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Making a case (and quesadilla) for locally grown produce

Wed., June 27, 2007, midnight

Long before you can see Harlow Morgan’s booth at the farmers’ market, you can smell it.

The onions caramelizing to glistening gold. The roasted cumin, dried chipotles, ancho chilies and garlic powder giving off perfume as they toast on the sizzling griddle.

The reaction of people passing by her quesadilla stand is almost Pavlovian.

“The smell draws a lot of people,” says Morgan, who traded life as a chef in Seattle a few years ago for the slower pace in Spokane.

For the past several weeks, Morgan has set up shop at area farmers’ markets, grilling up quesadillas made from locally produced tortillas and locally grown vegetables. She uses Tillamook cheese to hold the hot and gooey sandwiches together, but says she would gladly use cheese from a local maker if she could find one that is affordable.

“I just am very passionate about the farmers’ markets,” Morgan says. “My passion and my goal is to really showcase the farmers’ produce.”

Morgan worked for three years as head chef at the Wellness Institute in Seattle, an alternative-health center, so she is particularly attuned to using fresh, healthy ingredients in her cooking.

“I’ve always been interested in nutrition and health,” says Morgan, who also offers gluten-free corn tortillas or simply a plate of sautéed veggies for those who want them. (For picky kids, she sells cheese-only quesadillas, too.)

She also sells toasted spice mixes as well as her fresh salsas: a fiery red one that gets its heat from chipotles and a milder green sauce made with tomatillos and cilantro.

Since it’s early in the growing season, Morgan has been supplementing her locally grown vegetables with some organic supermarket finds. But she looks for things grown as close to home as possible.

She sandwiches all of the goodies between two tortillas made at Spokane’s De Leon Foods, a Mexican grocery, deli, bakery and tortilla factory on the city’s North Side.

Her quesadillas sell for $5 for a whole one or $3 for half.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, just after the Kootenai County Farmers’ Market in downtown Coeur d’Alene opened, Morgan already had a line of customers eager for quesadillas.

She and an assistant sautéed mounds of onion, cabbage, zucchini and spices before piling the vegetables atop a tortilla to be grilled with some cheese and covered with another tortilla. Each one is served with some of her homemade salsa.

As the produce options expand throughout the summer, so too will the creations offered by Morgan.

So far, though, the quesadilla business is hot.

“Once it gets going,” she says from behind the grill, “I don’t even get to look up.”


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