How to stop being intimidated by the farmer's market?
July 15, 2012 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop being intimidated by my local farmer's market.

I live around the corner from a twice-weekly farmer's market. I usually buy my weekly container of blueberries for my morning oatmeal (and sometimes a tomato for slicing onto my sandwiches), but I want to delve further.

I'm very curious about all the different types of produce they sell there, but: (1) I rarely cook and therefore don't know what to do with whatever I would buy there, and (2) I'm too nervous to talk to the sellers (I don't want to take up their time) and I feel intimidated by the shoppers who show up with their canvas bags and just seem to know exactly what they're doing.

Also -- I could buy some produce on Sunday morning, but by Sunday night, what would I rather do? Order in some Thai food with its varieties of interesting ingredients and flavors, or sit there and eat a plate of beets? In theory I always want to cook more, but in practice it winds up being frustrating and pain in the ass.

So, I want to wade in slowly rather than buying a heap of produce that will just sit and rot in my fridge because I'm too scared or bored to use it. I'd be OK with buying, say, one type of vegetable at a time and learning how to cook it as a side dish alongside takeout.

I bought "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and maybe that's a good start.

But I wondered if there's anything else that can help me get over my awkwardness at the farmer's market.
posted by Tin Man to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Why not ask the confident canvas bag carriers, "Excuse me, I see that you're buying beets. How are you going to cook them? I'm looking for ideas."

Also, roasting is a simple cooking method that lets you experiment with a variety of veggies. Did you see this question? Lots of great suggestions for incorporating vegetables into your daily cooking.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2012

In my experience, farmers in the farmer's market LOVE telling you which is the best vegetable right now, how to best enjoy it, what to do with it, how much to buy for one person and more. Speak up, tell them what you're telling us and enjoy the conversations.
posted by infini at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

My girlfriend and I recently started shopping at the farmer's market and the people who sell food there are genuinely proud of their stock and enjoy talking about it. I asked the pickle guy for the garlicyest pickles, and he told me the story of why he made pickles so garlicy as the ones he sells. The woman selling goat meat gave us a good two-minute-long explanation on how to not overcook it. The market is a pretty important part of a lot of these people's livelihoods so unless they're literally moving a box from the truck to the stand, their time is allotted to be taken up by you and your questions. A friendly stand owner knows damn well that if they answer your questions truthfully and pleasantly, you're that much more likely to return; I go to the pickle guy and the goat meat/cheese lady every time I drop by the farmer's market, and a big part of that is how nice they were.

Also, not everyone with their canvas bags knows that they're doing, they're just not dawdling. My best friend is a Pro Farmers Market Shopper and can whiz through it knowing exactly what she wants. My girlfriend and I don't really know our way around it yet but, hey, bratwurst is bratwurst, tomatoes are tomatoes and once I ascertain that they're not too expensive and look edible, in the NPR tote they go and I'm off to the next stand.

Also, instead of one side at a time, you should do one recipe at a time. Find a recipe you like, the majority ingredients for which are available at the market. Buy only those ingredients (and, you know, maybe a treat for yourself like a fancy cheese or something.) That way you have a clear-cut goal for the market and for home.
posted by griphus at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [18 favorites]

I understand how it feels to have a sneaking suspicion that everyone knows you don't belong in a certain place or with a certain group of people.

But I also know that at the farmer's market nobody gives a rat's ass about what you do or don't buy, or whether you have a canvas bag. The shoppers aren't paying attention and the sellers' overriding concern is whether you buy anything at all, not what you buy. Your competency in the kitchen is neither here nor there to them.

Try talking to them, they will probably not only be happy to talk about their produce but might also have ideas for you as to how to prepare it. "What's good today?" Or, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing. What should I get? How do you like to prepare this?"
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of the really cool things about farmer's markets is that, in my experience, the people selling are pretty proud of what they do and grew and are actually really happy to talk to people with questions (unless it's crazy busy). So in Hilo we had to ask about the rambutans and how to eat them, and in Anchorage there are 15 different kinds of potatoes so we asked about what ones would be sturdiest for X use, and in Salt Lake we wanted to know what people were doing with the messes of green tomatoes they were buying. In Portland and Seattle a lot of places actually had recipe cards to take along with the stranger items. No one has ever been weird about it.

