On Tuesday night, I went to a panel discussion of “local market produce in Paris” with authors Emily Dilling (My Paris Market Cookbook) and Kristen Beddard (Bonjour Kale), and illustrator Jessie Kanelos Weiner (Edible Paradise). I went for a variety of reasons. A blogger I follow has featured some of Jessie’s art on her website, I had always wanted to visit the American Library, I have always loved farmers markets and the marchés of France (I’ll get to more of that later), but almost most importantly David Leibovitz, an American food writer and chef that lives in Paris that I follow avidly, had praised Kristen’s book on more than one occasion.
The panel spoke about the pros and cons of the markets in Paris compared with the U.S., which really got me thinking about what can be found in France and what are the different varieties on both sides of the Atlantic. As someone who has been hesitant to eat a wide variety of vegetables for an embarrassingly long amount of time, I’ve started to finally come around here in France, and that’s what has gotten me thinking and curious. Do these vegetables exist in the U.S.? Do we prepare them this way? At first I thought I was just ignorant, but more and more I have realized that the differences are real and it’s not just me.
Last summer, I went home with my boyfriend to his parent’s house in Champagne, something we often do. As an entrée, starter, his mom was serving little pink and white radishes from her garden with butter and large grains of salt. I was hesitant. They tasted bitter at first. But the more and more times they were offered I quickly realized they were nice and refreshing, along with sometimes having a hint of spice and of course a good excuse to eat French butter.
I excitedly messaged one of my friends who loves vegetables and to cook and said, “Emily! I found a new vegetable I like!” For me, radishes in my previous American experiences didn’t resemble little finger carrots, instead they were larger, rounder, and much duller in color. After a bit of research I learned that these did in fact exist in the U.S. but that they were called French breakfast radishes, as market vendors would snack on them in the early mornings.
My second vegetable of discovery in France was endives. One evening my boyfriend found a recipe on Le Monde’s cooking section on how to braise endives without being so bitter. He knew I had never tried them before and as a personal fan, he thought this would be a good way for me to test the waters. The secret was sugar, but unfortunately I still found them too amère. Since then I have tried and tried to like them (like my ongoing trials with roquefort) as his mom serves them as a salad with a simple vinaigrette on many Saturday déjeuners, but I find myself picking at them.
The type of endive that is most common in France is less common in the United States from what I can find. The variety here is in small, narrow heads, and light green. When I told my friend about how they have to be covered at the grocery store as to not get too much light she joked they were like vampires. This type of endive originally came from Belgium but now France is the the largest producer.
Leeks. Not a vegetable that seemed foreign to me at all. But it’s one of those things for me that falls into “Oh yeah leeks, of course,” like you know them but when you actually think of the times you’ve eaten them you come up with almost zero recipes/dishes. After refreshing my memory I thought of the standard potato and leek soup, but there the leek is really not the principal ingredient, and then stuffing, sometimes, though not my family recipe.
In December, I was intrigued when I heard of a recipe “Fondue aux poireaux.” Apparently it was a classic French side dish (I even recently saw it being sold at the frozen food store Picard). Give me a vegetable in a sauce and I will definitely try it. So my boyfriend cooked it for me one night, adding butter, lemon juice, and crème liquide. Divine. Now this was something I could easily get behind, as it was simple to make and full of flavor.
Wednesday, the day after the panel discussion, I had lunch with my boyfriend at his work cafeteria. We approached the hot food section and I saw some kind baked vegetable thing. “Tu penses que c’est un gratin ?” I asked him, wondering if it was the French dish I had learned many months ago that basically is any baked and/or layered dish with cheese sprinkled on top. When he asked the cafeteria worker what the vegetable with the tomatoes was he responded “Blette.” Immediately I knew I had to try it. At the panel they had talked about it, how swiss chard came in different varieties in France than in the U.S., and I realized it was another vegetable I had yet to try in my life. “Tu aimes ça, toi ?” my boyfriend asked, surprised I liked this veggie. After explaining my reasons for trying it, I blabbed on about the panel, including The Kale Project, and how the leafy green has now been reintroduced into France.
“Kale ? C’est quoi ?” he asked, perplexed. Looks like it still has a ways to go…