In part one of this series, we visited Austin's premier package-free microgrocer, in.gredients, which opened in early August to a fan-base-awaiting, filling the need and desire for locals to source their foods just in the way this happy little market offers: fresh, local, pure, sustainable, and as close to zero-waste as allowed by law. I'd been waiting to see just how all this would play out, and, if it was truly a viable alternative to the larger markets I'd been used to frequenting. Would it be friendly, and welcoming to those who may be less sustainable-savvy? Would they practice what they preach? Would it be well-stocked? Would it have everything I need for a meal? Would it carry products that satisfied the less than vegan-strict? And most importantly for this stick-to-a-budget farmer-type--would it be affordable?
We answered many of those concerns in yesterday's post, where you can get a look at just how things look, and work. The answers? Yes! Yes, it was friendly, welcoming, well-stocked, and holding to the mission they've set forth, seemingly from corner to corner, wall to wall, front end and back.
And yes! Everything I needed for the meal I planned to throw together for a few friends. A few carnivorous friends, I might add. A few friends that were a bit skeptical--it sounded all rather granola-crunchy to them. They feared I'd feed them (more) kale and tofu, less meat and potatoes. And they'd be wrong.
Because cheese, eggs, meat, seafood, chicken, breads, prepared foods---they we're all there. All pure and local where possible, and primarily package-free (though necessity requires some items to be sold packaged, like the bacon, below). I buzzed happily around the small shop, hunting and gathering to my heart's content.
There, I found...
- 2 cups dried navy beans
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2t kosher salt
- water (see recipe)
- 2T powdered vegetable stock
- 1lb uncured, sliced pork belly, cubed (we used local Richardson Farms. You will likely find this from a butcher's shop, the farmers' market, or by requesting from a trusted meat department in your local grocery. Alternatively good quality bacon can be used.)
- 1/2 small pie or 'sugar' pumpkin, sliced, seeded, and cubed
- 3T pure maple syrup
- 3T raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup dried french green lentils
- 1 cup fresh haricot verts (small green or 'string' beans), trimmed, and cut in 2" lengths
- 1 cup farro (alternatively, barley or wheatberries can be substituted, adjusting liquids as necessary, or even brown rice, though it will change the texture of the finished dish.)
- 2-3 cored, cubed apples (peeled or not, depending upon preference. I like to keep peels on, to add texture)
- 1T herbes de provence seasoning (or more, to taste)
- kosher salt, to taste
and I put it all together to make one heck of a hearty and satisfying meal. The skeptics agreed! It went something like this:
In a medium saucepan, add water to dried navy beans to cover, plus an inch above. Allow to soak 8 hours (alternatively, bring to a rolling boil, then remove from heat and cover for at least one hour). Drain completely.
Refill with fresh water, again to one inch over level of beans. Add garlic, and 2t kosher salt. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to simmer, covered, until beans are just tender, about an hour and fifteen minutes. (I do like my beans to be a little mushy upon serving, but these beans will be roasting with other ingredients for roughly an hour, so we're stopping just shy of completely cooked, at this stage.) Remove from heat.
Drain, reserving liquid, and place in a large casserole or dutch oven. Add dried vegetable stock to warm bean 'liquor', stir vigorously to blend well, and add water to equal two cups, if necessary. Set aside.
In a large heavy skillet (I use cast iron, but in it's absence, any heavy-bottomed skillet will do, though preferably not nonstick), slowly render fat from cubed pork belly over medium heat. When pork begins to brown, and fat is translucent, add cubed pumpkin (see above). Increase heat to medium high, and toss pumpkin with pork belly in hot drippings, searing, and stirring well, until pumpkin is becoming tender and slightly browned on the edges, about 8 minutes.
Drain excess pork fat, reduce heat to medium and toss pork belly and pumpkin with maple syrup until well coated, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, stirring any juices around the pumpkin pork mixture. Remove from heat.
To casserole with cooked white beans, add pork and pumpkin mixture, reserved vegetable stock/bean 'liquor', dried french lentils, haricot verts, farro, cubed apples, and herbes de provence. Toss all togther, mixing well. Bake, covered, for about one hour, or until pumpkin and beans are tender. Correct seasonings, adding salt, to taste.
Served with a loaf of crusty bread, this cassoulet yields 6 hearty, tummy-warming main dish servings, or 8 or more lunch-sized meals.
So, how economical is shopping at a package-free grocery?
Well that was my question, too. For those of us who have to watch our pennies closely, is this a viable option for feeding our families? Let's see.
My entire bill came to 35$ and some change. The cassoulet yielded 6 healthy main dish servings, and the loaf of day old bread I picked up more than met the needs of the table. My budget for most meals is 5$ per plate. If I factor in the items I bought, but didn't use in their entirety (garlic, one apple, one half of pumpkin, 3/4 of the amount of herbes de provence, and raw apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 the amount of dehydrated vegetable stock and pure maple syrup I purchased), the containers that I bought, but will use again, (2$ muslin bag, 4 plastic containers at .30/piece), and the serendipity of all those pumpkin seeds I'll be toasting to snack on, I met my budgeted allowance, and then some.
Splurges on the recipe were the pork belly, at 10$/lb, and pure maple syrup, always a costly prospect. The raw apple cider vinegar cost more than I expected, also, but like its splurge-y counterparts, lent such intense flavor that less was needed than cheaper imitations you might find on larger market shelves, so I count that as a smart expense.
To reduce the costs even further, and for those of you who observe vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, you might increase the quantity of farro (adjusting the liquid accordingly) which lends a nice, toothy texture, and omit the meat altogether. Simply sear pumpkin in a neutral flavored oil, also available at in.gredients.
What no monetary value could be placed upon was the confidence with which I fed those precious to me, healthy, wholesome, clean foods, knowing I was also helping my community, and my earth, in the process.
That, and the mmmm good's. That's always so nice.