So, if I were you, I'd probably just go and find a non-busy stand with something that looks interesting and talk to the person running it about how to deal with it. They're not going to think you're a jerk for asking, I promise, and they will likely be pleased you asked. I'm nervous about bothering people, too, but mostly I find that once I suck it up and ask a question the results are worth it.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:43 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grab your own canvas bag and talk with the vendors. As my husband likes to tell me: "Act like you belong." I find vendors are open to talking. They want to sell. Ask, "What can I do with this?"

I like your idea of buying one or two veggies and making a side dish. You could also buy an extra couple of pieces of fruit. Peaches and blueberries would be good in oatmeal.
posted by Fairchild at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for recipes that use fresh, local, in-season produce, I'd recommend looking at some people's CSA boards on Pinterest. (CSA = community supported agriculture, aka you pay some money and a farm gives you a big box of mystery vegetables every week.)
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 6:50 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your profile seems to indicate you're in the NYC area. There are some resources that you might be interested in. Slow Food NYC - get on their mailing list; they will occasionally have programs that introduce new foods and cooking methods. Epicurious - has many seasonal/market-based recipes. Chez Panisse Vegetables is a big fancy book, but kind of indispensible for learning the ins and outs of specific, in-season veggies. It's organized by vegetable, tells you all about when it's in season, what ways are tasty to prepare it, and gives 5 to 8 or so recipes that highlight each one - so you can buy something new, bring it home, and use this book to guide you through using it. And I really wish New York had a version of CUESA, who run the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco, but you can still use their great website. They are all about education, and their website and mailing list have great seasonal recipes and veggie how-tos. THe only hard part of using that is trying not be jealous of their year-round abundance of warm-weather produce! Finally, I'm shy like you, but I find it a lot easier to connect and learn in a structured setting. There are so many adult education organizations around NYC, and you might look into classes like NYC Shop & Cook Union Square MarketCooperative Extension.
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain! I hate talking to strangers and when I go to the farmers' market I often end up with either nothing or twenty pounds of vegetables that go bad before I cook them. Here are some thoughts:

1. Get some 'snack' vegetables like cherry tomatoes or carrots or cucumbers that you can eat by themselves or with a dip. Then you can use them as part of a meal or as a snack.

2. Get some vegetables that it is easy to saute - spinach, summer squash/zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, greens generally. I know everyone is all about roasting right now, but that heats up your kitchen and is time consuming. All I do with zucchini is chop it into thin (smaller than 1/4") slices and saute it on high heat in a little olive oil and salt until it's soft and translucent and the skin is bright green. Or rinse and dry the spinach, saute it on medium heat until bright green, serve with a little salt and/or a little sesame oil. Chop asparagus into 1" sections, saute. Etc, etc. Another advantage to this is that if you are in the mood for Thai, you can have a side of vegetables and just eat a little less Thai food.

3. Buy the smallest vegetables - the smallest zucchini, the thinnest asparagus. It will taste best.

Oh, a good easy recipe is : get some of that Aroy-D canned green curry sauce (it's actually pretty good - not as good as home-made, but pretty tasty). Chop up some summer squash. Simmer it in the curry. Add some spinach toward the end. Almost at the very end, add some Thai basil (or just regular basil). Serve over rice. You can also do this with asparagus.
posted by Frowner at 7:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

FWIW I think to make cooking and supporting local growers sustainable, you need to work it into your life in a way that works for you. If ordering Thai every Sunday night is a thing that gives you pleasure, there is zero reason to think you "should" be eating sliced beets instead.

It sounds like cooking is the barrier for you. So what I would actually suggest is acquiring a slow cooker. You can cook anything in a slow cooker. It is high on taste and low on fuss. In fact, it is less about cooking and more about... chopping. Then you can go to your farmer's market armed with a list instead of scary aimless wandering! Buy 4 carrots, a turnip, an onion, a zuchinni and a garlic. Chop them up on Sunday morning and cook on low with the other ingredients for 7 hours while you go live the rest of your life. You can have fantastic stew all week long. It freezes, too!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:17 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

by Sunday night, what would I rather do? Order in some Thai food with its varieties of interesting ingredients and flavors, or sit there and eat a plate of beets?

There's an easy solution to this: Sunday night, order your Thai food, then scrub and roast* the beets and chill them, covered, overnight. While they're roasting, eat Thai food.

