VAIL — If you are what you eat, would you rather be a soggy, freezer-aisle carrot or a plump and succulent farm-fresh beet? As winter’s thaw runs off into spring, an abundance of seasonal and local ingredients will begin to vibrantly emerge in our valley’s grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
“There’s a philosophy behind seeking out local ingredients that stems from the slow food movement, which basically means to take the time to seek out what is naturally produced by your local community,” said Kevin Nelson, managing partner of Terra Bistro in Vail.
“Not only to support the economy and the ranches and the farms,” he said, “but because of the idea that those ingredients are native to your environment because of the ecosystem within that environment, and you are a part of that ecosystem.”
This era’s resurgence of the slow food philosophy is much more than fast food’s catchy contradiction — it’s setting the stage for the culinary integrity of professional chefs and home cooks alike.
“You just have to think about what you love,” said Kelly Liken, chef-owner of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail. “Even when I’m cooking at home, I am looking in the grocery store for what’s fresh, seasonal and local. I tend to pick one to two produce items and revolve a dish around that.”
Red quinoa and spring pea risotto
Chef-owner Kelly Liken — Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail
1 medium shallot, brunoises
1/2 cup red quinoa
3 quarts water, simmering
2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano, grated
1 tablespoon fresh mint chiffonade
1 cup blanched English spring peas
Salt and pepper
Sweat brunoises shallots very slowly in a wide saute pan in virgin olive oil.
When onion is translucent, add quinoa.
Stir and coat quinoa, continue stirring for two minutes.
Add water — just enough to cover grains — add a little butter (optional) and a pinch of salt.
Stir occasionally until liquid is absorbed.
Continue adding water a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.
When quinoa is finished add mint, pecorino and peas. Stir and serve.
The red quinoa and spring pea risotto dish was born out of Restaurant Kelly Liken’s weekly harvest dinners, held every Sunday during the summer.
“All of our food is ingredient driven,” Liken said, “but the harvest dinners are where we can really showcase the ingredients.”
Nelson said he believes our bodies will benefit more from what is natural and locally produced, simply because of the symbiotic nature of the life cycle where you live.
“Your body and all of your senses are going to respond to local ingredients, and they are going to taste better, look better and make you feel better,” Nelson said.
Sprouted quinoa lettuce cups
Executive chef Shawn Miller — Terra Bistro, Vail
6 tablespoons heaping of balsamic macerated tomatoes
6 tablespoons heaping of sprouted quinoa
4 tablespoons basil aioli
8 Bibb lettuce leaves
To sprout quinoa:
Cover quinoa with water using at least twice the amount of water to quinoa.
Soak quinoa in a bowl for at least 12 hours.
Drain the quinoa and allow to dry.
Cover the quinoa with a breathable lid such as a coffee filter or cheesecloth.
Rinse the sprouting seeds twice a day and allow to dry each time.
The seed is soft when finished, and best eaten in two to three days. The more days that you repeat the rinsing and drying process, the longer the sprouts will become. Once the quinoa has reached the desired stage, refrigerate and enjoy.
Fill each lettuce leaf with equal parts of the above ingredients — drizzling the sauce last.
Quinoa is actually not a grain, but a dormant seed, explained Nelson of this signature Terra Bistro dish. Sprouting quinoa is a method that wakes up the dormant seed, bringing it alive as if it were to grow into a plant.
“During the sprouting process, quinoa releases a lot of enzymes and the nutritional density of the seed amplifies exponentially,” Nelson said. “Sprouted quinoa has even more nutritional density than cooked quinoa, and it has a completely different flavor profile — it’s a little sweeter, and not quite as earthy as when it’s been cooked.”
Honor each ingredient
Pollyanna Forster, owner of Dish and Tacorico in Edwards, said quality cuisine is not defined by how many ingredients are used, but instead how each ingredient shines through.
“If you look at cheese or wine, these are one ingredient — milk or grapes” Forster said, “and look at the 10,000s of expressions.”
Dish “secret sauce” for brussel sprouts
Executive chef Veronica Morales — Dish, Edwards
2 cups sugar
1 cup lime juice
2 cups fish sauce
3 tablespoons sambal
1 cup mint, chopped
Mix all ingredients together.
Toss with crispy brussel sprouts.
Rajas con crema taco
Executive chef Veronica Morales — Tacorico, Edwards
1 ounce corn
1 ounce poblanos
1 tablespoon cream
1 slice griddled cojita cheese
Soft taco shell
Add first three ingredients together onto a taco shell.
Top with griddled cojita cheese.
“We source the most ethically, organically produced/raised ingredients, combine them simply, with respect, and let them speak,” Forster said. “We love to have creations with five ingredients or less that follow the seasons, and with the addition of technique and salt and pepper and allow them to shine.”
Interim A&E Editor Kim Fuller can be reached at email@example.com.