CoMo Cuisine, A to Z

A is for apple — in kindergarten. Then we grow up and realize there’s no need to be so predictable in our exploration of food. That’s especially true in Columbia, where a love of good food supports multiple farmers markets and several specialty grocers and restaurants offering the best American fare and exotic, international cuisine.

Get started on a taste adventure with this A-to-Z sampling of CoMo’s culinary scene. Fresh vegetables, succulent burgers, made-from-scratch breads, delectable sweets — it’s all here and mm-mm more.

Asparagus marks the annual return of spring and the welcome arrival of fresher, lighter fare to our tables. The green shoots get their color from sunlight — white asparagus grows under a mound of dirt to prevent the development of chlorophyll. When the farmers markets open, stalk stalls for asparagus, take the bundle home and cook it al dente. Interested in growing it yourself? Strawberry Hill Farms, located at 3770 E. Highway 163 near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, has a handy growing guide online.

1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 pound fresh asparagus, stems removed
Heat your pan very, very hot. When you can burn your eyes by glancing at it, it’s ready. Throw in the asparagus, a pinch each of salt and pepper, and give the pan a toss. Let it sizzle for 20 seconds and toss again. Now add about a tablespoon of oil, toss again, and take the pan off the heat. The asparagus should be firm. Let it cool slightly in the pan before serving.

This quick technique is a timesaver at dinnertime, taking only a few minutes to complete. Blistered asparagus is great as a side for steak and potatoes, or with a poached egg and bacon. Leftovers can go into the next day’s salad.

Columbia may not be host to an army of predawn bakers tending to their rising loafs, but it does have a small group of dedicated keepers of leavened bread. Uprise Bakery (10 Hitt St.) serves breads and pastries made from scratch daily, using organic flours and grains. The restaurant also serves soups, salads and sandwiches. Just 10 minutes away in Rocheport, Annie’s Breads specializes in bread, from honey oat to sweet baguette and cottage dill to sourdough. Both Uprise Bakery and Annie’s Breads products are available at Clovers Natural Market (2100 Chapel Plaza Court and 2012 E. Broadway) and the Columbia Farmers Market (1701 W. Ash St.).;;;

Chili Peppers
There are thousands of pepper variants in the world. Pictured here are habaneros, Anaheims, jalapeños and serranos. Mid-Missouri’s climate suits pepper growth well. Plant serranos, and chances are you’ll have more peppers than you know what to do with. One suggestion is to slice raw serranos over lime-pickled Missouri trout for a home-state version of ceviche.

In the span of a couple of months, Columbia transformed from a doughnut desert into a doughnut dreamland, with two craft doughnut shops setting up shop. Harold’s Doughnuts (114 S. Ninth St.), owned by Michael Urban, is named for Urban’s grandfather Harold Meyer — an auto-store owner and lifelong doughnut lover. The locally owned and operated shop offers two menus: daily and seasonal.

Strange Donuts comes to CoMo from St. Louis and, like Harold’s, offers a mix of classic flavors and more, well, strange ones such as jalapeño or chicken-and-waffle. Commence doughnut wars now, CoMo!;

Elderberry Jelly
Elderberry jelly from River Hills Harvest is made from pure American elderberry juice, lightly sweetened with pure cane sugar and a hint of lemon. Elderberries bloom July through September; in addition to juices and jellies, they find their way into wine, pies, barbecue sauces, salad dressings, syrups and more. The main River Hills farm is located in Minneapolis, but affiliate farms exist across the Midwest, with one in Hartsburg.

The Missouri Division of Tourism has billed Missouri as “Where the Rivers Run” — and for good reason. One only has to travel a couple of hours south to see canoe outfitters and campgrounds dotting the countryside. In the Ozarks, trout fishing is a major draw. Troutdale Farm in Gravois Mills has been supplying trout to such local restaurants as The Wine Cellar & Bistro (505 Cherry St.) and Sycamore (800 E. Broadway) for years.;;

Gummy Bears
Lucky’s Market, which opened at 111 S. Providence Road in January 2014, offers a plethora of fresh foods. In the bulk section, however, sits the store’s sweet spot — a barrel full of multi-colored, semi-translucent gummy bears. If you haven’t had these gummy bears yet, trust us, these are the gummy bears to eat. Soft, flavorful and not too sticky, Lucky’s gummy bears are a candy fan’s dream and a fast-growing CoMo favorite.

