Eating Cheap and Local: Red Beans and Rice

Dear Reader,

In spite of many market closings around the area, you still have local shopping opportunities available to you all winter long. We have three year-round markets in Oakton and Gainesville and at Fairfax Corner. And the City of Falls Church sponsors a year-round market also. You can check the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s listings for a full list of markets in your area.

In this area farmers can pick and store many winter vegetables and fall apples throughout the winter, and many of them have also ventured into what we call “value-added products” in the biz, which include pickles and relishes, applesauce and apple and other fruit butters, and even baked goods to extend their seasons and improve their cash flow.

These hearty souls come all winter in just about all weather conditions to bring you their personally grown or produced products. They know it is more convenient for you to buy everything in a nice warm store, but I urge you to consider that it would be even more convenient for them not to have to drive miles and miles to stand out in the cold to make a living. I believe that if we want them to be there with the tomatoes and peaches in the summer, we need also to recognize that they need us in the winter to get them through to the next planting season.

Over the coming cold winter months, when it is difficult to imagine that in this part of the country we can actually eat local when snow is on the ground and frost is on the windowpane, I am going to try to excite and engage your kitchen creativity by reminding you of just how easy it is. And, not coincidentally, to remind you to get out there in the cold and support your farmers and food purveyors who are standing in 10-degree weather to serve you.

Saturday night at my home, I managed to throw together a lovely local meal without really trying; in fact, two hours before we ate, I had no idea how to answer the daily inquiry, “What’s for dinner?” And boy, does it make certain people in my household nervous when I do not know the answer to that question!

I knew what I had on hand — some of which I had bought just that morning at our Oakton market, some of which I had bought days or even weeks before. I had two lovely local pork chops thawing in the refrigerator, and I had quite a variety of local produce available, too. I had freshly shelled red kidney beans from our Mennonite co-op, Heritage Farm and Kitchen, and local onions and carrots.

I had store-bought fennel, which I always have in the refrigerator and which I still have not convinced any of our farmers to grow for us, but I refuse to give up. And I had canned tomatoes — which were my favorite Cento brand, but I could have bought fresh tomatoes that morning and used them if I had been planning ahead.

So I went to work. I ended up making red beans and rice very much like this recipe, but this is a dish that may very well be different in construction and taste every time you make it — and that’s fine with me and my family. My husband grilled the two pork chops, and we sliced them thinly in order to serve the pork as an accompaniment to the beans and rice to all four of us at the table.

I did also use a non-local product that I have recently discovered that gave the “rice” part of the recipe an extra nutritional boost and I am happy to recommend it to you: Rice Select Whole Grain Royal Blend Texmati brown rice and wild rice with wheat and rye berries. This great product is certainly pricier than white or even plain brown rice, but it goes further because it is more complex and filling. And if you cook more than you need for one meal, it keeps long enough to end up as part of a quick stir-fry later in the week.

For dessert we had a heritage recipe apple cake made by Marty Fetters, wife of Dave Fetters, who brings fruit and fruit products to both our Oakton and Gainesville winter markets. I used just one huge slice for four of us and two small cups of Trickling Springs ice cream divided four ways to serve with it, and we were all feelin’ fat and happy after that.

The really great ending here is that I still have lots of good local meat and produce for tomorrow night — and you can be so lucky too.

See you at the market!