EATING WELL IN KANSAS CITY - August 2018 - Kansas City
A Foreign Approach to Locally-Grown
The beauty of some local food is that it can transport you to new places
By Mary T. Nguyen
Born and raised in Kansas City, I consider myself a local. But as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, my upbringing is a colorful mix of familiar and foreign.
My parents were avid backyard food growers. I wouldn’t have considered them farmers, but they always grew a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
This was not only a matter of practicality—with seven kids, it sure saved money—but also, as Vietnamese immigrants, a connection to home.
Growing water spinach, bitter melon, Asian pears, tiny chile peppers and Vietnamese coriander were portals for my parents that took them back overseas. For them it was a bridge to their homeland; for me, it takes me back to our family home in Waldo Kansas City. For all of us, it is a sense of place.
Perhaps, you’ve noticed more ethnic diversity at your local farmers markets. The farmers themselves hail from all over the city, region, state, and yes, even world. Through programs like Global Gardeners and New Roots for Refugees, some growers are refugees from across Central and South America, Africa and Asia, and have established themselves in our city as independent farmers.
And while some wouldn’t mind talking to you about their personal histories, a better way to learn might be to look at the offerings on their table. Between kale and collards, you might find water spinach and bok choy. Cactus might be offered alongside cilantro and peppers.
These uncommon but locally grown offerings are opportunities for more meaningful insight. Instead of asking the farmer his or her country of origin, ask “How do you prepare this?”
You could learn how to let it ripen for best flavor. You could learn how to make something that wouldn’t seem edible actually quite delicious. You could also get no response—but a polite smile—because there is a language barrier, and they don't know how to respond.
In any of those instances, there is more to learn if you care where a person or your food is from and really a better story.
The following is a recipe that serves as my story. You can use locally grown garlic, onions, tomatoes, sprouts, and water spinach (also called rau muong or on choy depending on who you ask) which can be found in season right now at your local markets.
Sauteed Water Spinach aka
Rau Muong Xao
1 bunch of water spinach
1 bag of bean sprouts, rinsed
2 tsp MSG*
1.5 tsp white pepper*
1 C. brown sugar*
1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1 white onion, roughly chopped
2-3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce*
Wash spinach; strip and discard small leaves. Break up into 1.5" sections. Mix with sprouts.
Thinly slice beef chuck. Dress with MSG, white pepper, and brown sugar. Drizzle with oyster sauce.
Heat olive oil in large pan. Add half of the garlic and all the meat into pan. Brown meat. Then add onion and tomato. After a few minutes, add spinach and sprouts.
Sprinkle with fish sauce, stirring occasionally. Finish with remaining garlic.
Serve over white rice with a squeeze of lime and Chile sauce.
*Or to taste because a mom's recipe is never precise.
Mary T. Nguyen is the communications manager of Cultivate Kansas City, a homegrown nonprofit that builds foods, farms and community for a healthy local food system for all. Her favorite vegetable is the carrot. Her favorite fruit is lime. Learn more about Cultivate Kansas City at www.cultivatekc.org.