Jacques Laboile is a Columbia culinary legend. The French chef is also an apiarist — a beekeeper. He has a small bee farm, Bonne Femme Honey, just outside of Columbia and periodically sells fresh honey, candles, beeswax and honey combs at the Columbia Farmers Market. The liquid gold can also be found at Clovers Natural Market on Broadway.;;

Everybody has a favorite burger. You know, the one that you crave, dream about, salivate over? Pictured here is the tantalizing creation of Chef Mark Sulltrop at 44 Stone Public House, located at 3910 Peachtree Drive. The 44 Stone burger consists of one seared black Angus patty with Jameson steak sauce, mayo, sharp cheddar, roasted cremini mushrooms and baby arugula delicately placed between fresh, toasted pretzel buns. Add it to your burger rotation.

Of course, we can’t talk about burgers without mentioning the most famous Columbia burger joint of all, Booches Billiard Hall (110 S. Ninth St.). This nostalgic restaurant still serves its burgers up on waxed paper, with nary a fry to be found.

Ice Cream
Ah … Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream. CoMo’s small, local ice cream shop at 21 S. Ninth St. has nearly 13,500 Facebook fans and counting. The popular shop wins back-to-back Best of Columbia awards for best frozen treat, best ice cream, etc. But what Sparky’s really wins year after year is our hearts. The fresh ingredients and fun flavors always keep patrons excited for more. We’ll take an Oreo Speedwagon next to a painting of Admiral Ackbar any day.

We also won’t refuse any invitation to Buck’s Ice Cream Place, located on the University of Missouri campus at 1406 E. Rollins St. There’s no sweeter way to show Tiger pride than with an order of Buck’s signature Tiger Stripe ice cream, a dreamy concoction of French vanilla and dark Dutch chocolate.;

A few fresh stops in town keep Columbia’s juices flowing. Main Squeeze (28 S. Ninth St.) serves all-natural foods and more than 80 percent of its menu is organic. Try the juice drinks, fresh juice combos, fruit smoothies made with 100 percent fruit, power potions and more. At Blenders (308 S. Ninth St.), owner Kieran McBride loves being active and offers fresh smoothies named by Facebook fans. The drinks rotate from time to time, but all smoothies and juices are made from scratch — no purees, no powdered mixes, no syrups and no ice. Soon, Columbia’s downtown will also offer a Jamba Juice, opening in the Brookside complex on 10th Street.;

“Eat more Kale!” proclaims a T-shirt hanging behind the register at Main Squeeze. Few food fashions have had the lasting power of kale. If you want this “superfood” fresh, we love offerings from Sim’s Garden at Columbia Farmers Market. Not one to eat dark leafy greens? Kale is also a lovely, decorative garden plant. Preview it in some of the urban garden beds located throughout The District.;

1 bunch kale
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss ingredients together until kale is well-coated. Place the mix on baking pan, and put pan in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until kale is crunchy and slightly translucent.

Lavender is a subtle ingredient that slips in and out of menus around Columbia. You’ll find the smoky and herbaceous relative of mint consistently on the menu at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, in the form of Lavender Honey Ice Cream, and at Main Squeeze, in the form of Lavender Lemonade. You can pick up some buds at both locations of Clovers Natural Market, or fresh lavender from Pierpont Farms — a community-supported agriculture farm just south of Columbia at 8810 S. Route N.;;

Making macarons is hard work. The sweet, meringue-based mini sandwiches are made of eggs, icing, sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring or dye. Getting the heat of the oven, the timing of the baking and the consistency of the almond-based batter just so takes years of practice. The good news is you don’t have to travel to Paris or New York to get your macaron fix. Simply stop by U Knead Sweets at 808 Cherry St. Sensitive eaters rejoice: The nearly 15 flavors of macarons are all gluten-free.

