Sunday, July 22, 2007

North Park Farmers Market: They’re Back … in North Park


After an absence of close to a year and a half, North Park's neighborhood farmers market is back. Reopened last Thursday afternoon on the south side of the CVS Pharmacy parking lot at Herman St. and North Park Way, the market has 37 vendors, many of whom are familiar to regular area farmers market shoppers.

So, who will you find along the aisles? Baba Foods and their spread of pitas, hummus, roasted veggies and tabouli. The ubiquitous Kettle Corn, of course. Hillcrest’s Bread & Cie. And Belen Artisan Bakers with Louise of Impeccable Taste, whom I met at the La Jolla Open Aire Market. She came prepared to sell her jams, pickles and mustards, along with the Escondido baker’s breads. World Famous Smoked Fish was there, with bags of fresh sea bass, salmon, albacore, mahi mahi and ahi, along with smoked yellowtail, ahi, salmon and albacore and dips they make from the tuna and salmon. And, some familiar farmers were there—both Smit Orchards, with their delicious plumcots and organic blueberries, and Rodriguez Farms, with its wide array of unusual produce.

So, what was Rodriguez Farms offering in North Park? Magnificent greens, which this time included purslane, called verdolaga in Mexico. Often considered a nuisance weed, this succulent is actually one of the most nutritious you’ll find, with more beta-carotene and Omega-3 fatty acids than spinach. Traditionally, it’s been used as a remedy for arthritis, but it may even lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

More to the point, of course, it’s very tasty. In Mexico, it’s eaten in omelets, sauteed as a side dish, rolled in tortillas or dropped into soups or stews. My friends Paula and Armando eat it all the time, prepared like spinach (steamed a few minutes with a little water, then drained and seasoned with a lot of lemon, salt and pepper). She says it's better a little al dente than too soft. You can also pull the leaves from its thick stems and eat it raw in a salad. Joe Rodriguez, owner of the farm, was at the market on Thursday and he suggested sautéing it with onion, garlic and tomatoes as a side dish or cooking it with pork. It also pairs well with cucumbers and is a great addition to a traditional Middle Eastern fattoush salad, which would include large cut up pieces of cucumber, tomato and onion, mint, along with parsley and stale pita and tossed with olive oil.

Rodriguez Farms also had some beautiful bunches of mizuna, a mild feathery green typically found in Japanese markets, but also a regular component of mesclun salad mixes. I bought a both a bunch baby bok choy and mizuna, which I’ll stir fry together with shitake mushrooms and shrimp.

I discovered some fun new vendors, new to me at least. If you have a hankering for jerky—from beef and turkey to ostrich, venison, salmon and even rattlesnake—head over to Lee Harris and his House of Jerky. If the products are unconventional, the flavorings will be familiar—natural, black pepper, teriyaki, habanero chile and cayenne and garlic.

I saw and tasted even more wonderful produce. Creekside Tropicals sells oranges, grapefruit, apples and lemon, but the most spectacular of their offerings are the mammoth Reed avocados, easily the size of a hefty grapefruit.

At the R&L Farms stand, I discovered the most astounding summer fruits I have tasted in a long while. Customers were thronging at this stall for gorgeous huge peaches and nectarines, both regular and white, as well as Santa Rosa plums and plumcots that while firm to the touch were almost pulsating with sweet juiciness. The flavors were so rich they tasted like they had been injected with liqueurs. I took home some of each and all were just as wonderful once I got them into my kitchen. They’ve made breakfast a treat.

Bakehouse Foods is full of nuts—great nuts. The charismatic Patrick offered me samples of fire-roasted Valencia peanuts, which were even better than traditional ballpark peanuts and far less salty. They have a terrific flavorful crunch to them.

If you’re a fan of glazed nuts, try the orange glazed pecans tossed in a green salad, on ice cream or with crunchy wheatberries (cook wheatberries like you would rice, only simmer them longer, say, for about an hour, drain and add sautéed onions and garlic, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper). They also carry three-ounce bags of glazed walnuts and almonds.

I saw the folks at Gourmet European Pastries and Lisko Imports at the OB Farmers Market but didn’t have a chance to take a good look. If you are planning on entertaining and want to impress your guests with some amazing desserts, check out their offerings. They have slices of baklava and little lemon bars, along with individual flourless chocolate cakes filled with chocolate ganache, upside down pineapple cake, apple streusel, pecan pies with a chocolate crust, Tahitian vanilla crème brulee and dreamy Belgian chocolate and white chocolate covered apples.

Sharing the space alongside the pastries is Lisko Imports—all part of the same company, I believe. I tried their rich roasted eggplant with feta mixture and their delicious sundried tomatoes, marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They sell several varieties of olives: garlic-stuffed greens, black rounds, kalamatas brined in red wine vinegar, green olives and yummy wrinkled olives layered in Mediterranean sea salt, which are actually very mild and not at all salty.

Also try their cheese. They offer a hearty Bulgarian feta and lighter Greek feta, a semi-soft manouri from Greece—wonderful topped with honey and walnuts—and the firmer, tangy Kashkaval cheese. This is a hard yellow table cheese from Bulgaria, often called “the cheddar of the Balkans.” Use it in a salad or shred it on pasta or pizza.

You can also satisfy your appetite with gourmet tamales of a variety of flavors. The owners brag that these are made without lard. I tried a sample of the sweet corn with poblano and cheese and found it light and, well, sweet. There are tamales for vegetarians and vegans, but also more traditional fare like shredded beef, pork loin and chicken, as well as dessert tamales like pineapple, coconut and raisin; orange mango and pumpkin spice. They freeze well, so are worth stocking up on.

Next to the tamales was a stall with empanadas (an Argentinean stuffed pastry) and chimicurri (a wonderful condiment made of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, oregano and paprika). These folks can be found online. At the market, they sell chicken, beef, corn, spinach and mushroom empanadas as well as choripan, an Argentinean-style sausage.

And, of course, you’ll find several stalls of magnificent flowers, a massage booth, jewelry, plants, clothes and some unusual garden mobiles.

The market is open every Thursday from 3 p.m. to sunset in spring and summer, and from 2 p.m. to dark in autumn and winter.

The North Park Farmers Market is located at the CVS Pharmacy parking lot off of University and 32nd St.

Have some thoughts about the North Park Farmers Market or other farmers markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:




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