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Modern Comfort Food: Think Produce!

Modern Comfort Food: Think Produce!

Like all things culinary these days, comfort food is evolving to meet the ever-changing wants and needs of the modern diner. With such a strong focus on health and plant-based/clean eating, it makes sense that the comfort category would get a makeover to appeal to the growing number of Millennials driving these trends. Even if the dish retains its essence (let’s face it, mac and cheese is never going to be health food), a growing number of chefs are creating balance by adding more nutritious produce and interesting flavors from citrus zests, worldly spices, and fresh herbs.

Markon First Crop (MFC) Carrots

  • Pair them with: cinnamon, garbanzo beans, honey, lamb, oranges, and parsley.
  • Try these preparations: pickle and serve as bar snacks or use as garnishes; roast with garlic oil until tender, then drizzle with curried yogurt sauce; grate and fry into latkes, and bake into cakes and muffins.
  • Benefits: Their elevated beta-carotene levels are converted into vitamin A by the liver, then transformed in the eye’s retina to rhodopsin to help night vision. Also said to fight cancer, stroke, and heart disease, as well as slow aging protect teeth and gums.
  • Specific usage tip: Give balance to fried chicken by serving with lightly pickled shaved carrots and cucumbers. Add coconut to the fried chicken batter and soak the vegetables in a rice wine vinegar-sesame oil brine (see photo link below).
  • Did you know? The urban legend that if you eat a lot of carrots you will see better in the dark started in World War II. British gunners were shooting down German planes at night and to disguise their use of radar technologies, the RAF created a story about their pilots' high level of carrot consumption.

MFC Grapes

  • Pair them with: creamy cheeses (think Brie and Camembert), game hens, kale, pistachios, rosemary, sweet potatoes, and yogurt.
  • Try these preparations: bake whole grapes and rosemary into focaccia bread for a sweet-yet-savory starter; serve a sophisticated, open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich with house-made grape jam and crusty baguettes; stir into creamy broccoli-onion and pasta salads; sauté with chopped kale, and roast with whole sweet potatoes.
  • Benefits: In addition to high levels of vitamin B6, thiamin, potassium, and vitamin C, grapes’ resveratrol content is often thought to fight against brain and heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin cancer, and inflammation.
  • Specific usage tip: Toss red seedless grapes with olive oil, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Roast until tender and serve with toasted bread and rich cheese such as Brie, chevre, or house-made Ricotta (see photo link below).
  • Did you know? There are over 8,000 grape varieties around the world. Most of North America’s grapes are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley, but the oldest grapevine in America is a 400-year-old Scuppernong vine in North Carolina.

Markon Essentials Cauliflower

  • Pair with: Blue cheese and Buffalo sauce, caramelized shallots, Parmesan cheese, roasted garlic, sautéed mushrooms, sweet and sour sauce, vinegar, and za’atar.
  • Try these preparations: roast whole heads slathered in a spicy yogurt marinade, purée as a low-carb alternative to mashed potatoes, batter and fry as a meat substitute in Asian recipes, and toss with pesto and pasta.
  • Benefits: Although green vegetables may contain more chlorophyll, cauliflower is also an excellent source of vitamins A and K, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, niacin, magnesium, and biotin.
  • Specific usage tip: Slice whole cauliflower heads into thick slabs, or “steaks.” Sauté until tender inside and browned outside. Serve with sautéed mushrooms, fried shallot rings, and chopped radicchio (see photo link below).
  • Did you know that individual cauliflowers can grow as large as 30 inches both in height and width?

Ready-Set-Serve Brussels Sprouts

  • Pair them with: balsamic syrup, cranberries, cream, garam masala, hazelnuts, onions, polenta, salty bacon, sharp cheeses, and soy sauce.
  • Try these preparations: Quarter and drop into broth-based soups, roast with roast with whole chickens and turkeys, mix into mayonnaise-based salads, roast the leaves for garnishes or add to salads, and add to stir-fries and fried rice dishes.
  • Benefits: As one of the world’s most favorite cruciferous vegetables, these tiny cabbages have a high glucosinolate content, said to be cancer-protecting substances. They are also thought to help lower cholesterol and aid against thyroid problems.
  • Specific usage tip: Sauté Brussels sprouts with red onions until both are starting to caramelize. Add curry paste and fresh cranberries and cook until the berries soften. Serve with roasted turkey or pot roast (see photo link below).
  • Did you know? The heaviest sprout was grown in 1992 in the United Kingdom and weighed 8.3kg (18lb/3oz).

Winter squashes (Acorn, Butternut, Kabocha, etc.)

  • Pair them with: brown sugar, butter, curry pastes, fresh sage and thyme, ham, pecans, pomegranate, potatoes, turkey, and vanilla bean.
  • Try these preparations: Braise alongside meat roasts, purée and add to mashed potatoes, drop into seasonal soups and pasta dishes, use to give mac-and-cheese an upgrade, and simmer in curries and stews.
  • Benefits: Low in fat and high in fiber, most winter squashes boast elevated levels of carotenoids, which may help fight heart disease, macular degeneration, and several cancers. Their high antioxidant content may also help with inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
  • Specific usage tip: Opt for the gluten-free substitute of Butternut squash in place of floury gnocchi. Boil peeled and cubed squash until tender, then sauté in brown butter with garlic and sage. Deglaze with sherry vinegar and garnish with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and shaved Pecorino cheese (see photo link below).
  • Did you know? The majority of winter variety squashes originated in South America, where they were an important part of the pre-Columbian diet for as many as 5,000-10,000 years. Many people throughout the world believe eating pumpkin-like squashes boosts health in during the cold months.

For more culinary inspiration, visit Markon on Your Menu where you can find recipes, the latest trends, and even get answers to your tough questions from our Markon Member Chefs.

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