Summer Salsas and Sangrias… and Sustainability

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Tabitha, Melissa, some sangria, and the obligatory iced tea cup

My friend Susan recently had a birthday, so I signed us both up for a cooking class at Fresh Prep Kitchen – they have recently expanded to include cooking classes. Of course, since we’re in Santa Cruz, their classes are somewhat different from the “mainstream” cooking classes offered elsewhere. Rather than teaching you how to make frou-frou dishes of various types, their classes are generally focussed on creating dishes from sustainable food of one form or another.

Last night we headed to Fresh Prep to attend our class, Summer Salsas and Sangrias. The women who taught this class (Tabitha Stroup and Melissa Schilling) are wine and cheese experts with extensive knowledge in food history, local cuisine, and food pairings in general. They teach classes in various topics throughout the bay area, and are known to many as the “Cheese Chicks.”

Throughout the class, there was an overarching theme of sustainability and the eating of fresh, seasonable foods (along the lines of the 100 Mile Diet movement). Several of my friends in other regions have started following these guidelines, and spending time in this class talking about eating local foods reminded me how lucky I am to live in the Monterey Bay Area, where almost everything I could possibly need (except for chocolate) is grown reasonably close to our house. We have farmers markets most days of the week, and some of them go all year… and as most of us know, if you buy food that is in season and grown close to you, the flavors are orders of magnitude better. It does take some time and commitment to get down to the farmer’s market, but I’m going to make a point of trying to do so regularly.

Another point that Tabitha made was that foods that like the same climates generally like each other as well. Peppers, tomatoes, limes… all of these foods like hot, dry climates. And when you mix them together they create a wonderful combination in your mouth. Regional cuisines of the world are historically built around the foods that are indigenous to those climates, and working with those pairings helps create foods that naturally work together in recipes. She’s not a huge fan of fusion foods – she said she generally finds that fusion creates confusion.

As with any situation where you’re talking with people who are passionate about a topic, we had several fascinating digressions during the class. We had a fairly extensive side discussion about local, fresh eggs and how much better they are than the grocery store eggs (and why). We talked about David Masumoto’s San Juaquin valley peach farm and his book Epitaph for a Peach, and how his drive to grow heirloom peaches brought about the first Farmer’s Market in California. Melissa told us about going to a dinner at Secret Sea Cove Beach with the folks from Outstanding in the Field at Secret Cove Beach, where the growers of many ingredients were there along with the chefs who created the dinner courses.

But, back to the main topic… Salsas and sangrias are recipes where you can just go find the current fresh food and mix it together to good effect. There were two salsas of this type (coarsely chopped stuff thrown together) and two more precise blended sauces. One of those was a really wonderful chili salsa (which they also presented on some tilapia) and the other one (the pumpkin tomatillo salsa, similar to that found at the Bijou Cafe in Portland) was worth the price of admission by itself.

In any case, we had a great time. Since Susan and I are both growing heirloom tomatoes, we’ll definitely be going to the Celebration of the Tomato class in September, where Tabitha said she’d be teaching us how to make Tomato Sorbet, along with several other things. Given the monstrous size of my tomato plants, I think I’ll be needing those recipes. I just have to find something red to wear…

Obligatory Recipe

We did get a sangria recipe, but I actually preferred the one they presented which was more haphazardly thrown together, which ended up being something like:

1) Go to the farmers market and find some fresh seasonal fruits . Watermelon, Peaches, citrus, whathaveyou (cucumbers work too). It’s important that at least some of the fruit be citrus, and you want to end up with about 2 cups of fruit (or more if you want your sangria to be extra fruity)

2) Chop it up and throw it in a jar, and add 4 oz of Pimms No. 1, 2 oz fresh orange juice and a little sugar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

3) Let it sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator, and when you’re ready to serve it add a 750 ml bottle of chilled sparkling wine. Pour it into glasses over ice and enjoy.

Dialogue & Discussion