Monday or Tuesday, the beets are all ready at dinnertime. Don't you feel so smart? Cold roasted beets are delicious in a salad, especially with toasted nuts or goat cheese to emphasize their earthy sweetness, but I often eat them a side dish on their own, toss them with vinaigrette to make a cold roasted beet salad, or tuck them into a cheese sandwich. YUM. You can also gently re-warm them if you like.

*There are plenty of ways to prepare beets, but I adore them roasted --- plus, it's verrrrry easy. I roll 'em in olive oil and coarse salt, then pop 'em in a hot oven until they're softened, but you can also "roast" them in the microwave. In that case, pierce the beets with a skewer or a knife to prevent EXPLOSIVE BURSTING of magenta juice in your microwave, then roll in olive oil. (This order of activity is key: trying to pierce an oily beet is a thankless task.) If you're using larger beets, you might want to remove the skin, which is easiest to do after they've roasted and cooled.

And you can extend this approach to other foods, too. For example, I buy enormous, fridge-crowding sheafs of kale and other greens at the market, bring them home, put on a big pot of water to boil, wash the greens very well**, then blanch the greens (for a minute, tops) and shock them in ice water. This shrinks them down to a fraction of their original size for easier storage, and also means they're ready to toss into [pasta/frittata/soup/casserole/curry/whatever] when I want to use them. I squeeze out the excess water, wrap the greens well, and put 'em in the fridge or freezer.

** Seriously, greens can be very very gritty and they want to be extremely well washed. Fill a clean sink or huge bowl with cool water, swish the leaves around well, lift the leaves out and set aside, dump the water and rinse the sink/bowl, then refill. I always wash them three times at least, then taste a bite to see if any trace of grittiness remains.
posted by Elsa at 7:26 AM on July 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Shop early and often.

If you go when it opens, and before the crowds start pouring in, the farmers and vendors will have a little more time to spend with you. Even the nicest folks will be frazzled when there are 10 pairs of hands waving fruit and dollar bills in their face. Also, become a regular. My neighborhood market is practically a tourist destination, and I noticed more personalized service once people started to remember me from the weeks before.

And frankly, a few of the people I've encountered are simply snobs or just plain jerks. They don't get my business.

Remember, you don't have to buy a pound of everything! If you buy small quantities (I bought a single Jerusalem Artichoke the first time I tried them) you can experiment without worrying about wasting food or money.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:31 AM on July 15, 2012

"I'm too nervous to talk to the sellers (I don't want to take up their time)"

They definitely WANT to talk to you! That's why they're there! (Also I do find many farmers' markets are sociable for a lot of the shoppers, too.)

I like Frowner's advice. We limit ourselves to one strange vegetable/fruit a trip, and when we were starting out expanding our fruit/veggie repertoire, we started with hand fruits and snacking veggies and gradually got braver.

This cookbook is pretty useful for finding things to do with in-season produce. Sometimes I cook things on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when I have nothing going on, that can either be eaten cold or reheated over the next few days. Because, yeah, by Sunday night I often feel like getting a pizza instead of cooking. But if I already cooked in the afternoon and I just have to heat it up ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 AM on July 15, 2012

Also, this time of year is great for buying low-prep foods. In tomato season, I barely cook at all: dinner is sometimes a few slabs of perfect tomato on buttered bread scattered with salt, or a plate of tomatoes topped with the best olive oil in the house*, tomato and cucumber diced up and tossed with lemon juice, salt, and pepper and eaten with a slice of good bread. From there, you might move on to more elaborate cooking/prep, but it is TOTALLY OKAY if you don't.

Or I scrape the kernels from a few husked but raw ears of corn, toss the corn kernels with rinsed, drained black beans (from a can! It's summer! It's hot! I'm not standing around cooking beans!) and a handful of diced tomatoes, some garlic, and maybe some scallions and oregano (but maybe not!), and taste it to see if it needs some hot sauce. (Hint: IT DOES. Oh yeeeeeah.) This is delicious to scoop up with tortilla chips, wrapped in a tortilla with or without melted cheese or served alongside a quesadilla, or --- if you eat meat --- as a salsa over simply cooked chicken or fish.

