Side Orders: What to look for at local markets

Side Orders: What to look for at local markets

July 17th, 2013 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

Pick up local, organic produce at the Chattanooga Market.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

If you don't have a garden or generous friends who bring you a bounty of veggies from their gardens, what do you do? Well, this is the time of year when local farmer's markets are near their peak, filled with fruits and vegetables, many of which are locally grown.

But how do you know which ones are the most healthful and which ones are better to buy in the markets rather than at the grocery store? Which are the best buy for your money?

Rachel Berman, director of nutrition for CalorieCount.com, says shopping at a farmer's market can often give you more for your money in terms of quality and quantity. "Also," she says, "you'll find a lot of items in the markets that you won't see at your run-of-the-mill grocery store."

So she suggests being adventurous and trying new products that you've never had before. "For example, in addition to the traditional long, orange carrots, you'll find purple and yellow ones, tiny ones and more. Similarly, as the summer months go on, you'll find dozens of flavorful heirloom tomatoes of all colors, shapes and sizes that will fill tables."

More importantly, Berman notes, the different colors of the tomatoes and other vegetables represent a wide variety of antioxidants. "So mix things up," she says.

Here are a few more questions for her:

Q. Which foods are the best buy for your money?

A. It varies, but typically the best buys come in the form of fruits and veggies. Breads that are local and gourmet, dairy products and meats are more likely to come with a premium price tag.

Q. Is organic produce really worth paying extra for?

A. At the farmer's market, even though many farmers choose not to go through the tedious USDA organic certification process, they may still grow their produce in an organic and sustainable manner. Many times they also sell their produce at lower prices than stores who hike up prices on foods just because they are organic. So just ask the farmers how they grow their produce.

Q. Are some organic vegetables better than nonorganic?

A. In general, you want to go organic when to comes to peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.

Q. What fruits and vegetables are must-buys at farmer's markets?

A. Although specific harvest months vary, summer generally brings veggies such as eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, peas, zucchini, okra and green beans, and fruits such as blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

There are markets located throughout town, so stop by your favorite and see what's on the harvest menu. Or check out Chattanooga Market this weekend where you'll find peppers, peaches, beans, tomatoes, squash, berries and more, all from local farms and gardens.

You can also head over to Crabtree Farms, where you'll find its farmstand filled with blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, peppers, fresh herbs, potatoes, summer squash and Swiss chard, to name a few, according to Crabtree's Executive Director Joel Houser.

So as you do your shopping this summer, consider the fact that, wherever you buy your produce, you're getting a very healthful addition to your diet. So go ahead and splurge, remembering, however, that buying local is not only a bit less expensive, you're also supporting our local economy.

Here's a recipe from Calorie Count that is a perfect side dish for your summer dinner. Or toss in some grilled chicken or shrimp and make it a meal.

Summer Pasta

10 ounces spaghetti or your favorite pasta

2 tablespoons green onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow squash, sliced

1 medium zucchini, sliced

1 medium red, yellow or green bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

2 cups chopped vine-ripened tomatoes

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions; drain. Return pasta to hot pan. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook green onion in hot oil over medium heat for 30 seconds. Stir in assorted vegetables and dried tomatoes. Cook covered for 5 minutes, stirring once.

Stir in fresh tomatoes, wine or broth and olives, if desired; cook 30 seconds more.

Spoon tomato mixture over cooked pasta; toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle individual servings with cheese and basil.

Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

RESTAURANT NEWS

Due to an error last week, part of the Side Orders column was cut off. We are rerunning the missing sections in their entirety.

Chianti has expanded from its Soddy-Daisy location to open a second restaurant on Highway 58 near Harrison. This is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in town, and I'm so happy they're not leaving Soddy-Daisy. And I also am thrilled that business is strong enough to warrant a second eatery. Have you tried Chianti's pizza? Every time I eat there, it's hard to decide if that's what I want, or the eggplant parmesan. Now I'm in for another decision-maker. Greek salads have been added to the menu. What's a lover of Mediterranean cuisine to do? Have them all. The new Chianti is open and located at 4976 Highway 58; the original is still at 8968 Dayton Pike.

COOL COFFEE

With the heat of summer bearing down on us all, many coffee drinkers turn from hot to cold, preferring ice cubes in coffee rather than boiling hot water. But the idea of waiting for hot coffee to cool down, or diluting it by adding ice cubes that will melt and weaken the flavor, is a turn-off.

Barnie's CoffeeKitchen has introduced a convenient solution - a single-serve, liquid cold-brewed concentrate called Pronto!, made from 100 percent Arabica beans, which are known to be the among the most flavorful. Just add one package to a cup of cold water, let the concentrate dissolve, then stir and drink away. It comes in seven unsweetened selections: Barnie's Blend, Cool Café Blues, Crème Brulee, French Roast, Hawaiian Hazelnut, Southern Pecan and Santa's White Christmas ... never to early for a little Christmas cheer, I guess. You'll find the products locally at area Walmart and Publix stores.

NEW ON THE MARKET

It's hard to resist a good Tater Tot, hot and crispy fried. They are oh-so-bad for you, but oh-so-sinfully good. Ore-Ida brought the first tots out and put them on the market in 1956, according to the company's history. And baby boomers loved them so much, other companies followed suit, making their own versions of "potatoes puffs," as they are generically known. Now they've hit a new high with Alexia Foods' introduction of seasoned potato puffs that taste like a baked potato. But they're so much easier to make than a baked potato, which tastes best if you cook it slowly in the oven for an hour or more. All you have to do is throw these babies in the fryer, and they're ready in no more than a minute or so.

Actually, Alexia has taken a healthful angle with these little puffs and suggests baking them rather than frying. So I tried them that way, too. They were remarkably good, but I'll stick with frying them, I think. They're loaded with flavor, from roasted garlic and cracked black pepper with a hint of sour cream and chives. No ketchup needed. And baking them does bring out the flavor a little better than frying. I'll never go back to plain Tater Tots again. You'll find them at most area Bi-Lo, Walmart and Target stores.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.