Ask the chef


by Ari LeVaux

Note: Our first letter arrived about a week before the word “locavore” was awarded 2007 “Word of the Year” by New Oxford American Dictionary. Cosmic!

Q: Dear Chef,

My family is trying really hard to do the local foods/seasonal-eating thing. The onions, squash, carrots, potatoes and garlic in our basement were all purchased at the farmer’s market. My daughter picked the strawberries in the freezer and says she wants to go hunting next year! This year we went in on a cow and a pig, both from a local farm, with our neighbors. We follow your “slow boat rule,” so we drink coffee and eat chocolate like normal people, and for the most part our “locavore” diet is fun and satisfying. But the one area where we’re having some trouble – especially me – is in the salad department. I really feel that eating green leaves and raw vegetables gives me something that no other foods can offer. I worry that I’m depriving myself and my family of these nutrients for the sake of an intellectual exercise. Help!

–Jonesing for Mojo

A: Dear Jonesing,

I don’t think it’s your imagination. Raw, living foods really are good and tasty.

First suggestion: You can make a salad by grating those carrots, onions and garlic in your basement. They might not be leafy greens, but they’ll give you that raw foods energy burst. That’s what they do in Siberia, since they can’t run to the store like us tender-skins and get watercress, romaine and baby spinach. Actually, that does sound pretty good.

Second idea: consider growing sprouts. Many seeds and grains, from mung beans to sunflower seeds to quinoa to wheat, will easily sprout, and the sprouts have the chlorophyll and vitality of spring shoots.

Here’s how: Soak 1 tablespoon of seeds or 1/3 cup beans in 1 quart of tepid water overnight. The next day, rinse the seeds thoroughly in tepid water and drain. Place in a quart jar covered with a dampened washcloth. Fasten with a rubber band and store in a dark cupboard. Rinse the seeds or beans twice each day. Make sure excess moisture is drained off each time. Depending on what you’re sprouting, it will take two to five days.

And if you have to buy a few salads from California, it isn’t the end of the world. After all, California can’t be that far away, judging from all the darn Californicators everywhere. And by the way, that Slow Boat rule is Bill McKibben’s, not mine. Only food that could have arrived on a slow boat from China – like canned and dried things, not frozen or even refrigerated.

– Ari

Q: Dear artist formerly known as Chef Boy Ari,

I have an ethical dilemma. I live next to a very large lettuce field. We’re talking acres. I love lettuce. Is it wrong for me to snatch a couple heads? I think they’re corporate, so who cares?

– Salivating as (I) Look at de Salad

A: Dear Salad,

Well, as you remind readers in your greeting, I’m no longer Chef Boy Ari. And I must say, this question is interesting, especially to a nickname-less columnist like me. Could this be the start of Mr. Demeanor? If I were a chick I could call myself Miss Demeanor – scandalous!

Meanwhile, Mr. Demeanor’s apparent inability to answer your question – evidenced by the lack of any substance in the response thus far – seems nothing sort of fraudulent.

Right. OK, lemme see here. Is it wrong to steal lettuce from a corporate field?

Well, given the information you’ve provided, I’d say the fact that you really like lettuce is not enough to make stealing a few heads OK even if, presumably, nobody is directly hurt by the crime. (I mean, what do you expect me to say, Salad?)

Yeah, it’s a little wrong. Just a little. Of course, premeditation makes it worse. And now you’ve dragged me into it, in public, no less. Conspiracy. We might as well be discussing this in the Minneapolis airport men’s room, Skypeing from adjacent stalls.

Obviously, what’s most important is that nobody gets busted, especially me. And then, for you anyway, it’s important to figure out what kind of chemical crap they dump on their corporate lettuce.

Anyway, you won’t see me telling you to strike quickly in the dark when the lettuce is cool, and then wash it very carefully. You just won’t.


Q: Dear Flash,

Your story about falafel breeding strong babies was entertaining. However, my falafel experience, at least with regards to the mating side of breeding babies, has been mixed at best.

Years ago while traveling in the Middle East, I read about falafel in a guidebook. I finally tracked down my first falafel in Akko, Israel. It was delicious! I continued to consume it in Akko and then in Haifa.

In Tel Aviv, I had a date. As I boarded a taxi, I became overcome by an irresistible case of the runs. The toilet session lasted about an hour.

I showed up 45 minutes late for my date. She was long gone. Telephones in Israel were, in those days, a rarity. A succession of Jewish holidays intervened, and with my comings and goings, I never made it back to Tel Aviv when her office was open. Alas! What could have been!

–Frustrated Falafel Fancier

A: Dear F3,

Although your letter was more of a comment than a question, I decided to run it because something like that happened to my dad once, and had he hooked up with this other chick he might not have met my mom. So there! Unless you are calling me a weak baby, it seems even rotten falafel can breed strong ones – but only if it’s meant to be, which in your case, clearly, it wasn’t.

Effects on future generations aside, the take-home lesson of your experience seems to be that too much of a good thing, even falafel, can still make you feel awful. And beans, including the chickpeas of which falafel is usually made, are serious business. When not refrigerated properly after cooking, for example, beans can turn into a high-risk food on par with pork. So you might as well have been eating fried pork over there on the streets of Israel … oh wait, I guess not.




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows