Story by Lisa A. Listwa
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us – at least for me. CSA season is here! And that means it’s time for some CSA-style cooking.
But hold on – first, what is a CSA?
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Community-supported agriculture is a system that allows a group of customers or members to pay a seasonal subscription fee to an individual farmer (or group of farmers). In exchange, CSA members receive a share of fresh, locally grown vegetables from that farm on a regular basis for the duration of the growing season.
The arrival of your farm share is exciting. You picture yourself as a vegetable pro, whipping up all kinds of healthy and delicious recipes all summer long. You are beyond delighted by the array of farm-fresh vegetables – crisp salad greens, bright carrots, colorful peppers, and so much more.
What is this stuff?
Often, your CSA box will include vegetables that are familiar, but perhaps you don’t usually buy in that form – beets and carrots with the greens still attached, for example. Maybe you find some turnips or parsnips. OK, you think. I can work with this. But sooner or later you are likely to encounter some less familiar – but equally delicious – vegetables in your CSA share. You may find yourself face to face with kohlrabi, Swiss chard, okra, garlic scapes, or…celeriac. No worries – you can use all of this without fear, no matter what your eating style!
What can I do with it?
Your first line of defense is to check out whatever information your farmer provides. Make sure you’re signed up for emails – you’ll find a ton of info in your farmer’s emails about what will be in your weekly share, how to store it, and what to do with it. The farmer’s website and/or social media are also great resources so make sure you follow them there.
You can certainly turn to your own cookbook collection for ideas. Depending on what you have and how you already cook, you may (or may not) be successful. If you don’t find what you need on your own shelf, maybe treat yourself to a new cookbook with a heavy veggie focus. I love Alice Waters’ food philosophy so I can easily suggest her Chez Panisse Vegetables book. I also love anything from Yotam Ottolenghi so I recommend checking out his Plenty and Plenty More. There are so many out there – find your favorite.
You can take to the internet. You’d be amazed how much success you’ll find with a search string like “what the heck is kohlrabi and what am I supposed to do with it?” Social media is a great resource for foodie information. Besides following your farmer, you can follow the social media accounts of your favorite food blogs or find foodie-centered Facebook groups. Of course, you’re already following The Chews Letter online and reading the magazine. (You are, aren’t you?). But if you don’t already have some favorite food reads, here are a few of mine to get you started.
- One of my favorite food blogs is The Mediterranean Dish. Here you’ll find healthy Mediterranean-style recipes filled with vegetables.
- Half Baked Harvest offers quick, easy, and healthy recipes. I’ve found many a family favorite here.
- The Lemon Bowl and The View from Great Island both have recipes that are simple, healthy, and seasonal.
- If you’re looking for more vegetarian and plant-based recipes, check out Love and Lemons or Vanilla and Bean.
- Minimalist Baker boasts recipes that fit into three awesome categories: 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. You can search recipes by particular diet, ingredient, season, and more. Lots of fun to be had here.
- I’ve also found Produce Made Simple to be a very helpful resource in learning about my CSA veggies. Their site includes recipes, tips for storage, and a great “Goes Well With” section that helps you pair those CSA treasures with other foods.
Learn, experiment, and have fun!
Our family has belonged to a CSA every summer for the past several years. We’ve learned a lot. Each season we pick up new ideas and strategies for how to use the items in our vegetable share. We’ve become familiar with many of the items we see each summer and we do revisit favorite recipes. But we are also still learning and trying new things all the time. For example…
My husband does not love dark, leafy greens on their own. But he learned that he won’t die from eating them when we tried this Swiss chard lemon pasta recipe. I just chop the chard extra small. He’s also a big fan of pesto and I’ve found you can make pesto out of just about anything green – basil, sure, but also kale, arugula, beet, or turnip greens, and those weird snake-like garlic scapes. I make huge batches of mix and match pesto in the summer and freeze in ice cube trays to use all year long.
Kohlrabi is maybe the weirdest thing we’ve ever seen in our CSA shares. But mashed cauliflower and kohlrabi make a great side dish. And this fresh mozzarella and roasted kohlrabi crostini is nothing short of elegant. A little labor-intensive, but a very impressive appetizer for your summer dinner party.
Not sure what to do with those bunches of hakurei turnips that show up? Roast or sauté them just like you would any root vegetable. We love these honey glazed turnips. Or just slice them up raw, top with flavored cream cheese, and sprinkle some finely chopped turnip greens on top for a quick snack. Surprisingly delicious.
Beets and beet greens coming out of your ears? Use the beet greens like you would any other dark leafy green. They’re kind of like Swiss chard in appearance, but taste, well, more like beets. They’re great in a sauté or smoothie. You can whip up a simple, quick Moroccan beet salad. Or how about fudgy dark chocolate beet brownies? Yes, brownies. Try them.
When all else fails, pickle it, freeze it, or soup it. I grew up loving pickled eggs and red beets and I can make those with my eyes closed. I’ve also learned to pickle my own hot peppers, cucumbers, and even zucchini to take care of the overflow from the CSA box. In fact, I’ve learned you can pickle just about any vegetable. Just ask Pinterest.
If I have too much of something to use when it’s fresh from the farm, I prep and freeze it for later use. Butternut squash can be easily roasted, pureed, and frozen in small portions for future baking or for tossing into soups, stews, or mac and cheese recipes. Grated zucchini and summer squash freeze beautifully for baking into chocolate chip cookies or lemon poppyseed squash bread.
Soups are a favorite around here. We always have homemade soup on hand during the week. Soup has been my saving grace for just about every kind of vegetable. My greens-averse husband looks forward to arugula soup during “greens season” in June, and celeriac and apple soup is the first thing I make when I see those hairy little bulbs in my box come early fall.
This year, I’m hoping to find a way to like okra. I’ve tried several preparations, but so far, no luck. I’m told that rolled-in cornmeal and fried is the only way to go. I’ve been collecting other ideas as well. I don’t know when the okra will show up in my CSA box, but in the meantime, I’ll be looking for a recipe and waiting with fingers crossed and cornmeal at the ready.