*The first time I served in-season farmstand tomatoes to my now-husband, who buys those sad pinkish cottony supermarket tomatoes year-round, he moaned in delight and demanded to know "What did you DO to those tomatoes?" What I did was: buy them locally, wash and slice them, put a few rops of oil and a few grains of kosher salt on each. Excellent food bought fresh and simply prepared is mindblowingly good.
posted by Elsa at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Pick one new ingredient to try each time you go. Pretty much no matter what it is, it will be awesome with the following "recipe": Cut into bite sized pieces. Toss with a smidge of olive oil, salt and pepper, put on a sheet pan in a hot oven (like 450 hot), cook until edges are starting to brown (15-30 minutes, usually about 20). If you wear fancy pants, flip the pieces over halfway. Eat. Have it as a side dish with your take-out if you don't want a lot of pressure.
posted by Lame_username at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2012

Look for things that you can eat without cooking and that you can buy in small quantities. Examples might be mushrooms, cherries, cheese, strawberries, fingerling carrots, summer squash and stuff like that. Buy only five cherries, or enough cheese to make one sandwich. Think of it as a sampling gourmet buffet.

Order your Thai take out for dinner as usual when you don't want to think. Eat this stuff for lunch and snacks. Take it to work with you and put it out on your bench or desk so you remember to nibble on it.

Take a friend to the farmers' market as a social activity. You get morale support, possibly some interesting ideas and you can even cook with them afterwards.

Ask someone who might know when the market is least crowded. It is perfectly possible that those canvas baggers have a schedule and always hit the market early when the produce is best, but it might be worth your while to hit the market later when the crowds are less and the produce is not so good. If you are picking and choosing small items it won't matter as much if things are starting to wilt.

Be aware that some of those canvas baggers may be professional buyers, and some of them who are not may be throwing out a lot of veggies once they turn soft. I know someone who does this -she has good intentions and buys big bags of stuff, but at the end of the week frequently ends up pitching a lot of it. So not ALL of those canvas baggers are necessarily perfect experts.

Buy six things, one for each day of the week - one half pint of raspberries for Saturday, fingerling carrots for Monday, radishes for Thuesday, and so on. If you find something you would have to buy in a large quantity that you would like to try, consider buying the lot and then sharing it, such as by bringing it in to work -or to the mosque or to your in-laws, wherever you go that might enjoy a surprise of fresh fruit. A sliced up melon might be a treat for everyone.

Buy flowers. Some farmers' markets do those. Buy potted herbs. Use a search engine to look for interesting recipes for something that is in season that catches your eye -green beans? - and then buy it next week.

Get yourself a vegetable steamer and throw assorted veggies into it. Start by chopping up the hardest densest vegetables and putting them in the bottom and the lighter, softer, faster cooking veggies in larger chunks in the top. This is good with butter, or olive oil and garlic, or with lemon.

Consider buying things you can turn into summer drinks. Again, use a search engine to look for recipes before you buy.Peppermint vinegar is extremely thirst quenching.

Look for free samples. Never buy things like grapes without a free sample if you can help it - some grapes are too tart to eat, so it helps to eat one before you buy. Grapes and some other fruit can be frozen to enhance their delectability in the summer but this also prolongs their shelf life. Don't be afraid to pick up and handle different produce. Using your sense of smell and your sense of touch will tell you a lot too about if you want something. Picking up a melon and sniffing it can make the difference between "I suppose I could do something with this..." and "Want! Must buy!"

Ask an older person what to do with produce. Often grannies and grampies can be experts on this. If your only experience with three bean salads is canned and deadly from vinegar and gas, you will be amazed at what a strange, delightful and inexpensive dish three bean salad can be and what an enormous variety it can be prepared in.

Don't shell and eat an entire quart of raw green peas in one sitting- this can be a sudden surprise to the digestion! (sad experience here)
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:59 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend is a farmer and she says it's very normal for people to ask her beginner questions about everything. She wouldn't bat an eye if you came to talk to her. If you're worried about wasting their time, choose a time when they're not already talking to someone.

What is this?
How do I choose a good one?
How do I store it when I get home? Do I wash it right away, or only when I'm ready to cook it? Does it go in the fridge or no?
How do I prepare and cook it? Do I peel it? Can I eat it raw or does it need to be cooked? What's a good easy recipe?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2012

If you're overwhelmed by choices, google up a calendar of what's in season now for your area and pick one thing from the list.

