If I could put my loft on a magic carpet, fly it to New York and land it somewhere in Chelsea within walking distance of Union Square, I would do so in a heartbeat. I love the city. It is actually my favourite! And I love Union Square Farmers market and wish we had something similar in London. It is not that we don’t have enough farmers market. We have plenty. But what they don’t offer is the tremendous variety that you find in Union Square. Take the top photo for instance: beautiful, graceful hands picking okra from a selection of red and green ones. As some of you know, I was brought up in Lebanon and Syria where okra is a common vegetable but I had never seen red okra before. Nor for that matter fat okra as pretty as those with the reddish tops in the picture below. It is not my favourite vegetable but if I lived in New York, it would certainly become one. At least at this time of the year.
Aubergines, on the other hand, are one of my favourite vegetables and if I were shopping for them in NYC, I would have the choice between two different fat ones for baba ghannuge, one light and the other darker, and both with less seeds than the most common variety available in our markets in London.
I would use the long narrow ones for preserving three ways: in olive oil with the aubergines filled with a spicy walnut ‘pesto’ (maqduss), a Persian version where the blanched aubergines are filled with fresh herbs and preserved in cider vinegar and a Lebanese version, with the aubergines preserved in vinegar and water but filled with crushed garlic and a little chilli if I decide to have them spicy.
I would use the fairy tale ones to make mehshi batinjen (stuffed aubergines), with meat or vegetarian or even sheikh el-mehshi (the king of stuffed vegetables because the stuffing is only meat and nuts; will post a recipe soon but sadly not with those gorgeous just picked fairy tale beauties). I am not sure what I would do with the multi-coloured Turkish variety. They were totally new to me and I never got round to asking the vendor about them.
And I would make tons of pesto, perhaps even experimenting with the red basil.
As for the green beans, I would mix them with the yellow ones for lubiyeh bil-zeyt (beans in tomato sauce) or I would opt for any of those on offer at the specialist dried beans stall to make a wonderful hearty bean stew with pork belly.
And I would have a field day with all the different leaves and herbs on offer, not to mention the variety of radishes , tomatoes and carrots to make my daily salad, posting a recipe every other day if I had that market as my local. I have also been in winter and despite the produce being less plentiful and varied then, the market is still exciting at that time of the year.
When I lived in Paris, I often went to Brasserie Lipp and always ordered celeri remoulade. I just wish I could have easy access to such gorgeous celeriac in London (I guess I could at Bermondsey Spa but I would not call that place one with easy access).
I might even make my own grass juice. Just joking. I hate that stuff but will certainly load up on peaches and other fruit. It is so difficult to buy good peaches in London and when you find them, it is like buying jewellery!
I could also recreate the nettle pizza I once had at Chez Panisse and never forgot although I suspect they used younger leaves than those on offer in the picture below.
Or I could mix the nettles with sweet potatoes to make a variation on the potato and sorrel soup we serve at Koshari Street. Or perhaps use the multi coloured chard in our lemony lentil and chard soup. I so wish I had Aladdin’s powers. I would instruct the genie to transport me and my home this very instant!
Tagged : aladdin and the genie, aubergine varieties, baba ghannuge, brasserie lipp, celeri remoulade, edamame, farmers markets, just picked produce, ladies fingers, Lebanon, lofts, magical carpet, mehshi batinjen, nettles, new york, okra, paris, pepper varieties, red okra, salad leaves, seasonal produce, sheikh el-mehshi, syria, union square farmers market 8