Rachel's Table

How a Locavore Gets Through the Winter

As I hack into another winter squash, I’m realizing this locavore business just got real.

Winter is almost here. Fall is passing with an ever decreasing selection of fruits and vegetables. My favorite Honeycrisp apples are long gone, and the excitement of fall colors is fading to gray. As I puree another butternut squash or seed another pumpkin, I’m thinking of the juicy burst of a sun-ripened cherry tomato. It’s only pre-Thanksgiving November and way too early to reminisce about summer produce.

One of my favorite photos and what my dreams are made of

Seeing as this is my first winter trying to eat only foods grown or raised within 100 miles of my front door, I’m feeling the pressure. How does an East Coast locavore get through the winter?

She probably cans and freezes summer’s bounty. Right now, I have two tiny bags of sun-dried tomatoes and a few medium bags of sweet corn waiting in my freezer, but nary a canned good to speak of. Not enough to get me through the rest of November, let alone the entire winter season. Sad times for this locavore. Learning to can and preserve were on my “to do list” this summer, but never turned into reality.

So I’m changing my moniker. Just for the winter, I’m giving myself a break and calling myself a Flexilocavore. Rather than winter meals consisting strictly of meat, potatoes, and winter squash, I’m embracing the pantry. My pantry will be filled with supplementary items like organic canned tomatoes, black beans, lentils, and brown rice. Without these, steak and potatoes would be on the menu every single night–a boring prospect for someone who likes to cook and eat interesting meals. I may even splurge and buy a few avocados every now and then (but I promise I will NEVER by another grocery store tomato as long as I live).

So how does a locavore get through the winter? By making Thai food at home with spicy pantry items, a little flexibility, and local chicken, carrots, celery, and mushrooms.

Thai Chicken Soup (the Flexilocavore Way)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (or more depending on your taste)

1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 stalks celery, sliced

3 carrots, sliced

4 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced

2 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

8 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste

1/2 pound green beans, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for serving

1 cup cilantro, for serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups cooked brown rice

(To make it vegan, use vegetable broth and add more veggies like red peppers and water chestnuts–for texture. Tofu would be nice in this soup as well.)

Coconut milk and my favorite chili garlic sauce–two ingredients I’ll be keeping in my pantry all winter

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the chili garlic sauce and stir to combine with oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the oil and chili sauce. Allow chicken to brown for about four minutes. Add the onion, celery and carrots. Saute for four minutes. Add the mushrooms, curry powder and ginger; cook, stirring until spices are toasted, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer.

Veggies cooking and spices toasting

Add the green beans. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the green beans are crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the lime juice.

One of my favorite kitchen accessories–the lime juicer

Taste the soup and season with more salt or fish sauce as needed. Place a portion of brown rice into a bowl and add the desired amount of soup. Top with cilantro and lime wedge. Serve with more chili garlic sauce on the side. Serves 6.

Who knew winter cuisine could be so light and refreshing?

This soup is bright and light (thanks to that lime juice) but still manages to provide the comfort one expects from a chicken soup. I hope you make it this winter!

{This post part of Fight Back Fridays on Food Renegade}


  1. Coconut curry soup is one of my absolute favorites! We stir fry tofu to put in it (instead of chicken) and do without the fish sauce. When I want a fishy taste, I’ll drop in a few strips of kombu (seaweed) which does the trick for my tastebud. Nice post!

    You’re gonna do fine through the winter. One word: PIZZA!! Find a good crust that you can top with just about anything (with a base of olive oil and garlic vs. tomato sauce), even squash slices. It’ll scratch your yummy itch.

    Have you eaten beet greens yet? Broccoli greens? They are growing this time of the year, but most people throw away the tops, which are not only super-nutritious, their yummy to boot. Cooked or raw…

    • Shannon, as usual you are a wealth of knowledge. I didn’t even think that fish sauce wasn’t vegan! That’s how far off from vegan I am. Oops!

      Pizza is a great idea. I was just talking about a good pizza dough with my friend Sean. He swears he’s got a good one over at his blog. I believe him, because everything he makes looks yummy.

      I’ve had beet greens, and can get local beets. Never had a broccoli green! I’ll give it a try. And I’ll let you know how my beet green pizza turns out! 🙂

      • Broccoli greens taste just like (guess what?) broccoli. If you like baby kale, you’ll love these babies! I grow my own just so I can snip the leaves for daily salads. To heck with the crown!

        Try the beet greens with some thinly sliced boiled beets, onions, (in addition to the fresh garlic/olive oil) and top with feta. Mm, mm.

  2. Looks good! Glad to see you’ve got a real Mexican lime juicer, amiga. Go get yo’self an avocado and some good tequila — Mexico ain’t that far away… (In the global village, we’re ALL local.)

  3. I totally feel your pain. I’ve canned and pickled tons, and froze some stuff, but in a Brooklyn apartment, there’s only so much I can store. So I shift to more organic products. My meals also get very grain/bean heavy and I try to use root veggies but it takes time to adapt to the culture. We have greenhouses in Brooklyn for salad greens and VERY expensive tomatoes and I go seasonal/local to other areas. So citrus from Florida in December. I at least force myself to stay in the US, so avocados from CA, not Mexico. And I count the days until April and those first asparagus stalks start shooting up.

    • Grain/bean heavy. Exactly. Which is why I must be flexible. I can’t get local beans or grain. A bread maker nearby grows 25% of his own wheat, but the rest of it comes from the midwest. It’s hard to eat locally in the Mid-Atlantic states! I will “splurge” on some clementines when Christmas rolls around, but I envy your local salad greens in the winter!

  4. You had me at “flexilocavore.” Also, “avocado.”

    Watch out, though. It’s a slippery slope. One minute it’s local, then flexilocal, then before you know it, Cheesecake Factory.

    • This recipe is so easy! And here’s a secret: if you don’t feel like cutting up and cooking the chicken, just cook the veggies, add the broth, add the green beans, and then drop in a bag of frozen pot stickers or mini wontons. Annie Chun is a good organic brand I’ve used before (when I wasn’t a locavore or a flexilocavore).

  5. Pingback: Happy CSA Day! {Weeks 5 and 6} | Rachel's Table

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