by Melisa Oliva *
From the darkness to the light, the destiny of a vegetable is to nourish us while feeding us. We try to honor this grace by trying to eat all that we can from our weekly CSA bounty.
Being part of a CSA can be exciting and makes us feel responsible and good about our consumer choices. We are being part of the solution to our global concerns. We are helping to strengthen the wellbeing of our local food system.
Once in the intimacy of our kitchen, to truly honor our values, the reality is that we need to switch some practical uses and behaviors on how we eat and manage our vegetables so we can make the best out of this experience.
Cooking using the vegetables in your weekly CSA is different from planning your meals around recipes. Cooking from recipes is a habit that is fun but can be un-practical, especially in times of pandemic when we are not going to go shopping just for one special ingredient.
Cooking and eating using your CSA involves commitment, creativity and intention. It requires planning our meals around the weekly harvest.
Here are some practical tips that will help you get the best out of our summer harvest:
1. Identify. First, take out all the veggies from your bag and identify them to have an idea of what type of ingredients you have. Get familiarized with your weekly harvest. Observe their colors, touch them and smell them. Even take little bites to get to know them raw too. We have a very complete list of vegetables at our website, here where you can find pictures (in case you can not identify one) and information about their nutritional value and inspiration on how to cook it. For some people, writing a list of the produce on their refrigerator door works as a reminder to use all of what they have and to cook and eat around them.
2. Storage. It is important to store your veggies properly to maximize the life of a vegetable and accommodate it to your fridge or counter. Look at the Recipe section in our website for tips on how to store greens, herbs and other veggies and this will also give you ideas to store vegetables for a longer run and/or to have them available when you are in a rush and need something quick, like: pestos, infused oils, chopped vegetables for stir fries or garnishes.
3. Classify your produce around major and minor recipe roles. If you get a lot of one ingredient, for example greens, you will need to give them a major role in your meals. Increasing their use by using them not just in salad, but in unusual ways, like in soups, pastas, frittatas, patties, stir fries, smoothies, risotto, etc. On the other hand, if you get a little of something, plan to use it as a garnish, giving it a secondary role in your meal, maybe just to give a little flavor, like carrots on top of salads.
4. Substitute. Having available certain vegetables will give you the opportunity to explore your favorite recipes with what you have. Think of that tomato soup you loved last summer and how it will be as delicious made with zucchini or carrots. Same with any dish made with spinach, arugula or basil. These greens can be substituted by beet tops or even carrot tops (for advanced adventurous palates!). The result will be different but as delicious.
5. Prepare what you like to eat. There are many ways to use your veggies; that is why honoring your particular preference is super important for you to enjoy your meals. You can grill, saute, roast, blanch, steam, boil, marinate, blend, and freeze your vegetables to eat them with whole grains, pasta, animal or vegetable proteins, dry beans, and fruits. A way to get inspired is to flow with the weather. If it is hot you might need something cooling and refreshing like a salad, or a gazpacho. Or/and something light like a wrap, tacos, cold pasta, or a sandwich. If it is chilly you might feel like something warm like a soup, rice, something baked or roasted. Your family dynamics and preferences will also guide you. I know Ananda (5 years old) will eat anything on a pancake so green pancakes (packed with any leafy green) will be eaten with delight. When we go outdoors for a hike, we will bring on our picnic cut veggies and crackers to dip in peanut butter or other seed butter, beet hummus, fake guacamole (made with zucchinis), and a bag of salad, with a little bottle of dressing.
6. Keep a vibrant and healthy pantry. This tip is not about your CSA per se, but can help you enjoy it more. Keep whole grains and dry beans around the house to make it effortless to use that CSA produce – you’ll want to make sure you stock up on brown rice, quinoa, tortillas and good bread, like the Rise Up Bakery :)
Also keep cornmeal, all purpose organic unbleached flour, and whole wheat organic flour, too. It’s almost a necessity to have dry beans stocked up in your pantry – thankfully they can be inexpensive. Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) Northern Beans, 7-Bean Mix and Black Beans, Black Beans, etc.
Nuts are always good to have and they can last long in your pantry or fridge, but they can be very expensive. We love to have sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and we try to buy them in bulk. We use them as substitutes for pine nuts, pecans and walnuts that are more on the expensive side. They can be great additions for salads, pestos, soups and smoothies. So can flax seeds and chia seeds.
Homemade cheeseless pizza with whole wheat dough. Toppings: salmon, beets, sweet peas, and tomato sauce from last year harvest.
*Melisa Oliva is co-owner of Ananda Gardens, Vermont's Wellness Farm. She works as a health coach at Noom. She is on her way to get certified as an Integrative Health Coach from Duke University.