The Dark Days of winter are over.
It’s not because of the arrival of spring, April or even the gift that is daylight saving time.
It’s because the early spring Everett Farmers Market opened, to my surprise, on March 31 at Everett Community College.
This new market, a precursor to the larger Sunday market starting May 30, changed everything for me during Week 20 of the eat-local Dark Days Challenge. After nearly half a year of dutifully schlepping to Seattle farmers markets and other scattered local food outlets, I was delighted to find a dozen vendors at the first-ever early spring market.
You can go, too: It’s open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and every Wednesday through June 2.
Did my visit to the market reveal the full bounty of spring?
No. It’s too early for that.
But the novelty of fresh local herbs, spinach, beets and spring garlic was worth the trip, not to mention local honey, eggs, cheeses, nuts, apples, potatoes, onions, flowers, plants and Dungeness crab.
I wanted to buy it all.
Inspired by the euphoric, carefree feeling farmers markets always seem bring out in me, I decided to celebrate with an early spring salad built almost exclusively around the market, the first of many to open soon in Snohomish County. I started with a base of beautiful fresh spinach leaves from the booth for Frog’s Song Farm of Fir Island, where I also bought beets and spring garlic.
Spring garlic isn’t like bulb garlic. It’s long and skinny and sold in little bunches like green onions or scallions. Like green onions, it can be eaten raw because of its mild flavor.
From Snohomish Bakery, I bought a salt-crusted loaf of rosemary and sun-dried tomato bread. Doesn’t any good salad deserve a slice of local bread on the side?
When I saw Island Fresh Seafoods of Anacortes selling whole crabs, caught and cooked the previous day, I couldn’t resist. What would it hurt to throw a little crab on top of a salad?
Unrelated to the salad, I also grabbed honey sticks and some rare Honey Crisp apples from Eastern Washington farmers, plus eggs from Frog Chorus Farm of Snohomish, where Kathryn Kerby was promoting a vast and interesting CSA share program.
After work that night, I put together an oddball salad.
I started by roasting the beets, which I had never done before, to add color and flavor in lieu of tomatoes.
When I cut them into pieces, I realized they were the coveted Chioggia variety, featuring white and red rings reminiscent of a peppermint hard candy. Lovely.
Using some ingredients I already had on hand, I diced some Golden Glen cheddar, frizzled some local shallots and shredded some raw sunchokes to add an especially crunchy note.
I also sliced the fresh garlic into tiny coins and threw them into the mix of Frog’s Song spinach and fresh greens from Anselmo Farms of Snohomish (bought at the Ballard market).
When I turned my attention to my 1½-pound crab, I was honestly kind of terrified by its wild, invertebrate features and textures. (My 2-year-old son calls them spiders for a reason.)
I made quick work of the legs using our Christmas nut-cracking tools and kitchen shears. It was the body that I struggled to navigate. I’m sure I missed some meat.
In the end, the animal yielded about 4 ounces of crab. Not bad.
I gave some to my carnivorous husband to enjoy as a one-note amuse-bouche before his non-local meal of burgers. I used the rest as a topping on my salad.
Of course, the crab was delicious. Crab tastes to me like pure luxury, better than lobster any day, and this was local crab.
There was a small problem: The delicate Dungeness crab didn’t really make sense in my salad of otherwise bold flavors. It tasted great but didn’t seem to have a reason to be in that particular salad.
And, yet, the salad was divine anyway. I loved the mix of fresh garlic, cheese, beets and shallots with the bread on the side.
I drizzled the salad, but not the crab, with a bit of store-bought, non-local dressing. This was not my proudest moment. I know how to make good vinaigrette.
But, let’s not beat ourselves up too much for not making every meal and award-winning, life-changing feast. (I’m just going to take the crab out of this week’s recipe.)
I’ve learned from this challenge that you do what you can. You experiment with what you find. You cook with the seasons and your skills, even if they’re both limited, and you hope for the best.
And, in the end, you’re fed and full and the farmers, who you now know by name, are better off.
Next week, I’ll check back in with one final Dark Days installment. I’ll take a break from cooking and share lessons learned and how I plan to approach local food this summer and, more important, next winter.
See www.heraldnet.com/ecogeek for a list of farmers markets opening in Snohomish County. Find more Dark Days ideas at urbanhennery.com.
Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, email@example.com.
Early spring salad
1/2 cup small young beets, cut into half-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, sliced and broken into rings
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cups loose leaf lettuce, torn into pieces
5 cups spinach, stems removed
1/4 cup spring garlic, sliced into thin coins
1/4 cup sunchokes, julienned
1/2 cup aged white cheddar cheese, diced
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss beets with olive oil in a baking dish, cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes or until beets are tender but not mushy. Cool.
Toss shallots with flour and salt and pepper to taste. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high until hot. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 5 minutes. Transfer shallots to a paper-towel lined plate to cool.
Place lettuce, spinach, spring garlic, sunchokes and cheese in a large salad bowl. Add beets and toss with a vinaigrette. Top with fried shallots.
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake vigorously to combine.
Pour over salad immediately. Double or triple the recipe and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week.