Being firmly in the grasp of winter has me thinking back on the waning days of summer and early warm days of fall, when the farmer’s market was still set up outside and the last of the “summery” foods were making their final appearances for the year. Peaches were just giving way to apples and, if you were lucky, a few vendors might still have baskets of berries up for grabs.
That’s also about the time that the first winter squashes start making their appearance and pickings for summer delights such as corn become pretty slim. If you can find the two of them together at the same time, you can try the Chilean Bean Stew from the Forks Over Knives cookbook. According to the recipe description, it’s a staple Chilean food, but despite all of the other cookbooks I have on my shelves and all the Googling I do for recipes, I’d never heard of it before.
It’s a pretty simple combination involving butternut squash, pinto beans and a whole lot of corn. Like, 3 1/2 cups of corn. Oh, and an entire cup of chopped fresh basil. If that’s not a combination that screams, “Let’s grab our eco-friendly shopping bags and hit the farmer’s market!” then I don’t know what is.
Most of the recipes in the Forks Over Knives book that call for corn mean for you to use kernels freshly scraped off actual cobs. I usually cheat and use organic frozen corn from Trader Joe’s, due to the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to find good corn anywhere except for the farmer’s market. And if you’ve ever shopped for corn that way, you know how preciously short the window for it is.
However, this year I found myself quite blessed. Around the time the squashes started appearing, the small farmstand down the road from my house had the last of its corn out at a discount. Some of the husks were a bit brown and the kernels a little wrinkly, but it was still perfectly good corn for a price that I couldn’t pass up. The butternut squash was a great find as well. Not only was it on sale at the grocery store, but it was also from a local farm. With these two fresh ingredients in hand, I was just about ready to try the stew.
Then, of course, there was the problem of the basil. For some reason, basil has been continuously elusive this year. Every time I look for it at the store, it’s not there, and I usually need it for something before farmer’s market day rolls around. This time, it took me three tries to find a simple bunch of green herbs. It’s enough to make me want to start an indoor herb garden with all the free time I don’t have.
Regardless, I got the basil and put the stew together using pintos cooked up in the pressure cooker that very morning. (I love cooking beans around breakfast time. Maybe that makes me weird?) While it was simmering away, I made a pot of quinoa to serve it over. I’m glad I went with that instead of rice, which was the other grain recommended in the book. The texture worked out perfectly with the chunky nature of the stew. I don’t think rice would have done as well, despite how much I love it.
I wish I could offer something to compare this to in order to accurately describe the flavor, but there really isn’t anything else that it tastes like. It’s one of those dishes that tastes like itself. Though it had an almost overwhelming garlic smell as it was cooking, the basil was what gave it some zip with the help of a little pepper. It also added a nice touch of green to balance out the earthy flavor of the squash and beans.
This really was a great recipe for mixing together the best of late summer and early fall produce. As time goes on, I find myself more and more inclined to look for foods while they’re in season and do without when they’re not. I’m not sure I’ll ever make the transition to seasonal eating 100% (I like salad way too much), but when I can get things fresh when they’re actually meant to be eaten, I have a tendency to do so with a vengeance and seek out recipes like this one to make use of them.
What’s your favorite recipe that uses seasonal foods?