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Unparalleled Plant Food - June 2016


Unparalleled Plant Food - June 2016 

by Ron Skaar

photo by Jon Russo

Our ancestors foraged and lived on a wide range of leaves, roots, seeds and wild fruits.

Mankind has always munched on plants. There are only a few common vegetables which have not been eaten since before recorded history.

About 10,000 years ago, grains, seed legumes and tubers were domesticated. 5,000 years ago the civilizations of Sumer and Egypt were consuming many of their native plants. Trade between the Middle East and Asia was also ancient. Egyptian records of 1200 BC mention huge offerings of cinnamon, procured thru Sri Lanka. 

Early Europeans existed on wheat, fava beans, peas, turnips, parsnips, onions and lots of cabbage. Corn, beans, hard squash, tomatoes and avocados were stables by 3500 BC in

Central American cuisine. Peruvian settlements relied heavily on the potato.

It was the Greeks and Romans who set the tone for our modern cuisine. Ancient Greeks were very fond of lettuce and savored fruit for dessert. In Rome salad was served at the beginning and end of meals, has a digestive. Fruits were also enjoyed as dessert, usually preserved whole and immersed in honey. 

Medieval recipe collections include relatively few vegetable dishes. During the age of exploration, beginning in the 16th century, most of the foods we now know became available. The 17th and 18th centuries brought assimilation of these foods, and cooks took greater interest in the art of cooking fresh vegetables.

By the 19th century, English vegetable preparation became simpler and almost always meant boiled and tossed in butter. The Industrial Revolution drew the agricultural folks from the farms to the cities. Fresh fruits and vegetables became progressively rarer in the European and North American diets. 

Not until the turn of the 20th century were vitamins and there nutritional significance discovered. Fruits and vegetables then became essential part of the four food groups to be eaten at every meal. But their flavor suffered when bred to withstand the rigors of an industrialized harvest, transport and storage. Produce that was picked while still hard,weeks or months before being sold.

Twenty some years ago, laboratory studies and contrasting health data in other countries, exposed that cancer and heart disease are influenced by what we eat. “Free radicals” are unstable molecules that come from smoking, foods or thru the environment and cause cell damage. Plants are teeming with trace phytochemicals containing antioxidants which react harmlessly with free radicals before they have a chance to do any damage.

Eating locally grown foods, heirloom and other “unusual” varieties included, (some harvested hours before being sold) ,is so easy in Sonoma County. Farm to table is flourishing at our farmers markets. There are 23 certified farmers markets serving 

communities thru out the county. Nine of these markets have “Market Match” money programs for CalFresh (EBT) card users. Check them out on the GAZETTE website.

This recipe, adapted from Chef Curtis Stone, is full of beautiful produce and antioxidants.




6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. sherry, raspberry or red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. each minced shallot and tarragon

1 ½ Tbsp. Dijon or grainy mustard

Salad, serves 6-8

1 lb. thin asparagus

4 heirloom tomatoes, quartered lengthwise

2 unpeeled Hass avocados, washed, quartered and pitted

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

5 oz. mixed baby greens, including kale and spinach

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped (optional)

In medium bowl, whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients until well blended; season with salt and pepper. Light a grill or grill pan. In large bowl toss the asparagus, tomatoes and avocado with the oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, until tender, 2 minutes for asparagus and avocados and about 5 minutes for the tomatoes. Let cool. Toss greens with part of vinaigrette and serve with the grilled vegetables and the remaining vinaigrette. Two medium zucchini, halved lengthwise could be substituted for asparagus.