Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shopping and Cooking, Chef-Style!

Every week, many of us grocery shop and then come home and over the next few days or so, cook or otherwise prepare and eat the food we bought. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But last week I did just that and it was great fun with a delicious outcome and lots learned in the process. What was different? Well, I did it all with fabulous zero-waste chef and food guru, Greg Christian.

Christian is well known in the culinary world for his pioneering initiative in sustainability as it pertains to food. He is a nationally recognized for developing the Organic School Project whose focus is to get healthy food choices into schools and help educate children on related topics. I'm personally very interested in the OSP, and you should be too! Greg also ran a zero-waste catering company for several years and is now doing consulting work for restaurants who want to learn how to practice sustainability or move toward zero-waste goals.
Zero-waste means that Zullo's, where Greg is currently consulting, doesn't have garbage service. They don't throw anything away. Everything is either cooked, composted, recycled, or otherwise reused. Imagine the impact on our landfills and out world if we all followed these practices! Other than being very careful about their inputs (not buying things with any or excess packaging for starters) they use re-purposed containers to hold re-useable items like rubberbands. It seems so obvious once you see it yourself, but it's really quite ingenious.

What was originally planned to be a trip to Zullo's kitchen to watch him cook, turned into a shopping trip to buy our ingredients on Wednesday and then making a wonderful soup for my family under his direction on Friday. We headed out to Chicago's famed Green City Market Wednesday morning to get our veggies, and as we walked through the grass, Greg invited me to try something new. Instead of having a list in mind and shopping with that agenda, he said you can learn how to ask what it is you need. Not what you want, or what a certain recipe calls for, but to just look and relax and see if anything jumps out at you. You might even want to hold it to see how it feels. It's the way that he shops and knowing what people need is a gift that he has, but Greg says you can hone that sense and your body and mind will benefit from it.
So I walked around looking at beautiful stacks of colorful, fresh organic produce with that in mind. I'm sure I don't have this gift, or have not yet discovered it if it's there, but what jumped out at me first were these unbelievably sweet, sparkling-red, juicy strawberries. They were so ready to eat their heady aroma hit me before I even reached the table! They were grown by Dave at Leaning Shed Farm, and he was a joy to talk with and get to know. Greg got some too, and boy did my whole family gobble them was that something we needed? hmmm, guess so!
Along the way, Greg introduced me to several of the farmers and friends working the market booths. It was fun to talk to them and hear their stories...of surviving the latest tornado, retiring from a 9-5 gig just to work even longer hours doing what they love, and how they have found such benefit from connecting with the earth and eating such fresh fare. Here's a little video clip of our wheat grass shots being juiced (Thanks again, Greg!). What a great way to start a day. Pow!

At the same farm booth where we got our wheat grass, some dark purple leaves seemed to be calling my name. Maybe I needed them? What were they? Amaranth, I was told. They looked interesting and after we stood with them for a few seconds, Greg got an idea...why not make some soup with the amaranth for my family? How cool! Yes, let's do that! So I bought some amaranth, 2 kinds of young onions, baby swiss chard and some rainbow chard. Add to that black beans Greg gets from a fantastic farm and my chicken broth, and we had the makings of the tasty soup Greg would teach me to make on Friday morning...more on that later.

Our time at Green City Market ended at Zullo's tent, where I ate the most delicious lamb hand pie. It just melted in my mouth, and the pastry was light and tasty. They also offer up pizzas and focaccia, perfect for a hearty snack or a light lunch, and easy to walk around with. And of course good for any time of day, you must try their Zeppole - Zullo's version of apple cider doughnuts that simply are amazing. Served in a paper and newspaper cone, they are easy to pop into your mouth as you walk the market (and then you can recycle the cone!). Maybe a little TOO easy! Yum! You can find the up-to-date list of Zullo's markets here. My family likes to frequent them at the Logan Square Farmer's Mkt. Definitely check them out!

Fast forward 2 days...I met Greg at Zullo's kitchen super early
(as in, I was there at the early time that I usually unwillingly roll out of bed to tend to one of my small children. These guys don't sleep in!) and ready to work. I was set up at the sink and I washed all my produce and laid it out to await instruction. Doesn't that look beautiful? The dark purple leaves at the top right are the amaranth. Onions (white and "red") on the left and the rainbow and swiss chard on the right. Greg showed me how to cut and chop my bounty as we warmed up the chicken broth with the black beans. The cooking experience included a knife sharpening lesson and lots of info from how to make marinara to how to dry herbs, and the time flew by. I went home with enough delicious soup to feed my family 2 dinners and still had some left over for a lunch!. Here it is served up at home with some crusty homemade olive oil bread. I highly recommend you try it! The flavors are surprisingly complex for being made with such simple ingredients, and it's chock-full of healthy vitamins and minerals. I'll activate this link when my in-depth article covering as much of Greg's knowledge as I could absorb is published on, including the recipe for our soup: "Black Bean Soup with Stuff"! Don't forget to check it out (it will probably run by the end of the month). You can substitute ingredients depending on what you find at the market, and depending on what you feel YOU NEED. Now get cookin'!

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