Seasonal Pantry: Taking shortcuts in the kitchen

When do you take shortcuts in the kitchen or, perhaps more importantly, when you are shopping? Do you snag a can of chicken broth now and then but draw the line at pre-peeled garlic or shredded cabbage? Or do you go for it, buying chopped garlic, pomegranate arils, pre-made salad, cubed watermelon and hard-boiled eggs?

We all need a bit of help now and then, but when and where we get it influences everything from the way our foods taste and their nutrient profiles to how our choice impacts both local farming and the environment.

This is on my mind because at last Sunday's farmers market in Sebastopol, Red H Farm had little bags of fresh pre-shelled fava beans.

As much as I love sitting on the porch popping favas from their fuzzy pods, I was thrilled to snag a bag of beans for a fresh fava risotto I wanted to make for my daughter Nicolle, who was visiting from her home in Mississippi.

With a busy schedule, I wasn't sure I'd have time for the luxury of shelling the beans; and so I bought a bag, but not, I confess, before looking around and feeling a tad guilty.

I feel compelled to practice what I preach and am rarely motivated to cheat. That's the reason I keep a good supply of homemade chicken stock in my freezer, though fresh local stock is something we can now find at our farmers markets.

Here's my thinking on the subject. Start, as always, at your farmers market or farm stand. If a farmer has had the time to trim the asparagus, as Nancy Skall does, or shell the favas, as Caiti Hachmyer of Red H Farm did last week, there's no reason to avoid them. They are local, seasonal and fresh. I feel the same about sauerkraut, mustards, sausages and other farm products offered at farmers markets.

Tierra Vegetables, Green String Farm Store, Salmon Creek Ranch and other similar farm stands are good sources, too.

Foods from these locations are typically packaged in a way that steps lightly on the land, with simple containers that can be reused. Those favas were in a small plastic bag that will hold food for my pups when I make my next batch.

It's when you move on to a supermarket that you really must pay more attention. Maybe you've been too busy to get to the farmers market and you need lettuce. Should you really opt for the pre-washed stuff that comes in a hard plastic container that is about as easy to open as a CD case?

Probably not. It's almost impossible to reuse the containers. In addition, what's inside is rarely if ever local and it is likely to have had some sort of preservative sprayed on it, even if it is labeled "organic," as there is a list of hundreds of chemicals "organic" farmers can now use.

Greens, root vegetables and other produce in sealed plastic bags are no better, as they almost all include preservatives and you have no idea when or where they were harvested or how far they have traveled.

And those baby carrots?

Sorry, but they are not babies. They are shaped from larger carrots and their anatomy is all wrong, as is their flavor and texture. A carrot should be sweet and crisp, with that yummy core down the center.

One of the items that most puzzles me is eggs that have already been boiled and peeled, a task that doesn't take long at home. But these precooked eggs are now everywhere, from local supermarkets to Costco. What bothers me most is that it is impossible to know the source of the eggs or how the hens who produced them lived. If you prefer eggs from pastured hens, you want to pass by this convenience food.

If you've read this far, you likely already know what I think about most of what else lines the shelves of supermarkets, the Hamburger Helper, jarred sauces, bottled salad dressings and boxes of things I truly don't understand. I have always loved cooking and have always, by instinct, turned first to how to do it from scratch. I do buy things on these shelves, but they are typically ingredients — brined green peppercorns, for example — and foods best made in bulk, like true Dijon mustard, traditional dill pickles and such. I don't try to be Superwoman in the kitchen.

Spices, spice blends and spice rubs are another topic altogether, something I'll tackle in another column, probably in the fall.

You'll find a recipe for fava risotto, along with several other fresh fava recipes, at this column's companion blog, Eat This Now, at


This soup is best made with young fresh favas. If yours are starting to mature, you may need to adjust the cooking time, as larger, firmer beans take longer to become tender. The soup is quite good served hot, but I prefer it chilled; feel free to enjoy it either way.

Fresh Fava Soup with Leeks and Yogurt

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

3 cups blanched, shelled and peeled fava beans (see Note below)

3 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil

2 medium leeks, white and palest green parts only, trimmed, washed and minced

3 garlic cloves, preferably fresh spring garlic, minced

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

3 cups homemade chicken stock

Grated zest of 1 lemon

3/4 cup whole milk yogurt, such as Straus, Bellwether or Saint Benoit

Meyer lemon olive oil

Prepare the favas if you have not already done so. Set them aside.

Put the olive oil in a large soup pot set over medium low heat, add the leeks and saut?until limp and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let them brown. Add the garlic and saut?2 minutes more. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper.

Set aside ? cup of the fresh favas and add the rest to the soup pot. Add the chicken stock and 2 cups of water, bring the liquid to a boil and simmer gently until the beans are fully tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Taste, correct for salt and pepper and stir in the lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled.

To serve, ladle into soup plates and top with a very generous dollop of yogurt. Add a drizzle of olive oil, scatter some of the reserved fava beans on top and serve immediately.

Note: It will take from 3 to 4 pounds of whole favas to make 3 cups of shelled and peeled beans. To blanch them, remove them from their pods and then plunge them into boiling salted water for about 1 minute. Drain, refresh in ice water and slip off the rubbery skins.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 17 books to date, including "Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings." You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at Email Jordan at

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