Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Bowl of Eat Local Wisdom: Lemongrass Tomato Soup

By Beth Bader, coauthor of The Cleaner Plate Club, Storey Publishing

When my little girl and I head to the farmer’s market, we leave the house with an empty market basket and open minds. Of course, she already has her list in her head — cheese bread from the local baker, honey sticks from Joli’s bees, and fresh sheep’s milk cheese with rosemary. It’s a great list for a six-year-old, really.

As for this bigger kid, I’ve finally learned not to make a list, mental or otherwise. What ends up on the dinner table on Saturday night just . . . happens. Almost always, it’s one ingredient that catches my eye. One flavor that makes my imagination work, and the recipe comes to me in that moment.

One of the first farmers we visit at the market is a Thai family. Over the years they have added new ingredients to our menus weekly: small green Thai eggplants, water spinach, fiery peppers, amaranth leaves, and some kind of greens that have no name in English and taste heavenly sautรฉed and paired with fish. Their table is a weekly source of inspiration for me, and this week is no exception, offering up lemongrass and cilantro.

Across the way is one of my regular stops; heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors beckon next. The farmer knows me well because of my pumpkin addiction. Come fall, I’ll buy over a hundred pounds of his exotic squash. He nods at my kiddo and puts in an extra pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes just for her along with my four ears of corn and three pounds of tomatoes.

Two more stops, one for a head of red Russian garlic. I promise the farmer there that if he would just bring in the scapes in spring, I would buy these. For now he’s been giving them away to restaurants, not realizing consumers would buy them. The last stop is the farmer on the end, who only comes to market in August with fifty different varieties of peppers. I get a basket of the sweet ones that include chocolate-colored peppadews. He hands a curly red sweet one to my kiddo and puts in a couple of extra hot pepper varieties for me.

Along with the ingredients for my recipe, somehow my basket is overflowing with a tiny heirloom melon that smells heavenly, a larger watermelon, peaches, berries, and beans to shell later.

On the way home the kid and I stop at the grocery store. We won’t even need a handbasket. We’re here for just limes, gingerroot, and fish sauce and a pound of sustainable seafood — a few things that cannot be sourced locally. The final ingredients come from home; okra from a friend’s garden and three kinds of basil, lemon verbena, and mint from my own.

As I serve dinner that evening, a tangy, tart, and spicy Lemongrass and Tomato Fish Soup, I realize our meal is a reflection of all my Eat Local food values in a single bowl:
  1. Buy as much locally and in season as possible from small, family farms.
  2. Grow what I can myself.
  3. Cherish bounty from friends’ gardens.
  4. At the store buy only ingredients that cannot be grown locally; buy USA products first before sourcing from other countries.
  5. Buy organic when possible.
  6. Embrace the cultural diversity of the farms in my food shed.
  7. Support farmers who grow heirloom and rare varieties.
  8. Buy only sustainable seafood.

Lemongrass Tomato Soup Recipe

Smash a bit with a mortar and pestle:
2 cloves garlic
4 stalks lemongrass
½ bunch cilantro
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into three pieces

Add to 8 cups vegetable stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids, and return liquid to the pot.

Mix in a small bowl:
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice of three limes

1 lb sustainable white fish, cut into four portions

Add to the infused vegetable stock. Bring back to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes until the seafood is cooked.

4 large tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped into small wedges
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
4 okra sliced

Add to the soup, simmering for another 10 minutes. Place one piece of fish in each bowl, add soup and vegetables.

Garnish with:
Leaves of basil, mint, cilantro, lemon verbena, sliced hot peppers, and wedges of lime.

Serves four

Beth Bader has been a photojournalist, writer, and shark wrangler. As much activist as cook, she is, most of all, a mom determined to make the world a better place for her child, one meal at a time. She is a food blogger at Expatriate’s Kitchen and contributes to and Beth lives in Kansas.

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