Don’t just buy it—cook it

You went to your farmers market and bought stuff. Now what?
Produce from Red Earth Organic Farms ... now what?

Image courtesy of Marietta Square Farmers Market

Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the standard-bearer of the local food movement, has been promoting his new book lately, “Cooked.” The basic premise, he told Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report” this week, is this: “The most important thing about your diet is not a nutrient, but an activity: cooking.”

In other words, it’s not WHAT you cook, really; it’s THAT you cook. Americans have grown reliant on food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants to prepare our meals for us. And corporations don’t cook like Grandma did. “They cook with lots of chemicals that you don’t have in your pantry,” Pollan says. “As long as a human being is cooking for you and not a corporation, you’re fine.”

It’s an idea that farmers market shoppers have already come to terms with. After all, it does one little good to buy armloads of fresh vegetables and fruits if they only rot in the refrigerator. Acquiring the food is just the first step.

If dread of cooking has been holding you back from buying local, do not be afraid. Here are a few tips to help you get started in the kitchen.

  • Keep it simple. Sure, you can make classy sauces and fancy savory pastries and do all sorts of wonderful things with high-quality ingredients. But in truth, really fresh, good food needs little fuss to taste fantastic. Just a quick pass over heat and a sprinkle of salt brings out the best flavor in most foods.
  • In spring, think salads. You don’t even have to cook this stuff. Spring is the time of year for delicate lettuces and tender greens, so just rinse and dry, drizzle with oil and vinegar, and you’re done. Here, try this one. A salad spinner, which quickly dries washed greens, is an inexpensive and useful tool for the salad lover.
  • Steam, saute, roast. Three simple cooking methods are pretty much all you need to stay happily fed at home. The tools you’ll need: a pot, a steam basket, a frying pan, a baking dish. Oh, and a stovetop oven. (A grill is nice, too!)
  • Try new things. Never had a beet outside of a steakhouse salad bar? They’re easy to cook, and a million times tastier than what you imagine. Unfamiliar with broccoli rabe? It does bite, but only a little. Leary of vinaigrette, pesto, salsa? These sauces are simple to prepare and can add a lot of zip to home cooking.
  • Be open to new combinations: You could make a different stir-fry every night and never get tired of the dish. The key is trying new combinations of familiar flavors. Mix it up!
  • Don’t be shy. If you see something at a farm stand that you’ve never cooked before, ask the farmer how he or she likes to prepare it. Or ask other customers if they’ve ever prepared it before. Most folks are happy to share recipes and cooking tips.