Another thing to consider is chopped salads, which require a lot of washing and chopping all at once, but which keep in the fridge for days and are very filling. Eg google up variations on "massaged kale" salad.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:02 AM on July 15, 2012

Nthing that farmers love to talk about their produce. I picked up something I didn't recognize at a farmer's market once and the guy said, "You need a rutabaga?" I said, "Is this a rutabaga?" and he laughed and was off to the races giving me all sorts of ideas for what to do with it.

I am going to suggest just going down there once a week and picking up a random thing and taking it home, though. You are very well equipped with that Deborah Madison cookbook (and, I'm assuming, an internet connection). Buy something, take it home, figure out what it is, read recipes, and just try one! It will be a fun adventure.
posted by something something at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2012

I don't know if this is true for every farmer's market in the world, but the ones near me often have a booth for cooking demonstrations. Someone involved with running the market (or sometimes one of the farmers, a local chef, etc) will gather a few ingredients which are at their best, choose a simple recipe to prepare them in, and cook up a sample batch for passers-by to see, taste, and ask questions about. They often have the recipes available on handouts at the demo booth even if you've missed the demonstration.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 AM on July 15, 2012

Really there are two different issues here: 1. you are unfamiliar with farmers markets and 2. you are unfamiliar in the kitchen.


1. I would second go early in the day before they get busy as the sellers will be more patient and less run off their feet.

2. Each week pick a new recipe. (If you get your recipes from this weeks NYT or Guardian or whatever then its likely to be seasonally in tune with the market). Just go and buy the stuff for that recipe. make a list and just buy the things on the list. YOu will have a sense of purpose and not be flabbergasted by the choices available. And cook that recipe Sunday evening - it may seem a chore but its the only way.
posted by mary8nne at 8:55 AM on July 15, 2012

Room 641-A is right--you may meet a lemon of a farmer that can't be bothered to talk to you, but most consider it a social event. Remember, salads are easy and absolutely wonderful. Try spinach with strawberries or raspberries and balsamic vinegar dressing. Have a homemade slice of bread with butter if you don't think that's enough to fill you. Throw together greens, a bit of chopped cold meat or beans, or an egg, plus dressing and you've got a great meal. It takes less time than ordering a meal for delivery or pickup. There's so many different dressings and things to add to greens that you could have the same greens every night for a week, only varying dressings and sides and never feel you've eaten remotely the same thing.

Blanch cauliflower, kale, or broccoli. All it takes is boiling water and a dip. Shred carrots, radishes, or Jerusalem artichokes. Snap green beans or peas or cut the corn off the cob and eat them all raw. Same with zucchini or cucumbers. Use canned beans of all types, and don't forget the many kinds of nuts to eat whole or ground over salads. Fresh tomatoes with salt and pepper on buttered bread makes a great meal. This is the time of year I eat everything raw. If I cook, I'll make a meal out of nothing but corn on the cob or fried zucchini. If you're in the mood for pasta, make pesto with pounded fresh basil.

Google quick or fast meals. Put on your favorite album, and you'll find you've made most of your dinner before the first song has ended. Boogie around the kitchen!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:17 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My terrible-cook solution to strange new ingredients is to google "newveggie + protein (whatever I have in the freezer, ground beef or chicken or whatever) recipe" Invariably someone has combined those items before and the recipe has ended up on the internet, and I can (mostly) follow a recipe.

Also seconding the crock pot, just in general. Five minutes of chopping, peeling, and/or browning and then hours and hours of ignoring equals a tasty meal! Can't beat it, really.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:19 AM on July 15, 2012

My terrible-cook solution to strange new ingredients is to google
This does not have to be a terrible-cook solution, this is open-minded adventure-cook solution, too! It is great for trying out new things you bought and using up random combinations of things in your cupboards. Over time will help you see what fundamentals you need to build a good flavor or a solid dish, and what substitutions you can make based on your preferences, seasonal availability, or local products. Some of my recent favorites have come from googling "ingredient A ingredient B ingredient C" and seeing what pops out.

Otherwise I nth the people saying not to feel bad about ordering Thai, those recommending picking up recipes from the NYT or different producers (your grocery store has them too), and those saying to buy small quantities until you get your "groove" with a particular type of food.
posted by whatzit at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2012

There are actually a couple cookbooks that are designed for the question "I just got a whole lot of [foo] from my Farmer's Market/CSA shipment/garden, what do I do with it?" One I use a lot is Serving up The Harvest, which organizes its recipes into chapters about each specific vegetable (which is also good, because the beginning of each chapter also tells you how to store each vegetable). So when you get that urge to go to the market and say "You know what, beets!" and you buy a bunch and then get home and realize "what, what was I thinking?" they've got about ten recipes for beets right there.

