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Cooking Local Autumn "Mish Mash"

October 19, 2012


            Welcome back to the kitchen. Yesterday I headed down tot the Leavenworth community farmers market to see what great local foods I could find. And let me tell you, I’m glad I did. It turned out to be the last market of the season, always a bittersweet affair.
            Even though there were only a few booths left, there was still plenty of great grub. Knowing that this was my last chance to get some of these harvests I stocked up on onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, greens, kale, spinach, bok choy, heirloom apples like Arkansas black, plus honey, sheep cheese, bread, and more.
            With the market season wrapping up, this is a great time of year talk to your farmers about winter CSAs or bulk buying. Consider keeping a big sack of local onions and another of potatoes in your cool garage for local food eating all winter long. Winter squash are also great for easy long term storage at cool room temperature.
            I hope by now you are convinced it is well worth it to seek out and enjoy great local ingredients. But of course this is so much easier when gardens are full and farmers markets are overflowing. With the onset of colder, darker months we certainly have to be a little more creative with local foods. Never fear, it is not too late this year to stock up, freeze, preserve, and otherwise stock your larder with what is left of the crops.
            When I got home from the market I had fun pulling out all of my treasures and surveying the possibilities, knowing full well that some of these would be the last local haul for many months. But what to make?
            My mind flashed back to a dish ostensibly invented by my dad and little brother somewhere way back in my childhood. A meal born of a divorced dad’s desire to get a delicious dinner out on the table in reasonable time on a weeknight, using whatever might be on hand (including leftovers like rice). This particular dish is called “mish mash”, at least in my family.
            Now I’m sure versions of mish mash exist in many families and cultures around the world, but within the Kaplan clan it is considered an original. Basically it is a sautéed meat and veggie dish mixed with rice, sort of a western comfort food take on fried rice. Often times mish mash would take on a Tex Mex flavor with chili powder, crushed tomatoes, and cilantro along with pepper, onions, celery, and ground beef.
            But the Kaplan Mish Mash has many variations, depending on what ingredients are on hand and what most needs to be cooked. I visited my little brother Jonah in his new apartment in New York City recently, and I was tickled that even in the heart of the big apple, the epicenter of all the great cuisines of the world, he invited me over for a dinner of mish mash. Even hearing this nonsense phrase, coined by a first grader, brought back a flood of nostalgic and tasty sense memories of home.
            In that case, Jonah’s mish mash consisted of chorizo sausage, garden jalapenos and bell peppers, onions, and black beans with garlic, spices, and sharp cheddar all mixed with rice. And why those ingredients? Well they all needed to be used up before going bad, of course!
            They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in the case of Kaplan mish mash that is certainly the case.
            Today I want to resurrect mish mash and reimagine it as a new dish. By the way, there is apparently a Bulgarian dish with veggies, feta, and eggs called mish mash. This recipe is on no relation to its Bulgarian namesake, though we may have to try that version some day as well.
            While the classic Kaplan mish mash my farther made was beef based, I want to try and completely reimagine the flavor palette here while still somehow remaining true to the spirit of the original.
            I know I’m going to make good use of the onions, garlic, carrots, and greens I got from the market. And I think I am going to make a sort of autumn twist on this dish by using some of these freshly picked apples as well. So instead of a Mexican inspired mish mash, I am going to do more of a German inspired apple, onion, and sausage version with wild rice to round it out.
            For sausage I think either mild pork or chicken sausage would work, but loose, not pre-cooked sausage will work best. If you can only find encased sausage links, you can cut them open and discard the casings before cooking them.
            Basically we will cook up a mix of wild and regular rice, sauté up the veggies, apples and sausage with seasoning, mix it all together, and serve to warm up a cold autumn night. Like all improvised dishes (and I am basically making this one up as I go along based on what I’ve got) this is about playing around with flavors and finding what tastes right.
            For an Autumn Mish Mash we will need:
-1 pound loose, mild sausage (pork or chicken)
-1 large onion, peeled and chopped
-1 carrot, chopped finely so it cooks faster
-1 stalk of celery, chopped
-2 larger heads of bok choy, chopped (can also substitute regular old cabbage)
-1 large tart, firm apple, cored and chopped
-3 cups cooked rice (half wild rice, half white or brown rice is my preferred mix for this recipe) you can cook the rice ahead of time or use leftover rice
-2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
-sage for seasoning (2 or 3 fresh leaves if you can find fresh sage)
-1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
-1/2 cup white wine
-salt and pepper to taste
            Starts out by cooking the ground sausage in a large cast iron pan over a medium heat, stirring until it is cooked all the way through (about 5 minutes or so). When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Pour off some of the excess fat and discard, and maybe add back just a splash of olive oil to the pan.
            Turn up the heat to medium high and add the chopped onions. After a few minutes, stir in the carrots, celery, and apple chunks. Also add the chopped garlic and fresh sage leaves (torn up small). Turn down the heat to medium or medium low and stir every few minutes. When the carrots start to soften, add back in the sausage and pour on the white wine.
            Allow the wine to cook off for a couple of minutes before adding in the mustard, bok choy, and cooked wild rice mix. Stir the autumn mish mash together well and let it all heat up. This is a truly simple dish, but the savory sausage plays very well with the sweet sautéed apples, backed up by local onions and bok choy. The wine adds a little more sweetness and depth, and keeps things from getting too dry.
            You might want to finely chop some parsley to add a fresh garnish, plus of course salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot on a cold night. I just love the flavors of apples and onions, sausage, wine, and that tangy hint of mustard. And the texture of the wild rice just ties it all together nicely. It is a little odd at first glance, perhaps, but this dish is a winner.
            This is actually a very far cry from the beef and rice mish mash dreamed up by my dad and brother so many years ago. But it does have the elements of ground meat, veggies, and rice. But by leaving out tomatoes and adding the sweetness of the apples, we have taken mish mash in a whole new direction, while paying homage to fall and local ingredients. Yum!
            I’d love to hear what you’ve been cooking. Send me any questions or comments to Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.