain as much potassium as a banana (without the pesky food miles), 45 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, and some fiber, folate, iron and magnesium to boot. Seriously, potatoes rule.

Mashed Potatoes

Make a big batch, and eat ’em all week…

– Wash and inspect a couple pounds of potatoes, peeling only the parts that are damaged, or have thick, leathery skin. Leave the rest of the peel—it’s yummy, and good for you.

– Cut into medium-sized pieces (usually one cut lengthwise, and three or four cuts widthwise).

– Put into a good-sized pot, fill with cold water to cover potatoes, bring to a boil, and add a little salt (sea salt’s good, and has trace minerals, too)—doing it in that order helps cook off excess starch.

– Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until you can smell a nice potatoey smell when you lean over the pot.

– In the meantime, sautee a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped, with an onion, cut into smallish pieces, in local butter.

– When the potatoes are done, drain and return to the pot. Add onion/garlic mix, toss in some more butter, and a healthy dollop of soymilk, or regular milk. Mash potatoes with a fork, and taste once they start to seem close to the right consistency. Add salt, white pepper, more milk and/or butter as seems appropriate/tastes good.

Mashed potatoes keep nicely in the fridge for four-six days, and go well with simple vegetables, soups, chili, stews, veggie burgers and a million other things. Bon appetit!