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A Trip To The US leaves Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta Calling For A Farmers’ Market In The City
(From top) The Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York; a family farm store at the market; fresh crabs and (below) plums. Pictures by the author

Supertramps’ great hit Breakfast in America was the tune I was humming all day on a recent trip to the US where I cooked a humongous meal for over 20 people all by myself — which included shopping, cutting and chopping and eventually cooking. I had to plan a few days ahead and I did get some help from my friends in the shopping and chopping departments. It was a celebratory feast for newly-weds, family and friends, who were as diverse as the meal itself — they came from China, India, South Korea, North and South America.

Produce was brought from various places in New York City, including what is called Little India, a place where there are numerous Indian stores selling clothing and jewellery to household goods, provisions and groceries. My shopping list included Basmati rice for the pulao, fresh coriander, tamarind, nuts and raisins, lentils, red onions and green chillies, Alphonso mango pulp, and saffron as well as cooking equipment such as a kadai, khunti and hata.

ORGANIC OUTING

Then on to the farmers’ market to get the freshest produce and most colourful tomatoes I have ever seen, all organically grown, of course, for my salad and tomato chutney.

The Union Square Farmers’ Market was started in 1976 to promote regional agriculture, by providing small family farms the opportunity to sell their locally-grown products directly to consumers. It was meant to ensure that people in New York have access to the freshest food the region has to offer. After 35 years, the market has grown expediently — in peak season, 140 regional farmers, fishermen, bakers and others descend upon Union Square to sell their products. From just-picked fresh fruits and vegetables, to meats, fish and seafood, different types of cheeses and bread, jams, pickles, a profusion of flowers and plants, wine, ciders, maple syrup and much more is available to feast on. But it is not cheap; in fact, it is far more expensive than the regular supermarkets.

My next stop was the Whole Foods Market for cauliflower, lime, lemon, mince meat, prawn, duck breast, crab meat and chicken, as well as onions, ginger, garlic, oranges, mint and basil, orange juice, bread crumbs and various other items. Whole Foods Market started out in 1980 with just one store in Austin, Texas, which sold natural and organic produce. This is a real success story in cooked, natural and organic food retailing. Today they have over 300 stores in North America and the UK and are the world’s leader in natural and organic foods.

THE BIG DAY

Next morning, I was up at 7am and started to prepare the meal, which I needed to serve by 8pm. On the menu, for starters there were Shammi Kebabs with coriander chutney and Asian-style Crab Cakes with chilli-garlic mayo. For the main course, there was pulao with nuts, raisins and deep-fried onions tempered with saffron milk. Then there was Bhaja Moong Dal with Peas, Cauliflower with Oranges (I got beautiful blood oranges and freshly-squeezed organic orange juice made a subtle difference to both the taste and look of the dish) and Chicken Vindaloo, slow-cooked with organically-fed natural chickens with my own Kewpie’s spice blend. An Oriental Chilli Crab, Braised Duck Breast with orange marmalade glaze and balsamic reduction, South Indian-style Prawn tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds and different coloured tomatoes with fresh mozzarella salad, which I could not resist, tangy Tomato Chutney, rounding off the meal with Aam Kheer.

The whole process took me about eight hours with small breaks in between. There was also a sumptuous display of fresh bread, and cheese along with a variety of cold cuts, all organic, of course. The appreciation of the meal was encouraging and a lot of the credit goes to the fresh and natural ingredients. Visiting America after almost 30 years and finding such a sea change in attitude towards food and food products was surprising.

BACK HOME

We, in Calcutta, should try and have a farmers’ market in the city centre or in different areas of the city every Sunday or over weekends and encourage small farmers to interact with consumers, leaving out the middlemen. Going forward, we should persuade them to grow organic fruits and vegetables, free range chicken, eggs and other provisions so that we all benefit. If it can happen in NYC, surely we can make it happen here!

Check out two recipes (below) from the eclectic meal I cooked.

Chilli-garlic mayonnaise

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise 2tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce l1tsp cooked garlic paste or to taste Salt and pepper to season

Method

To make the garlic paste, wrap 4-5 large cloves of unpeeled garlic in foil. Place in a hot oven for 4-6 minutes or until soft, squeeze out the garlic from its skin. Mix all ingredients together, season with salt and pepper (if needed). Let the mayo rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (to allow flavours to blend) before using or serving.

Makes 1 cup

Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

Ingredients

450g fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped 450g tomatoes, chopped 100g fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)

For the dressing

2tsp lemon or lime juice
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp salt or to taste
˝tsp pepper or to taste
1tbsp brown sugar
250ml olive oil (extra virgin)
1tbsp fresh basil, chopped

Method

Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk till well-blended. Arrange the well-washed spinach leaves around a salad bowl. Place chopped cheese and tomatoes in another bowl. Pour some of the dressing over the tomato and cheese and toss well. Place in the salad bowl and garnish with basil leaves. Serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Serves 4-6

crab cakes

Ingredients

˝ cup chilli-garlic mayonnaise 1 egg beaten 2 green or red fresh chillies, finely chopped 2-3 finely chopped spring onions 1tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice 1tsp salt or to taste ˝tsp pepper or to taste 2tsp finely chopped ginger 500g crabmeat, drained and cleaned of any shell 2˝ cups breadcrumbs 4-5tbsp olive oil or any oil

Method

Combine the first eight ingredients in a large bowl. Fold in crabmeat and 1 cup breadcrumbs. Divide crab mixture into 12 equal portions, shaping each into 2inch-round patties. Place 1˝ cups breadcrumb in a dish and dredge crab cakes in breadcrumbs. Brush each crab cake with a little oil. Place on a tray or long dish, cover with cling film and put in the freezer for 10 minutes before frying to help retain their shape.

Heat 2˝tbsp oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat, add 5-6 crab cakes at a time and gently fry about 5-6 minutes on each side or until brown. Remove crab cakes from pan; add remaining oil and repeat process until all of them are fried. Serve with chilli-garlic mayonnaise and lime or lemon wedges.

Tips: Add some flour to the crab cake mixture if the cakes are not holding shape.

Serves 4-6

(In Calcutta, fresh mozzarella is available at Spencer’s and IFB sells frozen crabmeat)