They also have some basic "good with any vegetable" recipes in the front, which is good for the moments when you're home and you have a couple of weird random things in the fridge, like two carrots, a bok choy and some peas, and you're wondering "what the hell do I do with this?"

The beauty of farmer's market produce, though, is you probably won't have to do much to it for it to taste good, because it's so fresh it'll do that for you. One of the best summer recipes I have for pasta is just to get a couple of heirloom tomatoes of different varieties, chop 'em up, and throw them in a pan for maybe two minutes max, then add a little chopped basil and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of the best things about summer is the farmer's market. The lady I go to for eggs, chickens and veggies is super at the customer service. (Hey Gwen!) She actually prints up recipies for whatever she's selling, showcasing the ingredients. Sure, she hustles me to buy the CSA, but I say no and it's cool.

I do recommend using what you buy within 24 hours though. I bought some peaches that needed to be eaten pretty much that day and frankly, I can't eat that many!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2012

A few additional thoughts beyond everyone's excellent suggestions already:

+ Do you have a friend who is a good cook or loves farmer's markets? You might go with him or her and let them be your guide. I love going to market with friends and comparing notes on things, and you'll likely find it easier to ask a friend questions than asking a stranger.

+ It's totally ok to ask strangers - both the farmers and other shoppers - about the produce. Are there subjects you totally love to geek out about? Would you be thrilled if someone asked you about whatever that is so you got to explain it in in great detail? There is someone out there who REALLY wants to explain the subtleties of different varieties of kale to you, I promise.

+ Think of the market as a place filled with (mostly) low-investment experiments. Give yourself the challenge of buying one new thing each time and figuring it out. Best case, deliciousness! Worst case, you're out three bucks plus the time you spent figuring it out.
posted by judith at 10:38 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy one new thing, google for recipes/storage info, cook, consume, enjoy. If you like it or want to give it a second chance, buy it again next week, plus an additional new thing. Repeat until you have built up a suitable number of things that you like.

I agree that it's totally OK to ask for advice, but if you don't want to that's OK too! Just pick something that looks interesting, make sure you know what it's called so that you can google for it, pay and go.
posted by mskyle at 10:46 AM on July 15, 2012

Re-thinking your Thai food comment about its varieties of interesting ingredients and flavors, or sit there and eat a plate of beets, makes me think that you could also benefit from targeting things you know you like and learning how to make them.

Flavors like those associated with Thai cuisine often come from a couple key ingredients, without which it feels that there is something missing. Depending on what dishes you are ordering, you may find them surprisingly easy to replicate at home. For Thai food, fish sauce is an essential; lemongrass and the right kind of basil are big helps as well (and things you can find fresh at the farmer's market). I make more Japanese food than Thai. In many Japanese foods, you will notice if there is no dashi in it even if you don't personally know what it is (dashi is a powdered stock usually made from fish though other types exist).

In short, those interesting ingredients and flavors are usually few in number, and easy to get familiar with along with the vegetables. You will be surprised about what turns out to be very doable in your own kitchen.
posted by whatzit at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2012

You can absolutely ask the farmers how to cook the things they're selling. I used to help sell cheese, and a lot of what we did was help people figure out what to do with it - we had recipe cards based on what else was in season, even. Any farmer who's selling slightly unusual vegetables will be more than happy to help you, but you'll get more information if you go at a less-busy time.

You can also ask the tote-bearers. People who take local food seriously are thick on the ground these days, and everybody likes being asked for their expertise.
posted by mgar at 12:41 PM on July 15, 2012

Make a list of at least some of the items that you would like to buy - but also plan and observe so that you are prepared about how to buy them. Would it make sense to ask for a pound or tomatoes or just to pick out 3 or 4 of them? What variety? Are they going to be weighed or just counted? How much will that cost you roughly?

At least here in France a short conversation with a stall holder about their products will normally mean that they will offer you some samples to taste. They will probably also quiz you about the meal you have planned: is this the main ingredient? what wine will you be having? and so on.
posted by rongorongo at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2012

My last trip to the farmers market netted me three kohlrabi, two small cabbages, and a small bunch of red onions. Why? Who knows, they looked good. I had zero plan, I just picked a couple of things. I have never purchased a kohlrabi in my life before this, but I knew it was brassica (like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) so I had an idea what it might taste like.

