Thirteen years ago, when then New York-based chef and food writer Louisa Shafia was working on her first cookbook, “Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-conscious Life,” “locavore” was just an emerging buzzword. CSAs were only starting to crop up, giving home cooks regular access to local produce even if they weren’t sure what the heck to do with the 5 pounds of kohlrabi in their weekly boxes. Preserving fruits and vegetables was what your grandmother did back in Ohio, not something you’d attempt to pull off in your tiny Brooklyn kitchen. And farm-to-table sourcing was far from the norm except at a certain kind of small, independent restaurant.

“For so many of us now, eating seasonally and buying our food from local producers is just something we do every day,” said Shafia, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “I think we’ve made great progress on that front.”

Shafia will be in Maine this week to headline a couple of culinary events hosted by chef Sara Jenkins at Nina June in Rockport. The events center on Persian food, which is Shafia’s heritage and current culinary passion, as well as the subject of her second book (“The New Persian Kitchen,” Ten Speed Press, 2013) and the  inspiration for the spice collection she curates and sells. Spots are still available for her cooking class Monday evening and for a prix fixe dinner at which she’ll be guest chef on Wednesday.

I chatted with Shafia to get her assessment of how sustainable eating practices have taken hold since she published her book on the subject. She said the rapid growth of farmers markets, in terms of quantity and quality, is the biggest indicator of growing consumer interest. That’s not surprising.  In her book she argued that curbing food waste in the kitchen and shopping local (and plastic free) are the top two actions that cooks can take to reduce the environmental impact of feeding themselves. The third is buying organic, followed by using seasonal produce, choosing eco-friendly fish and eating less meat.

“If I am shopping for a place to live, I want to know what the farmers market is like. As a food-focused person, I see a buzzing farmers market as a good indication of a vibrant, proactive community,” Shafia said. “It’s something that shows me people served by the market also have a strong sense of community, and hold onto a strong sense of place.”

She pointed to the growing list of products shoppers can find at farmers markets as further evidence of their impact on local economies. “Yes, they still have exceptional seasonal produce. But you’re getting more fresh, frozen and cured meat, cheeses, seafood, bread, beans, ice cream, yogurt, hand-made items like aprons, ready-to-eat foods like Asian dumplings.”

Every market has its own personality, she continued, noting that her local market serves barbecue. During her visit to Maine, Shafia is looking forward to returning to the market on Deer Isle. She’s not been in years but can still recall standing in the parking lot of the old elementary school slurping oysters. “I’m not sure there is a better example of market personality in a coastal community than that. Those oysters were so fresh, so beautiful, I wanted to cry.”

Asked how Persian cooking reflects a sense of sustainability, she answered in several parts. To begin with, “Meat is used only in small amounts as a flavoring agent. It’s not served in a huge hunk in the center of the table.”

Additionally, the only way to approach the Iranian cooking she’s learned from generations of cooks on her father’s side of the family, she said, is through a seasonal lens — for instance, pomegranates and figs in the fall, and tart green plums and soft green almonds in springtime. To bring it back to Maine, she pointed to the widespread use of fresh herbs, garlic scapes and edible flowers as examples of spring ingredients used in Persian cooking that also happen to be grown here. Finally, Persian cuisine is rooted in preserves, she said. Cooks put up everything from pomegranate molasses to sour pickled vegetables (called torshi) in bottles and jars and serve them in some fashion at every meal.

The menus for Shafia’s events at Nina June will wrap seasonal Maine ingredients inside Persian cuisine – think sambuseh (Iranian samosa) filled with crab; herb and radish platters with flatbread; grilled corn with sumac, dried lime and labne (yogurt cheese); and spice-dusted fish of the day. And, of course, plenty of torshi, as many Iranians believe no meal is complete with out them.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

When she catered in New York, Louisa Shafia often served her Watermelon Gazpacho in shot glasses with a little vodka. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Watermelon Gazpacho

This sweet, tangy cold soup was one of Louisa Shafia’s signature dishes when she ran Lucid Food catering in New York. For events, she’d often serve it in shot glasses as an hors d’oeuvre, sometimes topped off with a little vodka. You can make the recipe one day ahead and season it just before serving. Reprinted from “Lucid Food, Cooking for and Eco-Conscious Life,” with permission from Ten Speed Press.

Serves 4 in bowls, 16 in shot glasses

6 cups coarsely chopped seeded watermelon
5 ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 rounded tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 cup whole toasted almonds
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce
Salt
1/4 sweet white or red onion, finely diced
1 cucumber, seeded and diced

Blend 2 cups of the watermelon in a blender until it is a puree. Add the rest of the watermelon, tomatoes, paprika, garlic, almonds, vinegar, and chipotle sauce and blend until smooth. Transfer the soup to a bowl and taste and season with salt.

Chill for at least an hour before serving. Garnish with a spoonful of the diced onion and cucumber.


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