Bio Abroad: Riga Central Market

 Outdoor market stands surrounding Riga Central Market's Art Deco inspired indoor market

Outdoor market stands surrounding Riga Central Market's Art Deco inspired indoor market

I've often written on the blog about how I love to visit markets when I travel. Whenever I plan a trip abroad, I always include market visits in the itinerary and I'm never disappointed that I did.

Discovering a city through it's markets has brought me to off-the-beaten path neighborhoods in Istanbul and revealed all kinds of regional ingredients in the southern states of the US, not to mention the lovely markets that have become favorites in London, Brussels, and San Francisco

Even if you're not as manic about markets as I am, there are certain markets that should not be missed if you happen to find yourself in their city, and Riga's Central Market is undoubtedly one of them. 

Located not far from the charming cobblestone streets of Old Riga, Riga's market is made up of a maze of outdoor stalls overflowing from a series of transformed Zeppelin hangars that now serve as indoor markets. Built in the 1920-30s, the Art Deco inspired architecture extends what is typical of the bulding style in the city, but in a much more functional form. 

The indoor market, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to vendors selling cheese, meat, and pastries typical of the region. You will also find a large selection of tea, coffee, preserved fish, and other Latvian specialties

My favorite part of the market to explore was the open-air food market that takes place all around the indoor market structures. Here choice was refreshingly limited, indicating a concentration of locally grown, seasonal produce. What was on offer was beautiful and abundant; bright red strawberries, bunches of cherries,  cucumbers and spring onions mixed with the season's first tomatoes. I also loved the stands of dried herbs and flowers, where you could put together your own bouquet of ingredients to make personalized herbal teas

 Homemade dill pickles sold along with everything you need to make your own; dill, garlic, and cucumbers!

Homemade dill pickles sold along with everything you need to make your own; dill, garlic, and cucumbers!

 

I was curious to see that many stands had large glass vases that were stuffed with bright greens and garlic heads. I investigated further and, to my great joy, found out that these were crocks of homemade dill pickles- one of my favorite things ever and my go-to comfort food after a long night out (Riga is also a really great place for nights out, by the way). 

Along with pickles, you can also buy handmade socks, scarves, and wicker baskets, which make nice souvenirs of your Latvian adventure! 

 Dried herbs and flowers from making herbal tea

Dried herbs and flowers from making herbal tea


Riga Central Market

Nēģu iela 7, Rīga, LV-1050

Open daily 7h-18h

Bio Abroad: Farmers Markets of the Southern States- Nashville & New Orleans

Locally grown bell peppers at Nashville's Farmers Market When my dear friend Stacey told us she was going to have her wedding in the Honky Tonk capital Nashville, Tennessee my husband and I happily set to organizing a tour of the southern states, a region in the U.S.  that I had never visited before and was curious to discover.

Thanks to a friend who owns a bakery in Nashville, I had been made privy to the awesomeness of their extensive farmers market city and was excited to exploring its aisles of local veggies and artisanal offerings. I was curious to see what would be in season during a southern summer and maybe experiment with some ingredients that were uncommon in my native California and unheard of in my adopted home of France.

While planning or Tennessee trip, we decided to add a visit to New Orleans to our itinerary, making this an all-around gourmand gambol given this region's rich culinary history and traditions.

Grits and Shrimp for lunch at Marché in East Nashville

In Tennessee we began our adventure in regional specialities as all good adventures should begin, which is to say with a good meal. This particular meal was a lunch at Marché Artisan Foods where I enjoyed a plate of buttery (and locally milled) Falls Mill grits topped with fresh, seasonal corn, peppers, and shrimp.

Before leaving the restaurant, I picked up a small sack of grits along with our second bag of locally roasted Drew's Brews coffee which had been steadily helping us head off the unfortunate affects of jet lag.

Falls Mills grits and pancake mix, milled locally in Tennessee

I was happy to have grabbed the grits a few days later, when we planned an outdoor grill and gathering with the out-of-town guests and the just married husband and wife. On the menu was grits and....we weren't sure what else. This conundrum presented the perfect opportunity to head to the Nashville Farmers Market and see what was in season.

Located just south of the city center, the Nashville Farmers Market is an extensive indoor and outdoor space that provides local farms and independent producers with a space to sell their locally grown and artisanal goods.

Producers only at the Nashville Farmers Market

A tour of the market gave insight to what was in season in the region, with tomato varieties, corn, summer squash, fresh beans, and greens standing out as stars of the summer months. Hot peppers such as jalepeno and regional favorites like okra were also on hand.

