Devra Gartenstein expands her market-fresh menu
The cook has added meat to her menu for the first time in her 15-year run. Customers might now find beef-and-bean chili at the 15 farmers markets she serves. At the "Humble Feast" dinners she holds monthly, trying to sponsor community and affordable foods, the buffet might include red beans and sausage or stromboli with Skagit River Ranch bacon.
Where to get the grub
Devra Gartenstein's "Patty Pan Grill" can be found at 15 farmers markets. Gartenstein also hosts a monthly community "Humble Feast," where $12 buys a buffet and a chance to sit with neighbors and strangers alike at communal tables. Farmers eat free. Details online at pattypangrill.com.
DEVRA GARTENSTEIN, the longest-standing food vendor at Seattle's farmers markets, is best known for vegetarian quesadillas bursting with brawny greens. Also popular are her hand-rolled vegetarian tamales, using olive oil in place of lard. She has written two vegan cookbooks. Her business, Patty Pan Grill, is named for a squash.
Not the first person you'd expect to see buying a quarter of a cow to process at her small commercial kitchen.
But Gartenstein has changed this past year, adding meat to her menu for the first time in her 15-year run. Customers might now find beef-and-bean chili at the 15 farmers markets she serves. At the "Humble Feast" dinners she holds monthly, trying to sponsor community and affordable foods, the buffet might include red beans and sausage or stromboli with Skagit River Ranch bacon.
Gartenstein has always been clear, when asked, that she's not personally a vegetarian. (She began her business that way because that's the food she knew how to cook.) But she does believe that if people eat meat, it should be consumed only in small quantities, using animals that have been raised in a humane and sustainable way. And she's integrating her menu, ironically, in part to make that point.
"I think vegetarianism pushes people's buttons," she explains. She's come to think an all-or-nothing ideology only gets in the way of large-scale change.
"I gotta have meat," people would say, scanning her menu and walking away. It's not the place they would go to discuss, say, the benefits of free-range versus feedlot.
Gartenstein doesn't preach to customers anyway. It's not as though someone looking for a pork tamale would get lectures on antibiotics resistance. But if someone's enjoying the ounce or two of meat in her chili from locally grazed cows, rather than a quarter-pounder made from commodity beef, that's a step in itself. And it defangs an issue that runs red with emotional freight on both sides.
Her changeover began in a relatively unplanned way, when organizers of a pumpkin-patch festival at Jubilee Farm in Snohomish talked about bringing in burgers. She said she'd put something with meat together, but that she'd come to think there was no such thing as a "sustainable burger."
"If you make a 6-ounce burger, you're using twice as much as the planetary average in a single meal," she wrote on her blog, quirkygourmet.com. "That's not sustainable, whatever kind of meat you use."
Chili, though, could be sustainable and affordable even when made with top-notch ingredients: the small amount of local meat, plus beans from fellow market vendors Alvarez Farms, plus spices and tomatoes. She tops it with sautéed vegetables.
When she advertised it as "Jubilee Beef Chili," people asked what Jubilee beef was. She said, "See those cows across the road"? And she added the selection to her market menus.
Has she lost more vegetarian customers than she's gained in meat-eaters? Surprisingly, she's heard few complaints. And even when the stand was purely vegetarian, she says, she would get complaints because her cheese wasn't rennet-free. Her few negative Amazon cookbook reviews are from readers outraged that she included honey in her recipes, a controversial issue among vegans. One could always be more of a purist.
It's about thoughtful compromise, she says. The same holds true for other hot issues, like local and organic foods. Gartenstein buys from fellow market vendors whenever possible, for instance, bartering and gleaning her way into making it pay. She'll make use of broccoli stems and other little-sought parts of the harvest. She cares about whether farmers avoid pesticides, but doesn't hold a hard line on whether they're certified organic. On the other hand, she'll use industrial cheese on her quesadillas, both because it costs far less than small-batch local cheeses and it's conveniently grated.
The entire experience tweaked her curiosity about the cultural weight of eating meat, one issue she explores in her latest book, "Cavemen, Monks, and Slow Food: A History of Eating Well." Beyond being a nutrient-rich food, she writes, meat has historically symbolized wealth, power, virility and celebration. It's only in modern days, she writes, with the advent of mass production, that meat has been cheap and readily available to virtually everyone. It's ironic, in a way, that the small, locally produced meat she's advocating is re-creating that history, being seen as a product that only the well-off can afford. In moderation, maybe, it'll be seen as one that people can feel good about eating.
Rebekah Denn is a Seattle freelance writer and blogger. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chili powder, mild or hot
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 medium-sized onion
1 cup chopped Anaheim, poblano or pasilla chilies
1 jalapeño, serrano or habanero chili (optional)
1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes, or 3 to 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 cups black beans, red beans or a combination
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the beef, salt, chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until it's nicely browned.
2. Add the onions and chilies and cook for about 5 minutes longer, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, until they're heated through. If you're using fresh tomatoes, cook them until they start to break down and the mixture becomes soupy. Add the beans, lower the heat, and cook for at least half an hour. It can cook for hours, and the longer you cook it, the tastier it'll be.
— Recipe courtesy of Devra Gartenstein
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Homes -- New Home Showcase