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A culinary postcard from Seattle

By Cynthia Nims
Cooking Light
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(Cooking Lightexternal link) -- For anyone who loves to eat, Seattle is one of the most dynamic and satisfying places to be in the country.

The market basket from which we cook here overflows. Among highlights of the seasonal rhythms are a summer bounty that includes berries, wild salmon, peaches and sweet onions followed by a fall cornucopia of wild mushrooms, game, apples, pears and hazelnuts. Winter brings briny oysters and sweet Dungeness crab, and in spring, we look forward to the first halibut, rhubarb and plump asparagus.

Whether from nearby fields, orchards east of the Cascade Mountains or Alaska's frigid waters, these Northwest ingredients converge in Seattle, where they inspire a talented pool of chefs and home cooks.

Market basket

Many of the region's culinary riches are on display at the stalls of Pike Place Market, which is as much an icon of Seattle as the Space Needle. It was nearly a century ago when a handful of farmers first set up crates near the corner of Pike Street and First Avenue to sell their produce.

What started as a rebellion against unscrupulous middlemen who overinflated prices to consumers and paid little back to the farmers has evolved into a rich producer-to-consumer tradition that continues today. More neighborhood farmers' markets are also being added to the mix, a big boost for this food-loving community.

While farm stalls are still the heart of the Pike Place Market, you can now indulge in a great array of culinary delights at its shops and stalls -- artisanal cheese, hand-trimmed meats, top-quality spices, chewy baguettes, amazing seafood, ethnic groceries and gourmet imported foods. From late spring through early fall, there is also an explosion of fresh flowers at the market, which provide a regional centerpiece for the table.

Emerald City recipe box

When it comes to Seattle's culinary style, ingredients tend to be showcased in simple preparations: steamed mussels, grilled salmon, berries drizzled with cream.

Two other forces also contribute to make eating in Seattle such a treat.

First are the international influences: Asian touches have long been a mainstay in Seattle-style cooking, thanks in part to Japanese farmers who began settling in the area more than a century ago, growing fruit, greens and vegetables for their own tables and for area markets.

Uwajimaya is a gem of a Japanese grocery, a large family-owned store with sizable produce and seafood departments to satisfy the most discriminating Asian clientele -- and everyone else in town. A walk through the city's International District (aka Chinatown) finds markets offering Thai, Vietnamese and Philippine produce and pantry items, as well.

And in recent years, Seattle has welcomed countless other global influences, so we might find prawns cooked in a North African tagine, local lamb braised Italian style or Penn Cove mussels in a Nuevo Latino sauce of coconut milk and tomato.

The second element that makes Seattle such an exciting food town is the creative spirit of the city's chefs. Although the wild frontier days are long behind us, a lingering individualism has given Seattleites freedom to innovate in many arenas, from coffeehouses (Starbucks' original shop is in the Pike Place Market) to the online marketplace (Amazon.com's headquarters overlooks downtown Seattle from Beacon Hill).

That spirit is alive and well in kitchens, too, where chefs apply contemporary touches to the Northwest pantry of ingredients with intriguing and delicious results. The combination of Northwest tradition, international influence and pure individuality put Seattle dining in a satisfyingly modern and delicious context.

Taste of Seattle

The recipes we share here (see Related box) are inspired by everything from the delicious raw materials found at local markets to the innovative specialties served at such Seattle restaurants as Chez Shea, Mistral and Ray's Boathouse. They can be made with items found at the supermarket. But if you crave an authentic taste of Seattle, visit the Pike Place Market Web site (www.pikeplacemarket.orgexternal link) to find links to vendors who will ship fruits, vegetables, seafood, cheese and other local goods.


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Grilled salmon with golden beet couscous captures some of the fresh flavors of Seattle.

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