Behind this is Melissa's Produce, which enlisted a grower in San Diego to provide the feathery sprouts. The goal was "to see if the micro green thing would happen at retail level," said Robert Schueller, Melissa's public relations director. Until now, home cooks have been largely left out, because 99.9% of the tiny greens go into food service, he said.
Micro purslane comes in an 8-ounce package (above), providing plenty to use as salad greens, add to sandwiches, garnish plates and even to sauté with olive oil, salt and pepper as the package suggests. Rather than tasteless immature greens, they have a pleasant, light, peppery flavor.
Also just out are packaged roasted Dutch yellow potatoes, ready to eliminate one cooking job at Thanksgiving. If you're planning to serve yams instead, forget it. The true yam is a "third world type of staple food," Schueller said, thick-skinned, not sweet and white/beige in color. The "yam" beloved in the American South is, botanically, a sweet potato.
Rather than serving peas for Thanksgiving, you might switch to Brussels sprouts, Schueller suggested. Fresh peas may be traditional, but at this time of year they're imported, which drives up the price.
The freshest way to get Brussels sprouts is on the stalk. The sprouts are still feeding from the stalk, which is not edible, but don't feel guilty about cutting them off and storing them. Or, if you want to take it easy, buy pre-roasted sprouts.
Onions are plentiful and in good variety. Instead of presenting bland white creamed onions at Thanksgiving, mingle red, white and gold pearl onions to make the dish more interesting (above). These are available in a handy three-pack, visible at the back of the Brussels sprouts photo.
Forget the fresh ones at this time of year, because they are imported and picked too early. Use only heirlooms, said Tom Fraker, Melissa's corporate chef. Or else use canned, because they are vine-ripened.
Fraker made a delicious butternut squash bisque (recipe and photo below) for the produce presentation, which took place at Melissa's corporate headquarters in Vernon.
Need pumpkins for pie? If you're buying them canned, they're pumpkin in name only. "Canned pumpkin is basically butternut squash," Schueller said.
No longer are there just two types of persimmons, hachiyas and fuyus. The yellow-skinned cinnamon persimmon (at the top in the photo) is the one to look for this fall, because it's sweeter than the others. However, the crop is small, so distribution will be limited.
The Ambrosia apple, red-skinned and sweet, combines the flavor characteristics of several apples. Its most notable feature is that it doesn't oxidize when cut. This means you can prepare a holiday fruit plate in advance and not worry about the apples turning brown.
The green apple in the photo is the Green Dragon, which is sweet, not tart. It came on the market about four seasons ago.
Miniature organic Crimson Gold apples, in sacks at the right, are not just cute. They're pleasingly tart-sweet and crisp. Chef Fraker turned them into caramel apples, rolling some in toasted coconut for a mini treat that can be demolished in a couple of mouthfuls.
The quince is for cooking only. Fraker made a sweet quince butter that he spread on sliced cinnamon persimmons and sprinkled with pomegranate arils (above). Try this as a turkey garnish or simple dessert.
Exotic fruits that will add interest to holiday tables include dragon fruit, grown domestically in Fallbrook and Florida and imported from Vietnam. In season now, dragon fruit comes in three shades--white, pink and magenta. The flesh is sprinkled with tiny black seeds.
Passion fruit used to be available only during spring and summer, imported from New Zealand. Now there's a California crop for this time of year. Passion fruits are ready to use when the shells wrinkle. Inside is soft yellow pulp surrounding dark seeds. Chef Fraker makes a passion fruit sauce for crepes, straining out the seeds, and suggests passion fruit toppings for ice cream and Greek yogurt.
There couldn't be a better grape for the holiday season than Christmas Crunch. This large, red, late season grape comes from California's Central Valley. As crunchy as the name, it's ideal for a holiday fruit plate (above), combined with sliced persimmons, pineapple, dragon fruit and anything else that strikes your mood.
Here is Chef Fraker's squash soup, which you can decorate with either squash flowers or pomegranate arils. If you want to make it vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken broth.
CREAMY ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE
By Chef Tom Fraker
1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Extra virgin olive oil
1 (2 1/2-inch) Maui onion, chopped
1 organic shallot, chopped
2 organic garlic cloves, roasted and chopped
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
4 tablespoons dry sherry
2 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more for thinning if needed
Pomegranate seeds or squash blossoms for garnish