Missouri is nuts for nuts! From walnuts, pecans, chestnuts and hickories, the Missouri Nut Growers Association encourages you to “Grow MO Nuts!” The Eastern black walnut has been the state nut of Missouri since 1990. Another commonly enjoyed nut is the pecan. According to the Missouri Northern Pecan Growers, the Missouri pecan has a unique taste due to a cooler climate and shorter growing season than its southern counterparts.

Olive Oil
The newest specialty store on the block, Boone Olive Oil Co. is eager to change Columbians’ expectations of oils and vinegars. The locally owned and operated store offers premium olive oil imported from Italy, Spain, Portugal and California.

Stop in at 20 S. Ninth St. for a full tour, a tasting and an education on why blackberry-infused olive oil pairs best with the ginger-infused vinegar or what it means for olive oil to be truly fresh. You can pick up a fresh baguette from Uprise Bakery while in the shop, and you’ll find Boone Olive Oil products across the street at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream and at various other downtown restaurants and local markets.

From the outside, it’s difficult to imagine space for a restaurant inside Café Poland (807 Locust St.), but enter and the space seems to expand like one of Harry Potter’s wizardry tents. Iwona Galijska and Robert Burlinksi maintain the establishment. The mother/son duo came to Columbia four years ago and have been serving authentic Polish fare since January 2013.

Café Poland serves pierogi, dumplings of unleavened dough, year-round. Varieties include meat; potato and farmer’s cheese; and mushroom and sauerkraut. The pierogi at Café Poland are fried in olive oil, served with sautéed onions and topped with sour cream. They’re served best with borscht — a beetroot soup — and can be purchased fresh or frozen by the dozen in the café.

Columbia is awash in Mexican restaurants — at last count there were 14. But have you tasted the quesadillas at Las Margaritas yet? White cheddar and a flour tortilla are what make this cheese quesadilla so delicious. They’re even good the next day. Throw them in a pan with a little sunflower oil, and they come right back to life. The Mexican bar and grill is located at 10 E. Southampton Drive, Suite B.

Rosemary is a wonderful herb you can plant at home each spring and watch it grow like a weed. Use it to flavor all kinds of dishes. Find starter plants at any local nursery.

2 cups olive oil
½ cup fresh rosemary, stems removed
**In a small saucepot on low heat, bring the olive oil to 250 degrees. Turn off the heat, add the rosemary and allow the flavors to marry, about 30 minutes. Strain the oil, discard the rosemary and use the oil for finishing meats, in salad dressings or as a dip for bread.

Shiitake Mushrooms
Popular for centuries in Asia, shiitake mushrooms are becoming common in kitchens around Columbia — both professional and personal. Chert Hollow Farm offers log-grown shiitakes. The farm’s owners, Eric and Joanna Reuter, have added shiitake cultivation as something to do in the farm’s downtime — most of the work is done in February. You’ll find shiitakes on the menus of many fine-dining restaurants in Columbia. A tasty shiitake and oyster sauce accompanies Bleu’s signature beef filet (811 E. Walnut St.), and The Wine Cellar & Bistro (505 Cherry St.) serves them in pate, ceviche, custards, soups, sautés and stroganoff.;;

Hone your shiitake skills with this versatile side dish from Inside Columbia Food Editor Brook Harlan.
2 to 4 tablespoons butter (for sautéing)
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, small diced (leeks or whites of green onion will work as a substitute)
1½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
3 to 4 cups hot chicken stock (homemade if possible)
Leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
3 ounces fresh grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons butter, diced at room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté mushrooms in 2 to 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat and season lightly with salt and pepper. The mushrooms should be crisp but not burnt — ends on mushrooms are desirable for texture. After removing mushrooms, deglaze pan with a little stock and reserve mushrooms and deglazing liquid together.

In a separate pan, sweat onions in olive oil and butter over medium heat for a few minutes until they become fragrant. Add rice. Stir to coat with olive oil and butter. Turn heat to low and cook until rice turns opaque while stirring.

Once rice has become opaque and toasted without color, return heat to medium and add white wine; stir until wine is completely absorbed. Add hot stock in 1-cup increments, stirring every 1 to 2 minutes to help release starch from rice. Keep adding stock as the previous cupful is absorbed. Once rice has almost reached al dente stage, add sautéed mushrooms and fresh herbs, then finish to al dente and remove from heat.

