I had the first fundraiser for my new job on Wednesday. It was great fun, but also taxing. Nothing like a 13-hour workday that starts and ends with manual labor, in between which you have to get dolled up in a bathroom stall and then meet a few hundred people!
While the event featured upwards of 60 of New York City’s finest restaurants and beverage purveyors, I arrived home ravenously hungry. (My predecessor had warned me that I should task people with making sure I ate, but somehow I failed to listen.) Luckily, I had tortillas, eggs, tomatoes, a jalapeño, and some cilantro on hand, which made for a lovely midnight snack.
The alarm went off at 7:00am on Saturday. I hauled my weary body out of bed, cleaned up, downed some coffee and hopped the 3 train to the second to last stop, Van Siclen Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. I was there to check out some of Just Food‘s programs, starting with a Meet Your Farmer event for food pantry recipients at New Hope Family Worship Center. Eileen, Nicholas and their two farmhands had risen far earlier than I had in order to make the drive down from Whistle Down Farm in Claverack, New York–the four of them crammed into a van alongside the organic vegetables that they grow especially for this site and two other food pantries in the Bronx.
Many of the clients already knew the farmers, as they had visited the farm earlier in the season. Eileen and Nicholas shared a bit about their farm and the techniques that they use to grow vegetables without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The pantry workers and clients shared their experience with the program and put in requests for vegetables they would like to see next year. Scotch bonnet peppers, greens and more Italian frying peppers topped the list, as did okra (which is apparently tough to grow in the Northeast). The event concluded with a cooking demonstration featuring the carrots that were in this week’s vegetable allotment.
The pantry opened for distribution and the rest of us headed across the street to the East New York Farms! Farmers’ Market, which runs from 9:00am to 3:00pm every Saturday from late June through mid-November at Schenck Avenue and New Lots Avenue. (They run a second market on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 6:30pm at New Lots Avenue and Georgia Avenue.) In addition to a wide variety of prepared Caribbean dishes and natural health care products, the market features produce from a couple of regional farms and from nearby community gardens.
I made a beeline for the Youth Farm stand, as I had sampled their Scotch bonnets in one of the few dishes I did manage to try at Wednesday’s fundraiser and was eager to get my hands on some. (That’s the farm off to the left in the picture below.) Turns out they had figs as well, which made me a very happy girl.
A few stalls down, I stumbled on callaloo, which I’ve been curious to try my hand at ever since I discovered that the vegan Jamaican place around the corner from my apartment sells callaloo patties. The green in question, pictured below, is actually amaranth leaves, but is commonly referred to as callaloo, which is the name of several different dishes prepared using the leaves. Each island seems to have its own interpretation of callaloo, so I went with my instinct and the ingredients that I happened to have on hand.
East New York Callaloo Stew
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 ounce slab bacon, diced
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 4 cups lobster, shrimp or crab stock
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper
- 2 cups peeled and cubed winter squash (delicata, butternut, pumpkin, etc.)
- 4 cups finely chopped callaloo leaves (or water spinach, swiss chard, collards or other greens)
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper
- Add coconut oil to large pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook stirring continuously until partially rendered. (Do not let is get crispy.) Add onions and sauté until soft. Add bell peppers and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add thyme, allspice and garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
- Raise heat to high, pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the squash and Scotch bonnet. Let simmer until squash is very tender, approximately 30 minutes. Add the greens, zest and lime juice. Let simmer for another 30 minutes or longer if you like your greens very tender. Give it a taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you could stand more heat, pop the Scotch bonnet open and let simmer for a while longer. Just be sure to fish it out before serving, lest someone get a major surprise.