I stopped to admire a wall of pickled delicacies at the Robertson Produce stand, suppressing my urge to stock up on jars of dill pickles, salsas, and pickled beets. Deciding that future me would not appreciate present me's decision to load up on heavy carry on's before an international flight, I joined my co-chefs in assembling ingredients for our farm fresh dinner that night.

Pickled goodness at the Nashville Farmers Market

I'm still am not sure what to do with okra (when we asked the vendor at the market for preparation advice she simply replied "boil it"- which made me miss for a moment my favorite Paris market vendors and their emphatic explanations and recipes that I invariably would have had in response) and my unconventional idea of making a salad out of the hull beans led another vendor to look at my husband with sympathetic eyes, wishing she could add some lard and ham into my market bag so he could taste the real thing, I think me and my travel mates did pretty well at our first southern market.

Our menu included roasted summer squash, bell peppers, and okra over grits, a kale, tomato, & purple hull bean salad, followed by grilled peaches for desert (the lovely corn we picked up didn't make it to the final menu- FYI, you can't grill corn on an open fire. But what adventure in cooking is complete without a minor fail?).

List of seasonal items available at the New Orleans Farmers Market

I wouldn't have another farmers market visit until we made it to New Orleans, where I was able to check out the Saturday incarnation of the Crescent City Farmers Market. As you enter into the garage and that lends itself to this weekly market, you are greeted by a chalkboard that lists what is in season and at the market.

Early August promised basil, "creole" tomatoes (a regional specialty at the origin of an interesting local tradition), peaches, watermelon, and other homemade goodies.

NOLA market

I enjoyed a freshly pressed beet and watermelon juice and enjoyed watching the locals shop for parsley and basil plants, locally fished shrimp by the pound, and chat over peaches and the produce that makes up quintessential southern summer meals.

Market visits never fail to enhance a visit to a new place, both culturally and in the kitchen. Nashville's 7 days-a-week, year-round farmers market proves that there is a real and consistent demand for locally grown farm-fresh produce. New Orleans' Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday markets also meet this demand and were one of the few spots I found fresh produce available while staying in the city.

Heirloom tomatoes at Nashville's Farmers Market

After two weeks of exploring the south, eating in restaurants and experiencing local specialties such as catfish, fried pickles and... fried everything, really (imagine my Frenchman's face when he was served fried oysters) I was ready to come back to Paris and fill my kitchen with fresh fruits and vegetables for homemade meals.

I did, however, regret not bringing back at least one jar of pickled deliciousness. That nagging regret coupled with the onset of early nostalgia for the summer that sets in upon returning from summer vacation inspired me to seal up some of the season's flavors before autumn arrives. These Dilly Beans, adapted from Sandor Katz's recipe, seemed a perfect marriage of the French favorite, green beans, with a dill pickle twist.

Pickled Dill Beans sealed in a heat packed Ball jar

 Dill Pickled Green Beans

makes 1 jar, increase proportionally for each additional jar

Ingredients:

Two handfuls of green beans (enough to fill a jar- about 1/2 lb, or 1 kilo)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and left whole

1 tsp sea salt

small bunch fresh dill

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup of water

1 sealable canning jar & 1 large pot to boil canning jar in

Steps:

1) Thoroughly wash your canning jar- the jar should be a standard mason jar or any jar with a lid that will seal hermetically when boiled.

2) Add garlic, salt, and dill to jars. Fill with green beans, arranging them vertically in the jar. Fill the jar with as many green beans as you can fit.

3) Boil the water and vinegar together in a small pot. Once this mixture comes to a boil, pour it over the green beans. Don't fill completely- be sure to leave about a half an inch from the top of the jar.

4) Close the jar and then submerge completely in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Store for 4-6 weeks and enjoy as a snack or atop a Bloody Mary!

Dill Pickled green beans garnish a Bloody Mary at Stanley in New Orleans

Bio Abroad: Istanbul markets and Turkish Flavors

Beans and Peppers at Istanbul's Tarlibasi market Last month I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Istanbul. While visiting this breathtaking city I discovered its history, traditions, and its stunning setting overlooking the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus Strait.

I'm repeating myself here, but whenever I visit a new city one of the first things I do is find out where the markets are and make them the first stops on my itinerary. Once we got to Istanbul, I wanted to see the Inebolu Sunday market, named for the town where the produce sold at the market is grown.

Fresh produce at Istanbul's Inebolu market

My sister and travel partner was patient enough to trek along with me, trying to find this market on our first day in town. We wandered through streets and neighborhoods near Taksim Square, which were filled with families enjoying their weekendsoutside amidst beat-up cars and underneath lines of laundry hung out to dry.

