Gnarly Nature produce, Passionate packaging and outstanding Afghan.

Salmon Symphony: Amir’s kabobs only get more attractive by way of 10 percent military discounts and three-part lunch specials for $9.99.

The mutant carrots are twisted and pale. The beets are eerily elongated. The yellow squash looks like a bony alien spaceship.

But that’s not the crazy thing about new upstart Gnarly Nature Organic Produce (383-9215), at least according to the young, ebullient entrepreneur behind the “hideously flavorful” goods, Carolyn Swanson, who’s a little crazy (in the best ways) herself.

“Our stuff is a farmer’s funkily shaped harvest, sometimes a surplus,” she says. “It’s perfectly edible food, but it would normally be composted because it isn’t pretty enough for the retail marketplace. Crazy? We thought so too.”

Swanson already had a foothold in local kitchens with Passion Purveyors (383-9215), which she started in 2007 from a personal and planetary place: She saw all the waste created by packaging and, with the money saved from working two jobs, started approaching outlets with alternatives to Styrofoam.

“It was a hard sell at first,” she says. “Styrofoam bans weren’t there, and it’s hard to convince people to pay more.”

She targeted locally owned, forward-thinking folks. She packaged enhanced service with her packaging to help slice away any increased costs.

“I found all the third party-funded rebates, looked at water use, studied energy rebates, and utilized those services we found that were free,” she says.

She now lists Cafe Lumiere, Acme Coffee, Phil’s Fish Market, Babaloo Food Truck, Bernardus, Hula’s, Montrio Bistro, Esteban, Parker Lusseau and Peppers among her clients.

“As a small startup, I couldn’t give my customers the packaging they want without her,” Babaloo’s Gladys Parada says. “She’ll buy the case and split it into small quantities, and meet me on the road. She even buys food and won’t take a discount, saying, ‘We’re all in this together.’”

But Gnarly was more her thing. “My number one passion is food,” Swanson says. “I was thinking, ‘How can I distribute food to restaurants?’ Chefs are never excited to talk packaging – that’s where their food goes to die, like a little food coffin – but they love to talk produce.”

And as produce goes, this is conversational gold, particularly for a lady this loquacious. One day, Swanson says, it’ll be “D-cup beets” from Hollister: “They’re perfectly good,” she says, “just people aren’t used to the size.” The next, it’s organic lemons that are too small, though they have thinner skins. “They’re juicier!” she insists, and the lemonade I made corroborates. Her misshapen albino carrots, meanwhile, were as good as any organics I’ve had, and some Gnarly green garlic, oiled and roasted, elevated two meals.

Since Gnarly can acquire would-be cast-offs for less, chefs are stoked to get the passed-along savings (they’re chopping up the produce anyway). Her team delivers Tuesday and Thursday (order by midnight the night before) – and Tuesday extra “Gnarlys” go to Meals on Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula. The produce hails from small, local organic farms. Today that largely means the family of start-up farms at nonprofit Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, though Swanson says she needs more to meet germinating need.

“Tell local organic farms,” she says. “Calling all funks!”

~ ~ ~

Keeping with the theme: Different is beautiful. But it ain’t always easy.

Different was a driving reason why Weekly video eye Joel Ede and I headed to Amir’s Kabob House in Monterey (642-0231) to shoot the second in a chef-centric series called In Your Dish that profiles the area’s amazing tastes.

Different also has Afghanistan native Chef Mukhtar Amir driving to Oakland for spices he can’t get locally, and to Fremont for the flat skewers that cook his signature kabobs from the inside out.

To do his singular salmon editions, he marinates them in those spices and endlessly moisturizes them with a spray bottle as they approach a perfect pink.

The basmati rice is also a grain all its own, soaked overnight and boiled before it is crisped just a touch, Afghan style. The green and red chutneys, meanwhile, are incredible – and totally unique.

“Most people have never had our kind of food before,” he says. “But if you really love food, and are willing to try the different spices and style of cooking… [you] end up saying, ‘Oh my God.’”

~ ~ ~

“Forget about your taxes,” Chuy Lopez writes. “Time to share the juice of the gods, tequila.” Monday, April 18, his family hosts its third Lopez Restaurante y Cantina tasting. $15 in advance ($20/door) includes apps and a Sierra Nevada sample or two. 760-6814… Props to the Pebble Beach Company’s new employee-based volunteer committee: This weekend they’re renovating/replacing Del Rey Woods Elementary vegetable garden and more… The Monterey Bay Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International will be holding their second annual Gourmet Garage Sale on Saturday, April 9, from 8am – 3pm at 144 W. Carmel Valley Road… In talking to Parada (see above), I learned Babaloo Cuban Food Truck’s at REI in Marina 11am-2pm Tuesdays. Vamos… “In order to be irreplaceable,” Coco Chanel says, “one must always be different.”

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