Market on Kern Vendor Spotlight: Thao’s Produce

Posted by Kim Schoelen

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I feel like a celebrity stalker when it comes to produce (celery stalker, maybe?), and I’ve been waiting for Thao’s Produce to come up as the Market on Kern Vendor of the week because I always make sure to stop by their stall each week.  Not only is everything fresh and colorful and beautifully displayed, their variety is out of this world.  Once tomato season hits I probably won’t have to go to anyone else at all.

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But I will shop the other vendors of course, I love the market- it’s like going to the mall except when buying vegetables I don’t have to worry about possibly having a mental breakdown in a fitting room over an ill fitting pair of jeans.  It’s a lot cheaper too.  I can fill up two huge market bags for $20 at Market.

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Check this out.  I got all of these vegetables for $13 at Thao’s Produce.  That’s 10 little squash guys, 2 onions, bundles of kale, spinach, basil, green onions, carrots and pea shoots, a yam and 3 heads of garlic.

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I did a poor job of planning it out though, all of that nutrition barely fit into my bike basket and my ride home was a little more exciting than usual.  My kale threatened to fly out at every bump and crack in the old country roads!  But I made it home safely, and I surveyed my purchase, wondering what I could make.  It was looking like an epic salad until I remembered a recipe that calls for almost every single veggie I bought.  Except pea shoots.  I had no clue on the pea shoots, I grabbed them because I liked their curlicues.  More on those later, though. Back to the recipe that’s gonna completely redefine the way you look at a family favorite. Introducing….

Engine 2 Sweet Potato Lasagna.

Which is a great place to start.  But seriously, we live in California.  There’s no excuse for us to use half of those ingredients.  Canned corn?  Shut up. The great thing is this is a highly adaptable recipe.  You can make it according to the seasonal veggies and it’ll be different and delicious every time.  And fresh.  I could slap them for using canned corn.  When most people think of lasagna it’s this meaty-cheesy affair which is not necessarily health food by any stretch of the imagination.  This lasagna is packed with nutrients and yes, protein, while leaving behind all of the fat and cholesterol of the standard lasagna.  I had to run to the store to grab just a few items to use in addition to the goody bag I brought home from market.  You can follow Rip Esselstyn’s recipe, linked to above, or you can use my “we live in the breadbasket of the world, darnit!” instructions below.

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You’ll need:

1-2 boxes of whole wheat lasagna.  Make it GF by subbing brown rice or quinoa lasagna noodles or cut the carbs altogether us use thinly sliced zucchini as noodles (lengthwise).  Don’t get regular old noodles- this is a serious lasagna, show it some respect.

2 jars of Pasta Sauce.  Get one without sugar- did you know that in many mainstream sauces like Prego you can get as much as a teaspoon and a half of sugar per half cup serving? That just freaks me out.

1 package of tofu. E2 calls for silken, but I like using firm or extra firm because it acts as ricotta cheese that way.  If tofu scares you, this is a good way to try it out.  It adds protein without any weirdness.

1 cup raw cashews

1 yam and 1 sweet potato– I like the mixture of both, baked.  Or nuked.

A package of mushrooms

Lots of tomatoes.  E2 recommends Roma, but I love heirloom.  The colors and textures draw me in and they just taste goooood.  It’s up to you.  if you go heirloom, it’ll be 3-4, if you go roma you’re looking at 6-8.  Slice them thinly.

1 large onion or 2 small

1 head of garlic- Go garlicky or go home!

4 mini squash guys, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp of fresh oregano, chopped and bruised

1 tsp of fresh rosemary, chopped and bruised

8-10 leaves of fresh basil, bruised, chopped and awesome.  I love that smell.

2 big leaves of kale

one bunch (or bag) of Spinach

Salt

Pepper

Let’s cook!

Preheat oven to 400°

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Throw the onions and all of your garlic except about 4 cloves into a hot skillet.  No oil needed, but if they start to stick put a tablespoon of water in. Add mushrooms and saute.

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Remove onion/garlic/mushroom mix and put in a big bowl.  Leave any juices from the mix in the pan, you’ll use these for the next step.  Add carrots and squash.  You can add another tablespoon of water if you need to. Saute until things look a little golden,

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Put all that in the big bowl, add the chopped kale.

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Add the basil, rosemary and oregano. Here is where the tofu comes in.  To prep your tofu, drain it first by putting it between paper towels.  It doesn’t have to be totally drained, but you want to remove a lot of the excess moisture.  Throw it in the bowl.  Then smoosh it all together, go ahead, use your hands. or a spoon, whatever.  See, it looks like ricotta!

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Sauce your bottom.  Put the noodles on dry.  Boiling them is an unnecessary step and takes extra energy and time, so just ditch it and let them cook on their own. Trust me, it’ll be just fine.

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Dump all of the “faux-cotta” mixture on the noodles and distribute it evenly. Put another layer of noodles on, covering the mixture.

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Take this moment to mash the sweet potato, yam and the remaining 4 cloves of minced garlic together.  Add a pinch of sea salt, too.  This makes it very savory and irresistible.

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Sauce the noodles and cover them with a layer of spinach.

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Then put the sweet potato on top of the spinach. Add another layer of noodles and sauce.

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Lay your tomato slices over the top, creating the top layer.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 400°

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In the meanwhile, in your food processor (or in a plastic baggie with a hammer if you don’t have one, like I didn’t for my first year of making this recipe) put in a cup of raw cashews.  You can add a pinch of sea salt here, too.  Don’t get them already roasted and salted, it’s much better to be able to control your own destiny with sodium.

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When the 45 minutes is up, pull the lasagna out, remove the foil and sprinkle the cashews on top.  Pop it back in the over for another 15 minutes, or until the cashews brown a bit.

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While the cashews do their thing, make your salad.  I used everything I had left of my spinach and kale and threw in those pea shoots I’d talked about too, with some green onion, strawberries and balsamic.  Pea shoots are really cool, guys!  They have a totally impressive nutritional profile, I just learned.  And they’re great in salad, which I also just learned.

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Then, pull it out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes to cool and dig in.  It is so colorful, complex and flavorful.  This could be your new go-to “look at how fancy I am” menu item.  You’re turning into a real locavore, you are.

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You can get just about everything you need for this savory meal a Thao’s Produce at the Market on Kern tomorrow. We hope to see you there!

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