Deciding to sign up for a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture Program, is a worthwhile vote for your health, the environment, and your local economy. And for me! Thanks for supporting my farming dreams! When you decide to partner up with any CSA farmer and receive a portion of his or her harvest, you’re likely dreaming of rainbow platters of roasted roots and picture-perfect dinner parties that come together with the grace of a seasoned farm-to-table chef. This dreamy seasonal way of eating is possible, but it doesn’t happen immediately.
As your farmer, and a realist at heart, I do want to prepare you that incorporating a CSA bag into your meal planning is an art that takes practice. Unless you’re used to eating from a seasonal garden, the bounty of vegetables can sometimes be overwhelming. Beets, again? A beautiful bunch of vibrant parsley, and cilantro? It’s not uncommon for new members to scratch their heads from time to time wondering what to do with pounds of root crops or with what feels like an unnecessarily bountiful bouquet of herbs.
When I plan the contents of your CSA bags, I am always aiming to give you a balanced variety of hearty anchor vegetables and tender leaves, for example. In addition to trying to appeal to your needs as a culinarian, however, there is another major factor dictating the weekly contents: the farm, its fields, and the seasons. Your CSA share will always be filled with fresh and nutritious vegetables that you know and love, as well as some that you may not have expected. In order for you to reach that pinnacle of ease which will allow you to welcome in those new-to-you vegetables with enthusiasm instead of tremor, I’ve put together a list of 3 tips that I think will really help you eat like a farmer this upcoming CSA season:
3) DO THE RIGHT THING, UPFRONT and properly store your veggies.
Unlike grocery store vegetables that are often dripping in plastic, packaged specifically for consumer convenience, your CSA vegetables are delightfully raw and benefit from a bit of attention when they get home. If there are any crops with bits of the farm clinging to the roots, wash or wipe the veggies before storing them in your fridge. Bunches of greens or heads of lettuce will last significantly longer if stored in a bag, in the crisper drawer. The name of the game is to retain the moisture content naturally contained in the vegetable right when it's harvested. If you’re lucky enough to get a bunch of carrots with the greens still attached, remove the greens from the root before storing each edible separately. If left attached, the leaves will continue to wick moisture from the roots, leaving limp ghosts of carrots past. The same goes for any root-and-green combo like bunched radishes, turnips, beets, or kohlrabi. Properly storing your fresh produce will extend the shelf life of your precious food significantly, helping prevent future compost trips and that all-too-familiar wasted-veggie shame spiral.
If you’re able to invest even a few extra minutes upfront (crank some tunes, why don’t ya?), go ahead and prep a few ingredients: wash, dry, and chop spinach so it’s ready to throw in a saute pan. Serve over leftover rice with a fried egg, and future-you can have lunch in about 5 minutes. Or maybe you take a moment to slice your red radishes, and store in a tupperware of lemony-water. Now you’ve got radish confetti ready to top any celebratory plate you make. You know that section in a grocery store produce section with products like chopped onions, sweet potato zoodles, and peeled garlic? You can easily recreate this experience of convenience by spending a few extra minutes with your CSA veggies when you unpack them into your kitchen.
1) BE COOL WITH SUBSTITUTIONS and nice to seasonal new-comers.
Successfully using your CSA share each week requires a spirit of flexibility, and a welcoming attitude to whatever the season throws your way. Often, this means being okay with substituting one vegetable for another, depending on what you have. If you’re cooking from a recipe that requires kale, chances are any bunched green, like collards, chard, or spinach could be substituted without consequence. Potatoes are a spring and early summer crop here in Texas though they’re ubiquitous in many soulful winter pots. Turnips, rutabaga, or even the alien-like kohlrabi bulb will happily fill in for a potato when there is none. Does a recipe call for parsley, but all you have is dill? There is no rule out there confining you to a one-herb-loyalty. Sure, your final dish may taste a bit different than that of the original recipe creators, but your dish is seasonally relevant and undoubtedly bursting with flavor.
2) EQUIP YOURSELF WITH STRATEGY and find your go-to recipes.
Sometimes utilizing all of your CSA veggies while they’re at their primo quality requires a heavy dose of “not overthinking it”. Lucky for you, fresh vegetables that are in-season simply taste better, which means that you can do the minimum and still be rewarded with maximum flavor.
Make sure you have a few simple strategies that can easily turn a crisper drawer full of veg into a meal. Note that these strategies may have originated in your repertoire as recipes, but for this to truly work, you should be able to cook this food without much stress, and without constantly needing to unlock your phone to check exact measurements or cook times. (We’re here to tell you that you can do this!)
What kinds of strategies are we talking about? In the fall when tender greens are at their peak, this could mean knowing how to build a hearty and nutritious salad that truly satiates with a simple homemade vinaigrette. Perhaps you snag a rotisserie chicken, a can of tuna, or repurpose cooked grains to easily build a salad-for-dinner with whatever VRDNT veggies find their way into your home. With tortillas and a crumbly cheese or sour cream on hand, you can build tacos with just about any vegetable or combination of vegetables. Always looking for a breakfast solution at your house? The day before your next CSA pickup, make a frittata or quiche with any sad-ish vegetables that you find lingering in your fridge. Maybe your family is carb-starved: dried pasta plus veggies equals fast food that is worth slowing down for. A pasta sauce can be as simple as garlic sauteed in olive oil, a can of crushed tomatoes, or something else entirely if you mix a nut butter, soy sauce, chili paste, and lime if you have it. When it’s cold outside, or even when it’s not, I’m often making big pots of stew or curry with generous pounds of...whatever vegetables are on my counter. Cooking and experimenting with new recipes is a fun way to spend a few hours in the kitchen, but for all of the other moments when you simply want nourishing food, easily, arm yourself with some catch-all strategies.
After a long day in the fields, this is how I cook: big batches of vegetables, paired with a few pantry staples, which turns into hefty no-frills bowls of delicious food. It’s these kitchen strategies that sustain me, and ones that I know will help you keep up with your CSA bounty and sustain you. More thoughts on this style of cooking throughout the season; I really want your CSA experience to be as easy as it is exciting!
I hope you’re as eager as I am for the forthcoming season. CSA Members: stay tuned for more tips throughout the season to help you work your way through the harvest.