Our CSA started its season this week and we are eating well. After a salad-deprived winter of only occasional lettuce from California, all of a sudden we can eat lettuce salad and leafy green things every day. Our first basket of the season included Mizuna Mustard, Beet Greens, Arugula, Asparagus and two kinds of lettuce.
I think people have a few different fears when they join a CSA. First they worry that they will get more vegetables than they can eat. In my opinion having too many vegetables is a great problem to have. If your produce drawers are teaming with fresh, colorful vegetables, you will be more likely to eat them. Have you ever heard of anyone eating too many vegetables? True, it takes a little more time to wash and chop fresh vegetables rather than open a bag or a can. We usually decide it is worth the extra few minutes in the kitchen. Fresher vegetables have more nutrition.
You can make things easier if you have just a few simple tools. I recommend a large salad spinner that operates with a pushing or pumping action. It should have a colander bowl inside a solid bowl. I like to start washing things as soon as I get my CSA box home, starting with the baby lettuce greens.
Washing and Drying your Greens:
1. Put the greens inside the inner bowl of the salad spinner.
2. Put the inner bowl into the outer solid bowl and fill the whole thing with water.
3. Swish them around with your hand to remove dirt, sand and bugs.
4. Pick up the inner bowl to drain the water off. Dump the water on your plants.
5. Repeat steps 2 – 4. I usually soak the greens in water and drain the water off about three times before spinning them dry.
6. Put the lid on and push the button several times to spin the greens. You may have to pour off the water and spin them again.
7. Next, pick out any weeds or wilted lettuce.
8. Finally, put the greens in a plastic bag and gently press out most of the air. You can also use special produce bags or vented produce containers (I got mine from Tupperware) to keep things fresh.
You can wash all of your greens in the same way, whether you have lettuce, arugula or beet greens. If you do it all right away, you save time later in the week. You also only have to wash the salad spinner once. The rest of the week you will have ready – to – serve salad and ready – to – cook greens.
Besides a salad spinner and some produce bags or vented containers, you will want to have a good peeler, a sharp knife and a cutting board. You can wash, peel and chop things like carrots, peppers and broccoli ahead of time for quick stir fries or snacks. If you plan to store some vegetables for later in the week, you may want to leave the dirt on them. Potatoes, beets and onions will all keep better in their whole (and dirty) state. I try to have one produce drawer full of greens and the other full of roots and tubers.
For salads, home-made dressing is essential. Unfortunately even the “all natural” pre-made dressings are usually based on refined vegetable oils with no nutritional value. The oils are processed and deodorized to remove the rancid tastes and smells. They may look and taste clean, but they are actually toxic. Fortunately, healthy dressing is easy to make. I take a half pint jar and fill it almost halfway with quality olive oil. I then add apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar until it is ¾ full. For flavor, a pinch of fresh or dried herbs or crushed garlic will usually do the trick. Put the lid on the jar and shake it vigorously until everything is combined.
I also have a no-fail ranch dressing recipe that uses yogurt.
½ cup whole milk yogurt
¼ cup quality mayonnaise or home-made mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1 teaspoon fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 pinch chili powder
Salt to taste
Mix all of the ingredients and beat with a fork until it is smooth and creamy. This dressing will keep well in the fridge without separating.
If you have already washed your lettuce, you will find it easy to add salads to your everyday fare. Even if you just brought everything home and stuffed it in your produce drawers, you can still get out the salad spinner and have salad on the table in less time than it takes to steam your peas and carrots. Wash and spin some extra lettuce for tomorrow’s lunch and you are well on your way to making fresh vegetables part of your summer routine.
Another CSA worry people have is that they won’t know how to cook so many different vegetables. While fancy recipes can be fun, we usually keep our veggie-packed meals very simple. We steam most vegetables before simply adding olive oil or butter and sea salt. A stainless steel vegetable steamer that fits inside your favorite cooking pot is a worthwhile investment. Greens like kale and Chard (staples of most CSA’s) are delicious sautéed in butter with some garlic or simply cooked in bacon grease. The fats are important because they will help provide fat soluble vitamins as well as a feeling of fullness.
Another one of my favorite ways to eat veggies is egg frittatas. You simply chop up whatever veggies you have and mix them with eggs and cheese. Put some oil in your cast iron pan and pour the egg mixture in the pan. I like to start it on top of the stove to cook the bottom. I then turn on the broiler and put the pan under the broiler to cook the top. That way I don’t even have to worry about flipping it. The result is something like a crustless quiche. It makes a great breakfast!
Another fear people have when they join a CSA is that they will get things they don’t like. This may happen. You may also get things you have never tried before. If you know you won’t eat something, you can always pass it along to a friend. Most CSA farms will try to grow several common favorites along with a few unusual items. You can shop around for a farm that you think will best meet your own tastes. I encourage you to try the unusual items. In fact, try them more than once and cooked in more than one way. For example, last year I discovered that I loved steamed kohlrabi mashed with butter. I wasn’t as fond of it as a raw vegetable. This year I am growing it in my own garden as a substitute for potatoes.