I'm unfailingly happy whenever I have a chance to do a cooking event, because I always leave a little bit high on the positive energy of people connecting with each other over food and cooking. So when the NYC Greenmarket asked if I would spend a day at the farmer's market in support of their Regional Grains Project, I was one big YES. I spent pretty much every weekend in my 20s selling fruits and veggies at markets around the city, wrote this farm family cookbook, and work hard at the cafe to use local products as much as possible. In short, the love runs deep (as my over-stuffed fridge is always reminding me).
In case you aren't familiar, the Grains Project is a fantastic initiaitive to revitalize and sustainably scale up the production of grains in the Northeast. For example: Did you know that because of the Grains Project, any baked good you purchase at the Greenmarket must contain at least 15% locally grown and milled grain? Or that Greenmarket bakers use 65,000 pounds (pounds!) of locally milled flour each month? You can now find the coolest products right at the market, from emmer (farro) to spelt berries to einkorn flour to the insanely fragrant bag of roasted white cornmeal I took home with me (full product list and where to find them here).
Greenmarket asked me to share a grain-filled dish at Park Slope's Grand Army Plaza market. Since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and finally getting a little blustery, I simmered up a pot of Moroccan-inspired harira, a hearty autumnal soup that I laced with spelt, pumpkin and fragrant spices. We passed out recipe copies at the market, but underestimated the enthusiasm of hungry lunch hour shoppers so--oops!--we ran out; as promised, I am including the recipe below for all of you who missed it.
Thanks again to June Russell, Gabriella Stern, and the wonderful Greenmarket folks for having me, and of course, a big thanks to all the customers who stopped by and left me buzzing yet again.
Autumn Spelt and Pumpkin Harira
Spelt is an ancient wheat variety with a sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture similar to wheat berries, but if you can't find it, don't sweat it. This adaptable recipe will be just as happy with freekeh or emmer or your other favorite local grain, though you may need to adjust the cooking time.
Makes 3 quarts to serve 8
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 medium onions (7 ounces), peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon fine sea salt, more as needed
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated
1 cup finely diced fennel, fronds reserved
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons Baharat Spice Mix (see note)
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 quarts chicken broth or vegetable broth, more as needed
1 1/3 cups spelt or freekeh
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup red lentils
Large pinch crumbled saffron, optional
2 1/2 cups peeled and finely diced winter squash
Tangy plain yogurt, as needed
Aleppo pepper or hot paprika, as needed
1. Warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Toss onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir into pot with 2 tablespoons water. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until very soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking over medium-high heat until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes more. While the onions are cooking, finely chop the cilantro stems. Stir stems into the pot, along with fennel and garlic and cook 2 minutes. Stir in spices and tomato paste; cook until paste begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.
2. Stir in the stock, 2 cups water, spelt, chickpeas, lentils and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Stir in saffron if using and reduce heat to medium. Simmer steadily, uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir in squash and continue cooking until spelt is cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired.
3. Ladle soup into bowls. Spoon a dollop of yogurt on top and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with cilantro leaves and Aleppo pepper.
Note: To make Baharat Spice Mix, in a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1 teaspoon allspice. Yield: 1/2 cup.