I am walking around the small, ambling Emiliano Zapata Mercado in Puerto Vallarta, watching happy and sedulous vendors selling fresh chickens and goats, just out of the ocean flatfish and crustaceans all sitting atop sweating bins of rapidly melting ice.
Doors open to let in a cooling breeze, revealing dark rooms filled with workers grinding, cutting and toasting impossibly fresh corn tortillas for a steady line of locals’ and tourists’ midday tacos. It is a beautiful, grotty and humid scene of pride and honour, where summer is in agricultural bloom.
What a contrast to my visit to Vancouver’s newest farmers’ market at Hastings Park. The air is crisp and cool and our beautiful spring has just begun to show herself as we see gorgeous young rhubarb, stinging nettles and flowering herb blossoms.
A handful of vendors are selling their hard-won and carefully stored winter roots – parsnips, beets, squash and heirloom pumpkins. One of my favourite things about living in the Pacific Northwest is our climate that allows farms to grow a diverse and delicious collection of bright lights swiss chard, multiple varieties of kale, lettuces and brassica greens all year round. While the rest of Canada continues to shovel grey and dirty snow, we shop outdoors in the sunshine.
When it comes to stinging nettles, if you’ve never used them before, there are a few things to know about how to handle and store them. Buy about two kilograms of nettles and give them a good wash in running water as you would spinach. However, you need to use tongs to handle them at this point as the nettles have thousands of tiny hairs which are extremely prickly (hence the ‘stinging’). Have a large pot of boiling, salty water ready and plunge the nettles in for roughly 45-90 seconds. Their colour will bloom bright green and eventually turn black so don’t overcook them. Remove from the boiling water and plunge into an ice bath to completely cool.
You will now be able to handle them with your hands to squeeze out the extra water. Divide into 2 cup portions and freeze in sealed bags until ready to use. You can do this all through nettle season and have lots of nutritious nettles ready to use all year long. Keep your eyes out for stinging nettles at the farmers’ market, and use them to make a pear, parsnip and stinging nettle soup with pumpkin seed salsa verde (recipe below).
The Hastings Park Farmers’ Market is making a short appearance this year and will have its last market for 2015 on April 28, offering a bridge between the always amazing Nat Bailey Winter Market and the cacophony of summer markets spread across the city. After a very successful pilot run last fall, the Hastings Park Market will re-open in October and run throughout the winter into Spring 2016.
Hours are Sunday 10am – 2pm, enter off Renfrew at Gate #2 to park, but it makes for a wonderful Sunday walk. I am looking forward to watching the operands expand as we catch the last few weeks of this small and vibrant city jewel.
By Chef Jonathan Chovancek
Sauté the onions in the sunflower oil until soft and sweet smelling. Season with salt and pepper. While this is happening toss the parsnips in a little oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 375ºF oven until golden.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot except for the water- which you shall reserve until the roots are roasted!
Meanwhile gently sauté everything else in your pot. Things should be smelling spectacular as you remove the roots from the oven and pop them into your soup pot. Add the liquid and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cook for 30-45 minutes with a lid on the pot. Stir the soup regularly. Prepare the garnish. (below)
After 30 – 45 minutes of nice simmering, remove the pot from the stove and blitz the soup in a blender until smooth. Add the blanched nettles and blitz super smooth. You can strain it or not, depending on how picky your guest are. I like a little texture serve it out of the blender.
Adjust the seasoning and portion out into serving bowls. Add 1-2 tsp of the pumpkin seed cream to to each dish and serve hot. I like to garnish the soup with a medley of springtime veggies I found at the market, shaved raw or crispy, dressed in a little oil and salt.
Pumpkin seed sour cream
Using a mortar & pestle or a molcajete grind the ingredients into a paste. Start by grinding the garlic, pumpkin seeds, and jalapeño. Add the herbs and lemon zest. Once you have a nice coarse paste add the oil, juice and seasonings. Fold into the sour cream. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.