Istanbul and the recent citizen uprising  is currently receiving a lot of attention in the news, but these were the days before the protestors took to the streets and these modest neighborhoods, which even in times of civil rest are known to be rough, were surprisingly peaceful and welcoming despite the fact that we were not from there.

Piles of white cheese are a common site at Istanbul markets

While navigating the winding streets to the Inebolu Market, we stumbled upon an unexpected treasure- an enormous open-air food market that I later found out was the Tarlabasi market.

Produce, cheese, even baby chicks, intermingled with clothes, housewares, shampoo, and spices. Awkwardly gesturing we managed to purchase a kilo of strawberries and stopped in front of a few stalls, noticing that the seasonal produce seemed similar to what we find in France, but with more of a selection in beans, peppers, and summer squash.

 

Rose petals at Inebolu market

Inebolu Market was smaller, but stands were stocked with mounds of fresh products, including white cheese and butter that was served in slabs and scoops. Rose petals and other fresh herbs were also on sale. Here I found some of the telltale signs of farm-fresh produce: dirty veggies of all shapes and sizes that were grown with respect to the season.

After our short visits to a small selection of Istanbul markets, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know more about the food that is sold at the markets and the people who shop there.

A few days later I had an opportunity to have some of these questions answered. My sister and I had enrolled in a cooking class with Turkish Flavors, the Istanbul-based cooking school. Selin Rozanes, our host and instructor, guided us through making delicious traditional Turkish dishes such as Spicy Bulgur Wheat Salad, Split Belly Eggplant, and Stuffed Apricots.

Turkish Flavors cooking school in Istanbul

Selin was also kind enough to take some time to tell me more about market culture in Istanbul. I wasn't surprised to hear that in this city, as in Paris, the independent producers are slowly disappearing from the markets. Selin recommended a few favorite markets, including the organic market in Ferikoy and the Inebolu market because these are markets where "you can buy directly from the farmers and producers."

Selin says that many people in Istanbul still do their shopping at the markets, because the produce is "fresher and sometimes less expensive than in the supermarkets." In summer Selin looks for her favorite fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, green beans, borlotti beans, and peaches.

Selin Rozanes, founder of Turkish Flavors

The self-taught chef is dedicated to using fresh, seasonal ingredients in her recipes because she strives to create healthy meals using whole foods. "Ingredients that are grown out of season grow in hot houses," Selin explained to me, "plenty of fertilizers and hormones are used to grow them artificially to look the same as they would look in season. Those additions that help fast growth and make the vegetables look good are unhealthy for us."

Selin's cooking classes reflect her commitment to continuing the Turkish tradition of using high quality ingredients to make meals that bring people together. She inspires students to go home and recreate these amazing dishes for their friends and family and is happy to help you find sourcing for ingredients no matter where you call home.

Fresh and seasonal ingredients at a Turkish Flavors cooking class

Selin was kind enough to share her recipe for Borlotti Beans Cooked in Olive Oil.

Thanks Selin!

 

Speckled Borlotti beans are one of Selin's favorite summer vegetables

Borlotti Beans Cooked in Olive Oil

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh borlotti beans

1 sweet banana pepper

1 medium tomato

2 medium onions

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup hot water

lemon juice (when served)

Directions

Wash the fresh borlotti beans in plenty of cold water, set aside. If you can not find fresh borlotti beans, you can use dried borlotti beans but you have to soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. When you are ready to cook the beans, place them in your pot, add boiling water and boil the beans at high heat for five to ten minutes. Take the pot off the heat, discard the water you have just boiled the beans in, put the beans in a container and set them aside.

Finely chop the onions. You can use a food processor for chopping but be sure not do overdo it - you should not end up with an onion pureeLightly crush the garlic gloves

Slice the banana peppers. The slices should be about 1/4 inch thick. Chop the tomato, set aside. Boil the water, set aside.

Heat the olive oil in your cooking pot or the pressure cooker. Add the onions, peppers and the garlic cloves. Sauté until the onions are tender and look shiny and golden in color. Add the borlotti beans and continue to sauté for about two to three more minutes. Add the chopped tomato. Gently pour the hot water, add the salt and the sugar. If you are using dried beans increase the water amount to 1.5 cupsIf you are using a regular pot, reduce the heat as soon as the water begins to boil and simmer for 1 - 1.5 hours until the beans are tender.

If you are using a pressure cooker, 20 minutes is sufficient to achieve the right tenderness. If you are using dried beans, cook for 35 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Add a little lemon juice to each plate for zest.