I’m more than a little excited about my local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for the summer. This season, I joined a community that seems special — not only because the farmers drop off the goods at my place of employment (yay!), but they also use sustainable farming practices on their group of horse-powered family farms.
It’s 2016 and I am eating hormone- and antibiotic-free vegetables from a horse-powered farm. I love it.
In the deliveries I’ve received so far this year, my partial share (enough veggies for two people for one week) has included spinach, lettuce, radishes, Chinese cabbage, green beans, strawberries, bok choy, cucumbers, green onions, kale, snap peas, and a turnip. I never know what I’ll get each week, and that’s pretty exciting.
But, it’s also challenging in a couple of ways.
Overcoming Common CSA Challenges
First, the farmers don’t exactly tell me what everything is. This is more of a personal problem. It took two weeks for me to put a name to the Chinese cabbage. I also thought a turnip was a beet because I’m not as advanced as I’d like to be in vegetable identification. But hey, no shame. I like beets, so I cut into it and … found that it was white inside. Let me tell you, “beet white inside” is not a super helpful Google search term. I figured it out after searching through several image results, and then I searched for how to cook turnips because I’m clearly lacking experience there, too.
And that brings me to my second CSA challenge: how to cook the stuff I’m not used to and incorporate it into a meal.
This is more of a broad CSA problem. Meal planning is tough when you don’t know what the meal will contain. Not to mention, I don’t think I’ve ever bought Chinese cabbage, bok choy, turnips or beets in a grocery store, so these definitely stretch my abilities in the kitchen. With surprise ingredients, I tend to use trial and error. It’s easy enough to look up a recipe, but I take great pride in my triumphs and failures alike. (Ahem, I don’t recommend serving turnips and potatoes in the same meal.)
For me, the easiest way to make the best of a meal with a surprise guest vegetable is to pair it with simple stuff. Chicken, rice, and — bam! — bok choy. That way, the vegetable gets to be the standout portion of the meal, and if I’ve failed, the chicken and rice save the day.
How I Handle New-to-Me Veggies in my CSA Share
Deciding you’re willing to make an effort and try making a veggie you’ve never eaten (or maybe even heard of) is a major first step. Sometimes, you’ll find a delicious-sounding recipe that includes the ingredient and voila! You’re off and running. But if you’re just trying to make the new veggie on your own, it can be a little trickier. Here are the steps I suggest following.
First, taste it. Take a tiny bite in case it’s something that tastes horrible raw and should be cooked to improve the flavor.
Did it taste good raw? If so, cut it up and eat it raw, on its own or mixed into a salad. If no, saute it in a drizzle of olive oil with a pinch of salt.
Sauteing seem a little high maintenance right now? Boil it to retain moisture or bake it to reduce moisture (think Brussels sprouts).
Are you part of a CSA share? If you have tips to share, leave them in the comments! —Megan