For the food shopper who thinks, the positively indispensable Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough (Ten Speed Press) released this month is the holy reference guide/blue book that clues consumers in to the real value of what’s on the grocery shelf. At a time when so much is being written about atrocities in our broken food system, consumers looking for sound, actionable advice on making grocery store purchasing decisions will appreciate this neatly compiled background check on everything from canned tuna to flour, fresh meat, fish and milk, and every manner of produce under the sun.
And note that this cannot be dismissed as a mere starter’s guide. As a veteran food nerd for decades, I thought that I knew a something about eating mindfully, ecologically, locally, and sustainably. But a primer on avoiding genetically modified organisms, and a full list of foods that are most commonly GMO? I am edified (sugar, milk and dairy, oils, corn and soybeans -- page 12). The pleasures of the texture of bronze die-cut pasta? I had no idea how this aspect of artisan pasta production can be essential for clinging sauce (page 37). And a list of all of the product acronyms on European foods that signify it is a product of protected origin (such as true, regionally-specific Champagne as opposed to methode champenoise) -- AO, DO, AOC, DOC, DOP, PDO, and IGT, page 47. And that’s just chapter one, people.
Just as one pushes the cart down the grocery aisle, the uber-brainiac education rolls through every department, well-captured in France Ruffenach’s bright, busy photography that conveys what it feels like to shop in Bi-Rite on a sunny Saturday afternoon or at the 5pm dinner rush. Mogannam and Gough give faces to food throughout the book as well, introducing readers to the likes of his brother Raphael, grocery buyer; farmer for the store’s self-grown produce and produce buyer, Simon Richard; and a smattering of farmers that are enmeshed in Bi-Rite’s business and mission -- some, like Drakes Bay Family Farms, purely as retail partner; others, like Soul Food Farm, pet investments to help propel local and sustainable agriculture.
The Eat Good Food shopping information stands alone as a necessity for any kitchen bookshelf. But the tome is also comprised of recipes from the Bi-Rite deli and beyond which, while well written to induce drool and craving, they feel awkwardly placed and difficult to find plunked at the end of each chapter. As a frequent Bi-Rite shopper, I was excited to finally crack the code on their addictive Mujadareh (see recipe below), and their heavenly and rich deli counter summer staple, Sergio’s Gazpacho. Even Delfina’s spaghetti makes a cameo, simple and delicious and part of the book’s neighborhood charm. And thumbing through I quickly found a new favorite, Mom’s Pear Skillet Cake from, you guessed it, Sam’s mother, which yields results that far outshine the effort, and is the perfect thing to be doing with pears right now.
Another challenge of the book is that it’s so much information, it’s nearly impossible to remember the essentials when you’re actually cruising down aisle six. Seafood shoppers striving to do the right thing really benefited from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s wallet card guides to sustainable seafood and then later, their mobile apps. But when pondering the entire grocery store of everything from coffee to celeriac, tri-tip to crème fraiche out in the trenches -- well, we could really use an app for that.
In my favorite cookbooks, encyclopedias, or reference books, I turn down page corners and make notations freely, and my copy of Eat Good Food is already remarkably dog-eared. Essential as a shopping list, I’ve no doubt that it will continue to serve as reference and advisor. And that’s far more valuable than a coupon.
Serves: 4 to 6 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as a side
1 cup uncooked black or green lentils
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium or 2 large onions, diced (about 41/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice, such as jasmine or basmati
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
Rinse the lentils and pick out any stones or foreign objects. Put in a bowl, add water to cover by 1 inch, and soak for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours. Drain the lentils and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add half the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent and golden on the edges, about 4 minutes. Add the lentils, rice, curry powder, 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add 3 cups water, increase the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a boil. Then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover the pot. Cook until the rice and lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, it’s okay if there’s still a tiny bit of bite to the lentils; they will continue to absorb water. Remove from the heat and let rest with the lid on for 10 to 15 minutes.
While the rice mixture is cooking, caramelize the remaining onions: heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the remaining onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as you go, until the onions are soft and almost at the brink of burning, 9 to 11 minutes (lower the heat if the browning seems to be progressing more rapidly than the softening).
To serve, fluff the rice mixture with a fork and transfer to a serving platter.
Top with the caramelized onions.
Serve hot or at room temperature. You can make this up to 2 days ahead. If desired, reheat in a covered, shallow ovenproof dish in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food by Sam Mogannam & Dabney Gough, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Photo credit: France Ruffenach © 2011
Full disclosure: Karen Solomon is the volunteer host of the Jam It Salon at 18 Reasons, the non-profit art and food organization that is part of the Bi-Rite family of businesses.