A quick google search turned up a coleslaw recipe - I added some carrot, green onions and cilantro to the kohlrabi and cabbage, ran it through a food processor, and used a little mustard, sugar and oil. It was great. I had one kohlrabi and one cabbage left over. I sliced them with the bunch of red onions and sautéed with olive oil. Also great.

So, either (a) pick a single interesting ingredient and then find a recipe to use it, or (b) just invent something, and see what happens.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2012

I do recommend using what you buy within 24 hours though.

This seems excessively cautious, especially for vegetables. I go to the farmer's market every Saturday and buy most of my food for the week - with the exception of berries and meat, most things will last at least a week when properly stored/refrigerated.

One tip that will help endear you to the vendors - hoard your small bills/quarters during the week, and give exact change when you can. Sometimes they may be running low on change, so handing over $2.75 instead of a $10 bill will save time and help them out. I usually get a tiny extra bit of "thank you" when I do this (although no one has ever objected to breaking a $20 either).
posted by Gortuk at 8:18 PM on July 15, 2012

I find that things typically last a while. The trick, especially with fruit, is to learn what it looks and feels like when it's ripe. Fruit that is ripe rightthefucknow will be off in a day or two. Fruit that is still a little hard will ripen and be good to eat in a few days. IME vegetables are a lot less finicky, except maybe for squash blossoms.

I usually have the opposite problem and pick underripe ones, then halfway home I remember that the whole point was to have them for desert tonight.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2012

I also do not like to cook much and have trouble knowing my veggies.
This works for me:

Buy a few summer squash. These are little things about 6 inches long. Or round thingies. But they are not very big so they are good for this. Don't worry too much about what kind they are. The yellow crookneck ones are nice, but I like the ones that look like UFO's too. Or just some little zuchinnis.

Slice them up to be about `1/2 " thick. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and broil them for a few minutes.

These are delicious and easy, also easy for one person and can be done in a toaster oven.

Have fun!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2012

When I first started getting to know my local farmer's market, I bought one "new" thing every week (either something completely unfamiliar to me or something just not in my normal rotation), then I took it home and opened up my trusty Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook to figure out what to do with it. The thing I love about this book is that the recipes still allow the base ingredient to shine through, so I really get an understanding of what, say, celeriac can be like. It's also separated into seasons, which helped me get an idea of the local seasonality of produce.

Something else you can do is go through the cookbook you just got, pick out a recipe that looks really interesting to you, then go to the next farmer's market and buy one or some or all of the required veggies. That way you start to get familiar with the overall market and some of the vendors, too. I recommend picking out a couple recipes in case one has stuff that's not currently in season--though if you need something you can't find, well hey, there's a great excuse to talk to a vendor and ask if they can recommend a good substitution (and trust me, they love to chat!).
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:04 PM on July 16, 2012

II think you should consider gaining mastery of a single technique for cooking vergetables and try it on many different types of vegetables. I recomend either raw as in slaws, salads and as crudete or roasting vegetables. Try and learn every way to serve raw or roasted veggies. I love roast vegtables and find that roasting can turn almost any vegetable into something sublime.

Secondly ask the farmers what to do with the vegetables. They work very hard and mostly make crap money to produce the veggies which means they love them. Ask them about what they love.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:23 PM on July 16, 2012

Chez Panisse Vegetables. Tells you whats what, how to cook, and store your veggies.
I always check cook books out from the library first, before buying (used, more often than not)
posted by JABof72 at 10:01 PM on July 16, 2012

I met a guy recently who literally almost never cooks, but buys tons of things from the farmer's market to make smoothies with. You can even add fresh greens to smoothies.
posted by melissam at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2012

For shopping:
Do one circuit, as fast as you can, checking out the prices and items available.
Then, take a more leisurely loop around, going back to the interesting products and cheap deals. Cuts down on the bewilderment.

For cooking:
Sounds partly like you just want to get the hang of cooking with veges. Well, try looking up things that you find tasty.
For starters, try getting a good standard recipe, that you can just throw vegetables into, like a stirfry, a soup, a curry etc, in order to experiment with new vegetables.
posted by Elysum at 5:12 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older What Advice Do You Wish You Had Been Given Before...   |   Different RAM Speeds Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.