Fresh on the cheap

Henri stocks up on local produce for a lazy afternoon

Farmer’s Market places
North Valley Plaza Mall parking lot: Wed., 8 a.m.-noon, June-Sept. Broadway from Second to Fifth streets: Thurs., 6-9 p.m. April-Sept. Downtown Chico, in the parking lot between Second and Wall: Sat., 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. year-round, weather permitting.

As summer’s finish draws nigh, Henri must once again sing the praises of Chico’s farmers markets—each week three within a few miles of each other, two within blocks. And such variety: not only the traditional tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, melons and summer squash, but all those exotic beans and herbs and hybrid fruits and vegetables, as well.

Last Saturday morning, Henri cooked up a couple of delicious brie-and-bacon omelets, one for Collete et moi, one for Mr. Theo and Miss Marilyn. Then, after lingering lazily over a pot of French roast, two newspapers and the Enterprise-Record, Henri and his dear sœur headed downtown to stock up.

It didn’t take long. Within about a half-hour, our Chico Bags were nearly overflowing. We bought nectarines and plumcots, lemons, Armenian and Asian cucumbers, yard-long red beans, okra, avocados, four different kinds of garlic, blue potatoes, two huge bunches of pungent basil, as well as a stunning bouquet of flowers—all for less than $25.

When we got home Colette unpacked, and I went right to work on one of my new favorite dishes, cold avocado soup, so that it would be chilled and waiting later in the afternoon when I got up from my nap. Henri also couldn’t resist making a cool and refreshing batch of horchata to go with breakfast the next morning.

The following recipes feature ingredients available fresh from Chico’s farmers markets.

Chilled avocado soup
This easy-to-make soup, slightly modified from The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, is as delicious as it is refreshing, especially with an equally chilled pinot grigio.

4 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups low-fat plain yogurt
3 cups chicken broth
8 large basil leaves

Set aside half of one avocado in a small bowl, and sprinkle with one tablespoon lemon juice. Cover with paper towel and refrigerate. Chop remaining avocados, place in large bowl, add remaining lemon juice, toss. Add yogurt, chicken broth, four of the basil leaves (slivered), salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste, and stir. Transfer to food processor, and process until smooth (do not purée). Return to bowl, cover, and chill for two hours.

Serve garnished with remaining basil leaves (slivered), avocado (diced), and radishes (chopped).

Roots Catering brown rice horchata
Horchata is a cold, creamy, traditional Mexican drink made with rice, almonds, cinnamon and sugar, often served with breakfast. This version is from Massa Organics (, which sometimes serves samples at the Saturday Market, where I got the recipe.

1/2 cup sugar
Meat from 1 coconut, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup Massa Organics Brown Rice, soaked overnight, and drained
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Boil sugar and five tablespoons water in a small covered saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until sugar dissolves, four to five minutes. Transfer to a bowl and allow syrup to cool.

Put coconut and 1 1/2 cups water into a blender and purée until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids with a rubber spatula to extract as much coconut milk as possible, and set aside.

Put rice, almonds, cinnamon and two cups water into clean blender and purée until smooth. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible, then return strained mixture to clean blender.

Add 3/4 cup of the coconut milk, syrup, half and half, vanilla and two cups ice cubes to blender and puree until ice is well chopped and drink is frothy. Divide between two tall glasses and serve immediately.

Notes: 1) This is a very labor-intensive recipe. It took me about two hours, including baking the coconut (to get the meat) and blanching the almonds to make the two glasses. 2) Mine didn’t turn out as smooth as I’d hoped, although it was delicious. Next time, I might try prepared coconut meat and will definitely strain the mixture better and purée it longer.

Update: Henri received a response to his Aug. 14 article on peaches, in which I wrote that the Southern states, including Georgia, lead the country in peach production.

Ashley Paul, with the California Fruit Tree Agreement in Reedley, pointed out that California is actually the lead peach producer, and accounts for 70 percent of U.S. fresh-market peach production. More information: