Take a moment to step aside from your summer stone fruit coma and check out some of the other great summer produce at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets.
Many people are not familiar with okra, a delicacy in southern states like Louisiana. Okra is a smaller, pretty, long, and skinny green vegetable that loves hot weather and is Mediterranean in origin. It grows in places with lots of heat like the low desert and interior valley of Southern California. It grows on a bush that can grow four to five feet tall and is an annual, drought tolerant plant that will continue to produce as long as the warm weather lasts. It is a bit fuzzy and farmers often get itchy when picking it. Not everyone likes the taste of okra, but that is probably because they have never had it prepared well. (When I mentioned okra to a friend recently, he cringed, remembering his college hazing days when fraternity brothers placed a mushy, gooey plate of what they called “elephant snot pie” in front of him and made him eat it. It was okra.) When properly prepared, okra is a delicacy. Steve Roberts, chef and owner of Café Boogaloo in Hermosa Beach, has been shopping at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets for 13 years. Being a Louisiana native, he loves gumbo and says it is at its best in gumbo. Sautee okra in olive oil and add it to gumbo right before serving; it is a natural thickener. Or soak okra in buttermilk, then dip it in an egg batter and bread it with cornmeal and fry it. Several farmers, including Elmer Lehman and Xiong Pao Her at the Wednesday Market, grow okra.
Another summer specialty is the Reed avocado. Reeds are a round summer variety of avocado that are in season from about July to September; the range in size from that of a tennis ball up to the size of a softball. They have bright green skin with slight pebbling and stay green even when ripe (other varieties like Hass often have black skin when ripe). Reeds store well and have buttery flesh and a creamier texture than other varieties and do not turn brown when cut. They are more watery than other varieties and have less oil, so if making guacamole mix Reeds with other varieties. You can find Reed avocados from many farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets.SPECIAL EVENT: Melon Mania is coming to the Wednesday Market on July 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Arizona Avenue and Third Street Promenade, hosted by culinary students from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California – Los Angeles. Come out and taste all the seasonal varieties of melons available at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets and admire the beautiful melon carvings created by the culinary students.