On a sunny, brisk day, farmers were harvesting baby red bok choy and gathering herbs before the impending frost. An autumn scene in the bucolic countryside? Not exactly: This unique farm is located smack dab in the urban grid of Manhattan. And all the fresh produce is put to use by Sisha Ortuzar, chef and partner—and part-time farmer—at the adjacent Riverpark restaurant and its supplier, Riverpark Farm. The farm, which was once a stalled building site, is now a 15,000-square-foot food machine made up of an ingenious system of double-stacked milk crates that have been repurposed as planters.
Growing in all those milk crates is a variety of seasonal foods that, prepped correctly, can give you a jolt of nutrients you might think are disappearing as quickly as the daylight and warm weather. Seasonal fall produce has some of the highest levels of immune-boosting nutrients like vitamins A and C and minerals such as selenium, which you’ll need to ward off colds and flu. Here are Ortuzar’s tips for cooking your farmers’ market (or garden) finds, and a recipe from his restaurant for a superfood fall salad that you’ll want to make all season:
Oblong, striped delicata squash is one of the varieties of winter squash grown at Riverpark Farm. It’s sweet and full of fiber and potassium, as well as an excellent vegetarian source of vitamin A, which comes mostly from meat and fish and is essential for keeping your immune system healthy. “Any squash is always best when roasted,” Ortuzar says. “You can serve cubes of roasted delicata squash cold in green or grain salads; they’re also great when stuffed.”
Whether still on their stalk at farmers’ markets or bundled into containers, you’ll find fresh Brussels sprouts almost everywhere this time of year. If you haven’t developed a taste for them yet, try them prepared a different way. Says Ortuzar, “Everyone grows up thinking they don’t like Brussels sprouts, but they quickly become converts once they taste them prepared properly. They have great texture and flavor when shaved in their raw state. As a side salad, toss shaved Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, currants, and Parmesan.”
Bypass the bottled pomegranate juice and buy some whole pomegranates! You can use the scarlet-hued fruit’s numerous juicy seeds in lots of ways. Pomegranate is a good source of potassium and vitamin C, and has higher antioxidant activity than green tea and red wine. “Not only are they filled with antioxidants, but the color and texture of pomegranate seeds add instant festivity to any dish,” Ortuzar says. “They’re great in a sauce, mixed with vegetables, or in a salad.”
These pale carrot-shaped root veggies are full of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. And fall is the best time to try out a few new parsnip recipes. “When pureed, their velvety texture really comes through. Parsnips pair well with apples; puree them together, or shave both of them raw into a salad with other root vegetables,” Ortuzar adds.
At Riverpark Farm, spicy mustard greens—such as burgundy-hued ‘Ruby Streaks’—thrive. “In the fall, we start seeing heartier greens like these; they’re full of nutrients and flavor,” he says. In addition to being serious cancer-fighters, mustard greens may also ward off colds, arthritis, and depression. “When young and tender, they can be eaten raw in a salad, or very quickly sautéed. More mature greens are best sautéed longer, or cooked slowly for a long time in stews. The peppery bite of these greens adds a nice dimension to any dish,” says Ortuzar.
Now that you have all the ingredients to your fall superfood salad, here’s how to put them together. This healthy, delicious salad that features a roasted green Arabic grain known as freekeh, a low-carb whole grain that has up to four times more fiber than brown rice. Freekeh kernels are harvested while they’re young and then roasted; thus, they contain more vitamins and minerals, such as immune-boosting selenium, than other grains out there. Once in your stomach, freekeh acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria that aid digestion. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets or natural-food stores.
Courtesy of chef Sisha Ortuzar of Riverpark
- 2 cups diced delicata squash
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- 1 cup uncooked freekeh
- 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
- 1/2 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 2 cups loosely packed ‘Ruby Streaks’, or any mustard green
- 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
- Lemon juice
- Pickled Red Onions (recipe below)
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. In an oven-safe pan, cook the squash for a few minutes with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the pan in the oven and roast the squash for 20 minutes, or until tender.
3. In a pot, lightly toast the freekeh with a little olive oil, then add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic. Toss and cook for just a couple of minutes to open up the flavors of the onion, carrot, and celery mixture. Add 2 cups water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer.
4. When the freekeh is cooked through but still has a nice bite, drain the excess water and chill.
5. To prepare the salad, toss the freekeh with olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Add the ‘Ruby Streaks’, parsley, roasted delicata squash, pomegranate, and pumpkin seeds. Toss again, season with salt, and add more olive oil and lemon juice if needed. Top with Pickled Red Onions.
Pickled Red Onions
- 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 small red onion, sliced
In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, 1/2 cup water, sugar, and spices and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the onion slices, and stir. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. Makes about 3 cups, and keeps well for up to 2 weeks if refrigerated.