Category Archives: Food Politics

Cantaloupe Food-Processor Sorbet

Cantaloupe food-processor sorbet

When I’m at the market and I see a fruit or vegetable I haven’t tried before, I’m compelled to buy it.  Basically, I’m the culinary version of an early adopter of technology, just think of, say, opo squash as my iPad.  I tried it first, and soon I’ll be trying to convince you all why you can’t live without it.  However, this approach is occasionally ill-advised.  Like yesterday, when I met the Microsoft Bob of the produce section: the muskmelon.

I should have known from its name.  I mean, you there, reading at home, are already disgusted by the muskmelon and you haven’t even seen it.  Nevertheless, I was intrigued by its unwieldy appearance that looked like what you would get if you bred a cantaloupe with an ogre.  After giving it a brief sniff to rule out the presence of its promised “musk,” I tossed it into my cart, hauled it home and sliced it open.

Ighhh.  The flesh looked like a cantaloupe’s, but while it had all of that cantaloupe-y flavor, it had none of the sweetness.  I dotted around my kitchen looking for anything to help remedy my mistaken purchase.  Inspired by a refreshing cantaloupe Italian ice that I’d recently had at Mario’s, I decided on a muskmelon sorbet, adding lemon, lime and mint to brighten it up.  I don’t normally like to use white sugar, but this was a muskmelon emergency.

So last night, as I let my muskmelon experiment chill in the freezer, I headed off with my friend Jess to mingle with conscious foodies at a book launch party for Fair Food, a book that outlines a plan for a better, sustainable food system in this country.  My frozen dessert sensors must have been on, because I fortuitously met Alison Bower, owner of Ruth and Phils Gourmet Ice Cream.   And just like when someone has a growing rash, runs into a doctor in public and makes her take a look at it right then and there, I immediately gushed to Alison my muskmelon/sorbet fiasco.  Alison offered a suggestion for my sorbet in case it came out less than ideal, “You can always turn it into a blended cocktail.”  WHAT.  No wonder she’s a pro.

When I gave my sorbet the final buzz in the food-processor this morning and gave it a taste, it was lovely: smooth and melon-y, with a slight kick from the tart citrus.  Yet it did just seem to be screaming for a shot of tequila on top.  Thanks Alison.  Good thing I made a quart of it and can enjoy it both ways.

The neat thing about this sorbet is that you don’t need an ice cream maker to make it, you just blend the ingredients, freeze them and then blend them one more time before serving.  The texture is slightly icier than store-bought sorbet, but that makes it light and cooling, and of course you don’t have added dairy, eggs or vegan fats to make it heavy like ice cream.  By pureeing the whole melon, rather than using a fruit juice, all the fiber and nutrients like beta-carotene and potassium are preserved.  This particular muskmelon desperately needed some sweetness, but if your cantaloupe is sweet, you could forgo the sugar or add a few teaspoons of agave for a more natural option.  If you are brave (read: obstinate), try this with a muskmelon; otherwise, give it a try with a more reliable member of the muskmelon family: the cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe food processor sorbet
Cantaloupe Food-Processor Sorbet
Makes about 1 quart

5 cups of cubed cantaloupe or muskmelon, rind and seeds removed (from 1 small melon)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 sprig mint
juice from 2 limes
juice from 1 lemon
pinch of salt

1. In a small pot, heat the sugar, water and mint, until the sugar just dissolves. Set aside to cool. Then discard the mint sprig.

2. In a food processor or blender, puree the melon, sugar water, lime juice, lemon juice and salt until very smooth. Pour this into a glass baking dish and put in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until frozen.  Stir occasionally; it will make the final step much easier.

3. Take the baking dish out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter for at least 5 minutes.  Using a spoon or a knife, break up the frozen mixture and put it into a food processor.  Pulse to break up the ice crystals, then puree until smooth and velvety.  Scoop and serve directly from the food processor.  Store any extra in a container in the freezer and just let it sit for a few minutes on the counter before scooping.

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Living a Life Organic, A Discussion at the Chicago History Museum

As a young, starry-eyed chef, I spend a lot of time thinking about the social and environmental implications of the decisions that I make at the market and in my kitchen, particularly when it comes to negotiating my gourmand ambitions with my peasant wallet.  So I was eager to attend a panel discussion at the Chicago History Museum last night on the organic movement and its developments in Chicago that brought together panelists from the fields of journalism, retail and farming.  All the panelists were advocates of organic food, which means food that is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics, and is not genetically modified or irradiated.   The panelists agreed on major reasons to choose organic, reasoning that reducing the amount of chemicals in our personal environments is good for our own personal health, good for the environment as a whole and its long-term ability to provide for us, and good for the farmers and factory workers who produce and distribute our food.

Paula Walker Miller, an education coordinator at Whole Foods Market, defined the three levels of organic according to the USDA: products can be labeled “100% organic,” “organic” (which means that 95% of the ingredients or more are organic) or “made with organic ingredients” (which means that 70% of the ingredients need to be organic).  Unlike almost meaningless terms like “natural” and “free-range”, the word “organic” is regulated by the government, so it’s a term you can trust in the grocery store or at a farm stand.

Urban Farmer Tim Murakami gave a tip about shopping at local farmer’s markets: take advantage of the opportunity to interact with the farmer directly and ask a whether they use synthetic pesticides on their crops.  Small producers are sometimes unable to undergo USDA certification due to the cost, but their farming practices may parallel or be close to organic.  Products from small, local producers also require less shipping and packaging, making them a good environmental choice.

One of the discussion’s most interesting moments was in response to a question regarding the preceived elitism of organic consumers.  Journalist Alison Neumer Lara, who writes for Earth911 and Crain’s Chicago Business, admitted to not always being able to afford to eat everything organic.  However, after the birth of her daughter, she became more conscious about reducing chemicals in her home and food, rationalizing that a 7-pound baby could not process the same amount of toxins as an adult, and that choosing conventional over organic produce was perhaps only a short-term savings.

The most convincing argument against the elitism of organics, however, came from Murakami, who pointed to Growing Home, the Chicago non-profit where he works that runs a year-round urban farm and provides job training and transitional employment for individuals facing significant barriers to employment.   In addition to selling produce at the Green City Market, the organization also sells to neighboorhood residents at a reduced cost right at the farm in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  An organization like this shows how organics can both engage and serve diverse communities.

Chicago Public Radio recorded the discussion and will have a podcast available in about a week.  I’ll post a link to it on Urban Chickpea’s Facebook page when it’s up.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic: Do you choose to eat organic, and if so, why?  Are there any compelling arguments for pesticide use?  I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about organics!

Images: (top) Courtesy of Chicago History Museum; (middle) Growing Home’s Wood Street Urban Farm, photo by Andrew Collings; (bottom) Growing Home’s Wood Street Urban Farm, photo by Andrew Collings