Thursday, December 01, 2011

Moving slowly away from the light

My first entry into the Dark Days Challenge is my locally-inspired take on pinakbet. It's a Filipino vegetable stew that has been compared to ratatouille (which I think is an erroneous comparison — because they're nothing alike, apart from being a mix of several vegetables). Typically, it contains winter squash, bitter melon, long beans, okra, eggplant, and onions, as well as some pork or shrimp. I based mine entirely on the local produce I had available in my kitchen this past weekend: tomatoes, onions, Fairy Tale eggplant, and chayote.

As I noted in a previous post, I'm pretty lucky to be living in California, where there are still tomatoes and eggplants being sold at the farmers' market. So to be honest, I'm not feeling the "dark days" quite yet. I probably won't really feel it until January, when it's just citrus and apples, root veggies and greens at the market. Meanwhile, I'm taking advantage of the dwindling supply of summer's bounty. The eggplant came from Route 1 Farms (45 mi), the tomatoes and onions from Happy Boy Farms (45 mi), and the chayote from the garden of my mother's neighbor (30 mi).

For the actual dish itself, I drew from a recipe in the December 2008 issue of Saveur (which soothed my homesickness when I visited the Anthropologist during his field work in New Delhi), as well as from a post by the blogger Burnt Lumpia. Pinakbet calls for bagoong, a fermented fish paste, which I don't keep in stock (and wouldn't use for a Dark Days meal anyhow). In keeping with the "authentic" flavor of this dish, though, I did use patis, or fish sauce, which I considered to be a kind of salt — one of my non-local exceptions. Okay, fine, I cheated a little. But I didn't think plain salt would do the trick.

To make this pinakbet, cut the vegetables into large chunks and place into a pot that is just large enough to hold everything. Add about a quarter cup of water and a tablespoon or two of patis. Simmer until the vegetables have gone soft, stirring occasionally and gently so as not to break down the veggies.

In the end, the pinakbet was just okay. It didn't have a lot of flavor — and I like things to really have a big punch of flavor. It was a quiet, mild vegetable stew, the sort of thing I could see myself eating if I were feeling flu-ish. I'd like to try this again and include long beans, okra, and kabocha squash, which should improve the flavor of the broth and which I can get from a vendor at the market that sells Asian vegetables.

A final note: The brown rice is another of my non-local exceptions (because I eat so much rice). I buy it from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, where it stocks rice from Lundberg Family Farms. This farm is located 195 miles from where I live, so it's definitely outside my locavore foodshed. Relatively speaking, though, it's not terribly far away. I mean, I could be living in Idaho and getting my rice trucked in from Louisiana, where it might not even be organically- or sustainably-grown. So my rice isn't perfect, but it's a pretty darn good choice for rice.

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