Isn’t it easy to slip into a recipe rut? We’ve all been there: Falling back on the same handful of meals to get us through the week, hitting the grocery store to gather the ingredients needed for each. But a recent trip to the farmer’s market made me realize that I’d been doing my meal planning backwards: I should find local ingredients first and plan menus around what’s available.
Our family has several go-to recipes, like spinach pizza, which we find ourselves making all year long, regardless of whether everything’s coming up spinach at our local farm or whether the spinach had been shipped across the continent to our local grocery store. But this approach to cooking has some major downsides. The most obvious one is the fuel it takes to ship spinach to my grocery store. Plus, this kind of meal planning leads to boring eats, to making the same old recipes with the same old ingredients week after week.
Buying what’s local and in-season not only helps families and farms stay healthy; it puts some inspiration and diversity back into mealtimes. On the day our local farmer’s market opened for the season, I was surprised to see little round zucchinis labeled “cousa squash” sitting in a basket. The named jogged a memory of my husband, Brian, talking about the stuffed cousa he used to eat as a kid. So I bought three of them and for dinner that night we ate the Lebanese dish of ground beef, rice, and spices stuffed into the hollowed-out squash. It was a huge hit with my husband and daughter (and me!)
Over the next few weeks, I found more recipe inspiration at the farmer’s market. Not only did these dishes break up the monotony of our regular rotation of dinners, but they tasted super fresh and came with the added bonus of supporting our local farms and economy. Crispy lettuce and farm-made cheese and sausage became a meal of sausage sandwiches with salad and crumbled feta. Pretty little eggplants became eggplant parmesan. Zucchini became zucchini bread for our breakfasts and pan-fried zucchini rounds coated in crispy breadcrumbs for a savory side dish. And when I spotted a bag of freshly picked spinach at the farm stand, I snapped it up. Sure enough, our stand-by spinach pizza tasted better than ever.
What meals have you created around seasonal food finds?