While constantly stirring off the heat, add freshly grated Parmesan and room-temperature diced butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Sweet summer tomatoes round out any meal. Tiny sun sugars from Gieringer’s Produce, larger beefsteaks from Theonen Produce and heirlooms from Blue Bell Farm — these tomatoes require no special fixings to be delicious. Add a slice of mozzarella or burrata, and you’re in summer heaven. Shop these vendors at the Columbia Farmers Market to get your tomato fix.;

Pronounced “oo-May-bo-she” and known as a “pickled plum,” umeboshi is a weird-looking pickled ume fruit common in Japan. Salty and sour, these tiny delicacies can be found tucked away on the shelves of Chong’s Oriental Market at 701 Locust St.

1 medium-sized daikon radish, cut into ⅛-inch julienne
1 small (7 ounces) jar umeboshi
2 cups rice vinegar
1 cup mirin
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Place the cut daikon in a container large enough to have the pickling brine submerge the vegetable. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the brine over the daikon and cover. Allow to cool to room temperature, covered. Refrigerate and enjoy within 4 weeks.

Vinaigrette is an essential building block in any cook’s repertoire. There are two basic types of vinaigrette: loose and emulsified. Emulsified vinaigrette binds the oil particles to the water particles, usually with the help of an emulsifier such as raw egg, mayonnaise or Dijon mustard. Loose vinaigrette settles, with the oil sitting atop the other ingredients; shake vigorously before pouring. Vinaigrette is always three parts oil to one part vinegar and can be used for meat marinades, last-minute finishes to grilled vegetables, or dressings for pasta and potato salad, as well as those fresh garden greens.

1 bulb shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
⅓ cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup olive oil
In a food processor, blend all ingredients except oil. Slowly drizzle in oil to form an emulsion. Dressing keeps in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Günter Hans owner Lydia Melton will be the first to tell you that in Belgium, there is no such thing as a “Belgian waffle.” Instead, you may choose between a light and crispy Brussels waffle and a Liege. The Liege has a semi-gooey inside and large sugar crystals that caramelize the outside. Because of the crispy nature of American waffles (basically formed pancakes), most people who try Liege waffles for the first time go back to the counter to inquire if they have been cooked through. Melton is proud to offer Liege waffles, which are fairly difficult to find outside of Belgium. Dress it up or dress it down, the Liege does well with strawberries crème fraîche, chocolate and bananas, mixed berry compote, or a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Xanthan Gum
With a funny name and a simple use, xanthan gum helps add structure to otherwise flimsy gluten-free products. Find it in the organic section at Hy-Vee. Xanthan plays well with Versawhip, a soy protein, to stabilize whipped foams. Versawhip works well in vegan dishes to turn just about any type of liquid except fat into a foam. Versawhip and other specialty pastry products are available online from Willpowder.;
100 grams pink lemonade
½ gram xanthan gum
4 grams Versawhip (or soy lecithin)
Use a micro scale to measure ingredients. In a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients for 2 minutes. Transfer the mix to an electric mixing bowl with the whip attachment and whip on high for 4 to 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Use the “fluff” right away, or rewhip it if it loses its texture.

Trivia time: Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, vary in size from a small potato to a record 130 pounds, and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, were first grown in the Americas and come in “firm” and “soft” varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate them from the firmer kind. The soft sweet potatoes reminded African slaves of yams — or nyami in West African languages — and the name stuck.

In Columbia, if you want a true yam, check Chong’s Oriental Market. But if you want a sweet potato, we recommend losing the marshmallows and ordering up a side of sweet potato fries. Find them in waffle form at Trumans Bar & Grill or loaded with barbecue, meat, cheese, bacon and red onions at Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ.;;

This tubed pasta could even rein in the wandering TV mobster Tony Soprano whenever wife Carmela baked up a batch of the Italian comfort casserole. You can also serve ziti— or bucatoni — in a hearty pasta salad.

1 pound ziti pasta, cooked to al dente
1 red onion, julienne
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup Kalamata olives, pits removed
½ cup banana pepper rings
1 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
1 cup salami, julienned
4 cups spinach
2 cups French vinaigrette
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate. Allow the flavors to marry for 4 to 6 hours before serving.