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Food and Drink

Early spring greens and herbs – plus tomatoes, cukes and colorful chard – await you at local markets

Although many local food crops won't be field-harvested for quite a while, Alaska produce is still being produced. Thanks to greenhouses and hydroponic setups, you can chow down on fresh greens and herbs right now.

Seeds of Change, a hydroponic farm in Midtown, will bring rainbow chard, mixed lettuces, stevia, and dill, chives, mint and basil to the Center Market and the South Anchorage Farmers Market.

"We've been having so much fun at these markets," says Seeds of Change spokeswoman Sundance Visser.

The farm's lettuce mix combines Salanova, New Red Fire, Tropicana and other sweet, juicy "summer crisp" varieties. Visser reports a lot of consumer interest in the stevia: "People are definitely surprised by the sweetness."

Incidentally, that rainbow chard is truly eye-catching stuff. Its gold, orange, pink, red and white stalks should be seen, so why bury them in a quiche or casserole? Instead, turn this supremely fresh vegetable into a side dish that's as gorgeous as it is savory.

Lemon-garlic rainbow chard (from AllRecipes.com)

3 bunches chard, trimmed and rinsed

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves sliced garlic (or to taste)

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cut leaves into thin strips and set aside; slice stems thinly. In large skillet or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic, chard stems and pepper flakes. Cook for 3 minutes or until stems begin to soften. Add chard leaves, cover and cook 5 minutes over low to medium heat. Stir, put the cover back on and cook until chard is tender. Toss with lemon juice and serve.

South Anchorage Farmers Market

Among the early-season treasures here are radishes and multiple varieties of lettuce from Harvest Point Farm, blue oyster mushrooms from Northern Fungi, and greenhouse cukes and tomatoes from Pam's Veggies. Just a little preview of summer, according to market spokesman Arthur Keyes.

"The varieties and selection will be increasing weekly," Keyes says. "We are excited about what we'll be bringing."

New vendors this week are Zoi Food 4 Life, Anchor Point Greenhouse and Sun Circle Farm. They'll be joining a couple of dozen market regulars such as Rempel Family Farm, Two Sisters Greenhouse, Glacier Valley Farm, Harvest Pointe Farm, Farm 779, Three Bears Farm, Pam's Veggies, Country Garden Farms, EarthWorks Farm, Arctic Choice Seafoods, Northern Fruit and Drool Central.

Anchorage Farmers Market

Arctic Organics will have mixed lettuces, scallions, rhubarb and the first harvest of basil. Due to cool and windy spring weather, arugula has been the farm's mainstay up until now, according to grower Sarah Bean.

"The weather hasn't been conducive to (many) of our regular early crops," she says.

There's still plenty of arugula left, though, and it's good for more than salad: as a substitute for lettuce on sandwiches, say, or as a topping for pizza or a bruschetta done on the grill. The Bean family likes to toss arugula, fresh tomatoes and olive oil with hot pasta, and to use it in place of basil to make pesto.

Joining them at the market are vendors like Matanuska Gardens, Seldovitch Farm, AD Farm, Happy Valley Chickens, the Persistent Farmer, Sun Fire Ridge and Turkey Red Café.

Center Market

Round up the usual suspects, including Alaska Sprouts (microgreens, basil, tofu and sprouts), Alaska Flour Co. (barley products), Doggy Decadence pet treats, Evie's Brinery (kimchi and other fermented foodstuffs), Monica's Confection Connection (homemade candies) and Tonia's Biscotti.

You can be as paleo as you wanna be thanks to the grass-fed beef from Windy River Farms and numerous pasture-raised pork and chicken products from Alex Davis, such as his enormous "dino" chops, loin roasts, fajita meat and ribs. Davis is also taking reservations for butcher pigs, by the half or whole hog.

Just a thought: Some of that fresh, locally raised meat would go well with lemon-garlic chard, plus a side salad made with all-local greens, tomatoes, radishes, cukes and a fresh herb dressing. As the old saying goes, this food is 2,000 miles fresher.

Farmers markets this week:

Wednesday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Saturday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street. Also: Anchorage Farmers Market, 15th Avenue and Cordova Street, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. And: South Anchorage Farmers Market, just off Old Seward Highway and O'Malley Street.

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