The Berkeley Bowl Inspires a Cookbook

Oakland registered dietician Laura McLively pulls together recipes from the staples and oddities of the iconic market.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Stroll the aisles of the 40-year-old Berkeley Bowl, and you’ll lose yourself in dreams of concocting spicy, fragrant dishes filled with eggplants, snow peas, and sea beans. Sea beans, you ask? Yes. As anyone who’s spent even a half-hour in the local store (which opened a second location in 2009) knows, the produce section is filled with an assortment of oddly shaped, frilly, and sometimes downright spiky fruits and veggies. If you’ve wondered how to cook these unusual varieties, relax: Oakland registered dietician Laura McLively has dedicated herself to teaching you in The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by the Extraordinary Produce of California’s Most Iconic Market. That’s pretty high praise for the family-run Berkeley Bowl, but anyone who’s battled the parking lot for a spot knows just how special the store is. (You’ll find more than produce, of course, including a great wine selection, bakery, cheese, bulk items, and more — oh, but you know that.)

McLively, who created the blog My Berkeley Bowl, divides her book into unusually named sections (if not aisles), including Flowers, Seeds, and Pods; Leaves; and Spores and Succulents — many of which sound a little scary even to this Brussels sprout-loving vegetarian. Roots and Tubers? OK, I’m game. I make my list, grab my husband (who’s always happy to spend as long as possible at Berkeley Bowl, though he gravitates toward the meat section), and set out on my journey to whip up Grilled Cheese With Mizuna, Dates, and Goat Brie (which I think works for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner); Toasted Salad Savoy With Pears and Goat Cheese (easy and pretty enough for guests); Sea Bean and Soba Salad (sea beans are spindly, salty aquatic succulents, so you know); and Catalan-Style Gai Lan With Raisins and Pine Nuts (grab the juiciest golden raisins ever at the bulk food bins). I had trouble finding the gai lan, but that was also part of the fun of shopping at Berkeley Bowl — discovering the names, textures, and originating countries of the greens and golds and purples and seeing what everyone else is buying. The cooked recipes were incredibly tasty. The sweet golden raisins perfectly complemented the savory gai lan crisped in garlic; the purple salad savoy was sweetened by just enough olive oil and as pretty as can be. The book is mouthwateringly beautiful (with helpful, gorgeous photos by Erin Scott), and McLively provides a lovely brief history of the store and its owners as well as advice on kitchen equipment and those all-essential spices you’ll need and find right in the store. Next up for me: Sweet Corn and Chive-Stuffed Squash Blossoms (ricotta filled, yes), Banana Blossoms with Glass Noodles, and Roasted Chestnut Chocolate Torte — it’s nice to know what I’ll be baking next holiday season. If I get really brave, I’m going for the Buddha’s Hand Scones. The slender yellow, fingerlike citrus fruit frightens me a little, but after all, we’re talking scones. So conquer your fears, and put together a backyard summer bash with Chipotle-Roasted Satsuma Tacos and Prickly Pear Sorbet, just right for the sweetest season.

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