In Season: A Polysemy of Culture

*Plus healthy winter salads for your holiday table

By Jessa Smout // Photography by Paulette Phlipot

When we talk about culture, we often refer to people’s achievements in art, philosophy, architecture, and music. We expose ourselves to new groups of people when we travel and to their histories and customs. The rich flavors of a place meander through our minds like a walk through a bustling city. The smells and colors assault our senses at first, but then fade over time, much like our commitment to a healthy diet. 

Our New Age, American diet isn’t known for its health benefits. However, the advantages that we gain from our local food “culture,” and the introduction of fermented foods to our diet, can’t be overlooked.

In the past, the rugged Teton mountain area had little to offer in the way of year-round produce. According to Jana Stearns, who grew up behind the counter of Hungry Jack’s in Wilson, Wyoming (founded in 1954), there weren’t a lot of fresh food choices prior to the late 1960s. When I ask Jana what the produce section looked like in those early years, she says, “There were a couple heads of lettuce, bananas, and maybe a tomato.” She remembers when the first avocados arrived (probably from California) “sometime in the mid ’70s.”

Today, with the introduction of Slow Food in the Tetons and the many farmers and vendors who work tirelessly during our brief growing season, the local food scene looks very different. Not only do we have trucks delivering fresh foods from all around the world every day, but we also have people like Brent Tyc of Huidekoper Ranch nurturing hundreds of pounds of arugula (and other offerings) to put into our salads. Or, Jonah Sloven and Ben Hawkins at Sweet Hollow Farm in Teton Valley, Idaho, who grew 50-plus pounds of produce a week last summer (their first summer in business). These growers not only show up at summer food stands with thoughtfully cultivated fresh produce, but they also offer up their individual culture, energetic biome, and passion to our residents.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are incredibly important in our diet and I understand why, but as time passes and my son gets older, the dishes pile up and I find myself reaching for a box of mac ’n cheese more often. Still, Mary Ryan MS, RDN of Beyond Broccoli Nutrition Counseling and Education in Jackson notes that including even a small serving of fruits and vegetables every day will benefit us more than we realize.

But how do we maintain that in the winter?

Controlled rot to the rescue!

Made from “cultures” (i.e. a community of microbes that perform fermentation), fermented foods are a great way to continue eating the summer harvest, even when the last cabbage was picked months ago. Poa Van Sickle, owner of Daily Roots, a health and wellness coaching business, tells us that because fermented foods are predigested, it’s easier to “assimilate the nutrients of a particular food.”  In fact, the term, “I feel it in my gut” takes on a whole new meaning when you start to understand that what goes on in our bellies affects our mood. 

“Gut health, brain health, and overall health are intricately connected,” says Annie Fenn M.D. of Brain Health Kitchen. “You can’t have one without the others being in good shape, too. The best way to achieve all three: Feed your gut microbiota [aka, the 29 trillion microbes that live in your body] the food they need to thrive. It may sound gross, but these tiny organisms that live mostly in the large intestine rely on the digested bits of what we eat—prebiotics. … This only comes from eating a wide variety of whole foods every day: raw, cooked, and fermented. … In return, a healthy gut microbiome will return the favor by producing postbiotics—biologically active antioxidants, enzymes, and [feel-good] neurotransmitters, like serotonin, 90 percent of which come from the gut.”

A fresh cabbage can potentially last months in a cool, dark cellar, or even a refrigerator. Carrots, turnips, radishes, beets, onions, and garlic can be fermented, dried, frozen, or cellared. Greens can be cooked into soups, frozen, and enjoyed in the darkest, coldest months of the year. 

With a colorful rainbow of locally produced food, passionate farmers, and preservation modalities, you can bet my pantry will be stocked for winter. I think of it as my addition to my community’s (and my body’s) culture, as I create new dishes to place on my holiday table.


Warm Winter Salad

Makes three large dinner salads.

Eating warm winter salads can help up your roughage intake during the long, cold months. Here, I take a readily available vegetable combo, cook it up, and serve it on top of arugula in a tiered presentation.

For the Salad:

½ large, red cabbage
½ sweet, yellow onion
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces tempeh
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms
3 cups arugula  

FOR THE Dressing:

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
1 clove garlic
½ inch fresh ginger
¼ cup parsley 
¾ cup olive oil

FOR THE SALAD:

  1. Cut cabbage into 3 large, round  “steaks” and cut onion into 3 thick wedges. 
  2. Massage the cabbage and onion with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill on medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. (You want them browned and caramelized, but not too soft.) Store in a warm oven.
  3. Cut tempeh into 1/4-inch strips. Cut tomatoes and mushrooms into quarters. Dice garlic.
  4. Heat a pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil; add the tempeh. Sear both sides until golden brown, and then add tomatoes. 
  5. Add aminos and mushrooms. Allow to simmer, stirring gently, and don’t let the tempeh fall apart.
  6. Build the salad by starting with a bed of arugula, then add the cabbage and onion, followed by the tempeh medley and a light drizzle of herbed dressing. 

FOR THE Dressing:

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil. Turn it on and drizzle in the oil to combine. 


Thanksgiving Salad

Serves 4 to 6

Add a new tradition to your Thanksgiving table by serving this savory,
whole grain salad as a side. (This dish also provides a hearty alternative
for any vegetarians at your table.)

For the Salad:

1 cup whole oat berries (oat groats)
1 ¼ cup water 
sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces oyster mushrooms (from  Morning Dew Mushrooms)
2 leeks, sliced and rinsed
3 ounces blue cheese

FOR THE Dressing:

2 teaspoons fresh tarragon  (chopped)
1/8 cup plain Kombucha (homemade  or store bought)
¼ cup parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
lemon zest
½ cup olive oil

FOR THE SALAD:

  1. Bring water, oat berries, and 1/8 tsp salt to a boil in a saucepan. Cover, decrease heat, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. (You want them tender but still firm.) Set aside for 10 minutes, and then strain.
  2. In the same pan, add olive oil, mushrooms, leeks, and a pinch of salt. Sauté on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat to low and add strained
    oat berries.
  4. Add dressing and 2 ounces of blue cheese. Gently stir until the cheese is just melted.
  5. Divide into plates and top with additional blue cheese and a sprinkle of parsley.

FOR THE Dressing:

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil. Turn it on and drizzle in the oil to combine.


Easy Jar Ferment

“A jar filled with any raw food submerged under liquid will ferment.”
— Sandor Katz 

Use all or any combination of the following: cabbage, carrots, onion, radish, turnips, beets, or jalapeños.

  1. In a 24-ounce, wide-mouth, glass jar, add vegetables, ¼ cup lime or lemon juice, 1 to 2 tablespoons salt, and water to cover. 
  2. Line the lid with parchment paper, close, and leave on the counter for 1 to 2 weeks. Watch the pressure, unscrewing the lid and relieving, as needed. 
  3. Refrigerate and eat a little every day after it
    is finished.

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