CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Continuing my series of recommended places to eat that have fresh and healthy menu items, we turn to a location that couldn't be more perfect: The Purple Onion fruit and vegetable market in Capitol Market.
The perfection lies in the fact that owner Allan Hathaway's fresh produce is attractively arranged in stacks and rows in his market, just waiting to be selected as ingredients for his soups, fruit cups and salads. The only place more perfect would be to stand in the center of a farm's vegetable garden and orchard at harvest.
While at the Purple Onion for lunch, take time to stroll Hathaway's bulk foods isle. The pasta and grains selection, as well as the dry beans, is eye-opening, in case you are searching for plain and whole-wheat couscous and orzo, spelt and quinoa, as examples, for a certain recipe.
It's hard to not find what you need in the Purple Onion, because, in case you don't see it, he can get it. I once sent a reader to Hathaway in the dead of winter for green tomatoes. I knew there would be a basket on his shelf.
A menu board at the door and again in the alcove where you pick up your soups lets you know the day's specials. The salads are packaged near the checkout and include a good variety of combinations of greens, chicken, cheeses, ham, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, pastas, boiled eggs, plus sandwich duos such as homemade egg salad or sliced meat with bread on the side.
The salads vary each day but are named on the lids. I heartily recommend the vegetarian bean soup when you see it on the menu. The mix of beans and flavor of the seasoned broth is excellent. Hathaway also makes up individual-serving fruit trays.
Departing from the fresh for a moment, bottled piquillo peppers is an ingredient that I see popping up more and more in recipes, as do sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar.
Hathaway has them all, the vinegars standing on a shelf beside a line of plain and flavored olive oils from a brand simply called O.
While fresh corn on the cob is still around, he recommends O's jalapeño-lime olive oil for brushing on grilled corn.
I recently made today's broccoli slaw after the dressing caught my attention. Although the salad still called for the usual suspects of shredded broccoli, sunflower seeds and that dried noodle soup mix, there was no sugar in the dressing. That was different because in every other recipe I've seen, the dressing is always a goodly amount of 40-weight oil blended into heaps of sugar.
This broccoli salad is fine for a quick mix-up when you can't get to the Purple Onion to buy local and eat fresh.