Something’s cooking at hospital farmers market
There were purple onions, sauteed with kale and beet greens, which were cooked to a deep emerald. There were ruby-red beets, and their yellowy-orange siblings the golden beets — both vegetables shaved and tossed into the salad raw. Brilliantly orange carrots, muted beige quinoa and the army green of pumpkin seeds joined the collection of shades.
“Look how pretty this salad is,” Rivera-Pablo declared to a crowd gathered to watch her cook. “And there’s not much to it.”
And that was roughly the point of her cooking exhibition — that eating healthy needn’t be difficult nor expensive. Rivera-Pablo is the creator of A Pinch of Salt, which offers hands-on cooking instruction focusing on nutritious, tasty, but easy and affordable meals. She was at St. Vincent’s as part of a partnership with the Bridgeport Farmers Market Collaborative, which consists of seven independent farmers markets in the city. Those include the St. Vincent’s Farm Stand, which will sell farm fresh produce outside the hospital from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday through Halloween.
Rivera-Pablo’s salad used ingredients pulled from the farm stand mere feet from her outdoor demonstration kitchen. Her goal, she said, is to teach people how to use these fresh veggies and show how anyone can eat healthy.
“There’s this idea that it costs a lot of money to eat healthy,” Rivera-Pablo said.
For the past several years, the Farmers Market Collaborative has worked to dismantle that idea. All the markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as Food Stamps. For every $1 of benefits spent at a local farmers market, recipients get $2 of benefits to spend.
“We want to eliminate the challenges that people on SNAP face in getting healthy foods,” said Breanna Natale, market managers for the Bridgeport Farmers Market Collaborative. “This allows and invites everyone to enjoy the farmers market.”
The point of having a farmers market, and the cooking presentation, outside the hospital is to help improve public health by encouraging better nutrition, said Bill Hoey, vice president and chief mission integration officer at St. Vincent’s. Hoey said one of the factors that influences people’s health is being in a “food desert,” where they can’t easily get fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods.
“Access to healthy food is a huge issue, and the idea here is to help people access healthy food,” he said.
A use for everything
During her demonstration, Rivera-Pablo not only showed how to make her salad, but gave tips on how to get the most out of fresh produce. For instance, she said, when cooking with beets, use the whole beet.
“I used to work at a food pantry in New York, and all the women used to take this and throw it out,” Rivera-Pablo said, caressing the greens sprouting out of the tops of her beets. “But you can eat these.”
The result of her hard work was a salad that mixed a variety of flavors and textures. The crunch of the raw shaved beets balanced the softness of the cooked quinoa and the just-tender yield of the sauteed greens. The whole dish was coated in a tangy dressing of olive oil, orange juice, honey and mustard.
About a dozen people stopped to watch Rivera-Pablo, including Joan Creary of Bridgeport, who was at the hospital for a medical test. Upon leaving, she saw the demonstration going on and decided to check it out. “I love to cook, and she was cooking some interesting things,” she said.
Creary grabbed a recipe for the salad, and said she intends to make it. She even picked up ingredients at the farm stand — a new experience, as she’d never shopped at a farmers market before.
“This is my first time,” she said.
Rivera-Pablo will host three other cooking demonstrations at the hospital. The other three will take place on Aug. 8, Sept. 12 and Oct. 10. No registration is necessary. For more information, contact Lucinda I. Ames at 475-210-5550 or email@example.com.