It’s no secret that we know our way around a spicy flavor profile – we like to leave the option for mouth-blazing heat on the table for those who dare to embrace it. If you’re of a similarly spice-driven mindset, you’ve likely found yourself spoon deep in Harissa — whether it’s a bold scoop atop your Grain Bowl or reinvented in a recipe all your own.
This season, Chef Dimitri and our culinary team are playing with heat in a whole new way – with the addition of a Green Harissa dressing, ripe with vibrant color and jalapeño-based kick. That’s why, on a recent crisp fall day, we found ourselves on-site with one of our farm partners, Country Gardens, navigating acres of their jalapeño fields in Doylestown, PA.
“We like to joke the only difference between gambling and farming is the clean living.”
Laban Garber laughs. The man at the helm of Country Gardens is no stranger to the fickle nature of farm life. He’s seen harvest seasons come and go, and knows firsthand that no two are alike. That expect-the-unexpected outlook is how he managed to emerge triumphant this year, as Mid-Atlantic weather conditions proved less than ideal for jalapeño growing. Despite a torrential spring that quickly snowballed into a scorching summer and prematurely nippy fall, Laban and his team have fueled our jalapeño-heavy fall menu, providing more than 1,500 pounds of peppers for our DC-area Crazy Feta and Green Harissa production.
In his early years growing up on his family’s dairy farm, Laban learned what it meant to nurture something people across the East Coast (and beyond!) could relish as truly exceptional. His experience took a colorful turn in 1989 with a leap from dairy to vegetable farming – and he hasn’t looked back. Twenty-one years after that, he made the decision that ultimately brought us together – the decision to try his hand at jalapeño-growing.
As we weaved in and out of the bucolic rows of chili peppers, Laban explained the rewards that come with raising, caring for, and ultimately harvesting a season’s worth of jalapeños. He shared a few secrets on what it takes to grow a perfect-sized pep – one that’s pristine in color, shape, texture – one that would proudly make it from these very rows to our restaurants, ready to be chopped and folded into the day’s batch of Crazy Feta or pulsed into Green Harissa.As we inspected the yet-to-be-harvested peppers, we noticed slight variations – some were red and some were green, some had cracks and some were smooth. Laban explained the correlation between color and age (the green ones are immature, red are mature, both are edible and delicious).
He revealed how texture affects the heat, “The ones with cracks are the spiciest. You can be sure of that.” And he detailed the short- and long-term planning that goes into producing hundreds of healthy bushels — including rotating the crops every three to four years to help maintain their health and vibrance.In his eyes we saw jalapeño-fueled excitement – a passion and pride that immediately made us want to hit our kitchens to act on the day’s inspiration. We couldn’t help but feel just as hopeful as Laban about the possibility in every pepper.
So, this season — much like the team at Country Gardens – we’re EXCITED about jalapeños. As the days get cooler, and our cravings for all things hot and savory begin to swell, we’re laser focused on the potential for added spice and a new type of kick.In the days since our trip, we’ve taken to our kitchens – recipe-testing and concocting with our newest tiny-but-mighty muse in mind. We’ve been coveting some of our go-to recipes – many of which feature Crazy Feta (one of our favorite uses of jalapeño) – but this time around, we’ve been letting our day at Country Gardens inform the way we’re playing with peppers.
We’ve made room for iteration: experimenting with cut techniques and upping our jalapeño proportions in a variety of dishes — from Crazy Feta Mac N’ Cheese to Crazy Feta Poppers. Reinvention feels right to us, because as we see it, there’s opportunity in improvement, in variety, and in change.And so, a few of our favorite Crazy Feta creations, right this way:
You can purchase our line of small-batch dips and spreads at your area Whole Foods or other area specialty market.
Click here to find the one that’s closest to you.