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Overlooked gems at the farmers market

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Dates, left, fava beans and fennel are all farmers market delicacies that are a perfect addition to any shopping bag. Photo credit: Grace Kerfoot

There is definitely a romanticism to strolling the aisles of the Chico farmers market. With our reusable bags in hand, we go forth into the crowd rocking the look of a sustainable individual. But how many of us are guilty of buying a vat of strawberries, a messy sandwich from a food truck, maybe a small succulent and calling it a day?

Sadly, there is much more that the farmers market offers that goes overlooked. Arguably because unidentifiable produce is intimidating. When you don’t know the name of something, how can you possibly master cooking and consuming it?

But the beauty of farmers market produce is that you don’t actually need to do that much cooking: The freshness imparts flavor. In fact, most things need little more than a spot of fat and a pinch of salt to be mind-blowingly delicious. Here are three underappreciated finds to explore.

Fava Beans

Not to be confused with green beans, these bean pods are fatter and a quintessential spring vegetable. Fava beans are what you shell out of the pods themselves.

They can be boiled in hot, salted water for two minutes, drained under ice water, peeled to reveal their bright green interior, and tossed in anything from rice to pasta or smashed up and spread on thick, crusty bread.

They pair particularly well with all things pork, mint and lemon.

Fennel

This alien-shaped vegetable is an easy one to identify — just look for bright white bulbs and enormous bouncy fronds.

Raw fennel imparts a punchy black licorice flavor that mellows and becomes more like a really delicious onion if you choose to cook it. Slice fennel thinly, adding it raw to a salad.

Alternatively, you can choose or cut it into thicker slices, drizzle with olive oil and roast in an oven at 350 for 20 minutes. And while the spritely green stems are too fibrous to be palatable, the tender green fronds make a flavorful and attractive garnish to soups, salads and sandwiches.

Dates

A lesser-known gem at the farmers market is the Medjool date. With an abundant collage of greens, reds and oranges from conventional fruits and veggies, the mahogany glow of a plump date can easily fade nonchalantly into the background. But they are not to be overlooked.

Dates are basically vegan caramels. Chewy, dense and so sweet that eating too many will make your teeth ache (in the best way possible). Eat them plain as a snack or add them in a smoothie, oatmeal or granola bars. They also are incredible when stuffed with coconut butter, almond butter or even a soft cheese.

So the next time you’re at the market, mix up your routine. Ask your farmers about funky-shaped vegetables, buy a box of dates and be that person trucking home a bag full of produce.

Grace Kerfoot can be reached at [email protected] or @gracekerf on Twitter.

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