Down on the FARM, Up with What’s Local

By Herb Gardener.

Perhaps you are ready for regime change in North Korea, but what about in your kitchen? Indiana favorite son and acclaimed chef Daniel Orr has written a Midwestern manifesto for locavores everywhere called FARMfood: Green Living with Chef Daniel Orr. From Cattail Pollen Biscuits to Don’t’ Let Your Man-Go Hot Sauce there’s much to admire in this challenge to the 30-minute meal culture, but Orr’s ambitions may overwhelm those who prefer a conventional recipe collection.

The book is well designed. The landscape orientation and flexible binding allow nearly any page to open and lay flat on the counter. Playful graphics and color used as an organizational tool support and emphasize the book’s thematic elements. Many of the photos feature farmers’ market images—Rubenesque eggplants or blushing tomatoes—rather than finished dishes to remind readers that fresh ingredients and a cook’s respect and attention are what make great meals. Orr even inserts a chapter called FARM gardening where he dispenses advice for attracting butterflies and repelling deer.

Chapter one, FARM spice, begins with an all-purpose mixture dubbed New Regime and continues with several other blends that capture the culinary essence of Orr’s travels. These spice blends (along with sauces and dressings from the concluding chapter) appear frequently in his recipes. Orr’s use of nested recipes-within-recipes could frustrate cooks who want a linear approach to meal preparation. For those who don’t mind the fuss, the blends offer flavor and intrigue without reliance on salt.

I’ve heard that the white belt novice strives to get his/her belt “dirty” through martial arts practice. Once a black belt is achieved, the master reverses the process, purifying his/her art and returning to white. Daniel
Orr’s Bloomington, Indiana homecoming from Gotham and points beyond follows this trajectory. FARMfood is a celebratory reflection, a call to nature consciousness, a coffee klatch-sharing of restaurant secrets and heartland wisdom.

Here is a recipe from the FARM veggies section that we found toothsome and delicious. As is true throughout the book, the chef offers helpful food pairings and ingredient substitutions in keeping with his “what is local and in season” message. Chef Orr recommended swapping mint for cilantro to create an alternative flavor profile. My tasters suggested serving the slaw with fish or crab cakes for textural contrast.

FARMslaw with curry, toasted cumin, and cilantro (serves 6-8)
¼ cup honey
½ cup cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted in dry sauté pan until light smoky
1 tablespoon curry
½ cup olive oil
½ jalapeno, minced
½ head red cabbage, cut chiffonade
½ head savoy cabbage, cut chiffonade
2 large carrots, cut julienne
1 red onion, minced
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Whisk all honey, cider, lemon juice, cumin, curry, olive oil, and jalapeno together. Toss with cabbage, carrot, and onion and marinate for at least two hours. Just before serving, add cilantro and season to taste.
(FARMfood: Green Living with Chef Daniel Orr. By Daniel Orr. Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN. 2009. $29.95)

Flavors And More – October 2009

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