Finding Beauty and Something New at the Farmers Market, and Coconut Lime Beef with Cilantro and Red Cabbage

Dear Joey,

We finally made it to the Farmer’s Market this summer. It only took us until the first Saturday after school started to make it there. Not everyone was as excited about it as me: Addie crossed her arms and stomped her way to the car, going on about how mean we were for dragging her out of the house and huffing “You said I could color all day” as finally climbed into her seat.

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Once we got there, I handed her my phone and asked her if she wanted to take some pictures. It was a desperate move on my part to coax a happy attitude out of her. The last thing I wanted was a grumpy, whiny kid ruining a trip to a place so alive with every color imaginable. Color and beauty speak to this kid and she has a knack for capturing it. Plus, she feels pretty grown up when I let her tinker around with the camera. I knew she’d take the bait.


As we strolled up the deserted aisle, 8:00 in the morning felt early. The tables were still piled high with fruits and vegetables that seemed to glisten in the morning light. Nothing was picked over yet and the sellers greeted us with the sort of smiles I read about in those winsome books about the farm to table movement. I felt like we were part of something big, beautiful and important in those few quiet moments.

I led the girls from stall to stall, pointing out the colors and textures and quizzing them on the names of the things they saw. They swooned over the brilliant red berries, begging to taste as much as they were allowed. They touched and smelled and asked questions as we went. Then, I let each girl pick something special: Addie picked a ruddy heirloom tomato that looked very much like clown lips to her young eyes. Mia picked a pale green bitter melon, a new vegetable for us and one she wasn’t actually keen on tasting after all. But the farmer was so kind to tell us all about it, and his enthusiasm for it must have done its job because she was pretty excited to tell you all about it.

I was not as excited to cook it, to be honest. As I sliced it up, I wondered how I would ever mellow the sharp bite that in my mind screams don’t eat me!  But the little mound of scalloped half moons piling up on my cutting board was so pretty I didn’t care about that for a moment: certainly they would just make dinner more beautiful.


They did, and they didn’t. Certainly the colors and textures of that stir fry were far more brilliant than much I’ve made lately, but the sly bitterness of the cute little veggie was not our favorite. Thankfully it didn’t permeate the rest of dinner, because what I came up with was super delicious in its own right.


So hooray for us for getting up and out on an otherwise lazy Saturday morning, for stretching our legs and our culinary muscles and trying something new and different. And hallelujah for a pantry full of ingredients to turn something so-so into something delicious.



Coconut Lime Beef with Cilantro and Red Cabbage

IMG_4455 After all that, bitter melon didn’t make it to the ingredient list here, but if you enjoy a challenge (or happen to like bitter melon), it really does work in this recipe. We handled about a half-dozen bites with it until we started plucking the pieces out of our bowls). Like I said before, the bitterness didn’t overpower the flavor of the dish, and what was left was sweet and tangy, mellow and spicy all at the same time. This dish uses Tamari, which is gluten free soy sauce (regular soy sauce uses wheat, a lesson I learned the hard way). Addie likes the beef ok, but the veggies aren’t her favorite yet. Emery liked it all until he got a bite of the bitter melon. And Mia wouldn’t go near this for the life of her.


For the sauce:

1/4 low sodium Tamari

1/4 white vinegar

5 Tablespoons lime juice (plus more for garnish)

2 T Stevia/erythrytol sweetener blend (like this one) or about 4 T cane sugar

a pinch of kosher salt

For the Stir Fry:

1 pound ground beef

1 medium carrot, jullienned

1/2 medium head red cabbage, sliced (about 5 cups or so)

5 green onions, ends removed and cut into 1″ sections

1/2 medium onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced (plus more for garnish)

2 Tablespoons unrefined Coconut Oil

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

almond slices, for garnish


First, prep the veggies and have them cut and ready to go. Next, mix together the sauce; taste it and adjust the sweetness as you go.

Now for the meat: set a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the coconut oil, then add the onions to the pan and cook until they are almost translucent. Next, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until the it releases its fragrance.  Turn the heat up to medium high and add the beef into the pan, squishing it as you go to make nice large pieces of it. Season the beef with the ginger, salt and red pepper flakes.

On to the veggies: crank up the heat to high and add the carrots first, then the cabbage. Cook those two together for a few minutes (3-5) and let them soften a bit. Add the green onions next, then the coconut. Pour in that sauce and let it deglaze the pan. Once the veggies are soft to your liking, add in the cilantro and give it a good stir.

To serve, mound the sweet and spicy goodness into a bowl and top it with more red pepper flakes, a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkle of cilantro, and almond slices if nuts are your thing.

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