How to cook with a mid-summer CSA box

csa share
CC BY 2.0 Lindsay Eyink

The variety and volume of vegetables arriving in my family's weekly CSA box forces me to come up with lots of creative ideas for cooking.

Every Wednesday I get a gigantic box of organic vegetables from a local farm. It’s the CSA (community supported agriculture) share to which I’ve subscribed for the past four years and it provides all the vegetables eaten by my hungry family of five for a week. There is so much produce that, if we go out to dinner even once, it makes it challenging to eat through it all before the next batch arrives.

The share changes according to what’s ready to be harvested. We’ve spent the last month and a half eating excessive amounts of leafy greens, but now some heftier, more substantial vegetables like kohlrabi, cucumbers, and broccoli are making a welcome appearance in the box. Unfortunately, due to lack of rain, a number of crops have not done well this year and many are noticeably shriveled and uglier than in past years. Nevertheless, the food is still delicious.

It is an ongoing challenge to come up with creative ways to use the vegetables, but I turn it into a game of sorts – how to maximize the number of vegetables used in each meal – while keeping track of the most successful recipes. Here are some of the ways I’ve been using up our mid-summer share.

Salad greens

We eat a lot of salad. The key to getting through two large heads of lettuce a week (in addition to all the other greens) is to prewash and dry, making it easy to whip together salads for quick lunches and dinners. I keep a double batch of my favorite miso salad dressing on hand, as well as a few ‘embellishment’ staples, such as feta cheese, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, olives and marinated artichokes, to make the salads extra delicious. Blueberries, peaches, hard-boiled eggs, sprouts, spring onions, arugula, and minced garlic scapes are all yummy additions.

Leafy greens

Kale, Swiss chard, and spinach come in large quantities – usually 1½ pounds each per week. I like to cook them down to make it easier to eat that much. I make phyllo pies or quiche with mixed sautéed greens with herbs (dill, cilantro, mint) and crumbled feta cheese. I stir spinach into any soups, chili, and stir-fries I make, as well as sautéed greens into lentil and potato salads. Extra kale gets blended into breakfast smoothies.

Beets

Early summer beets are heavenly and sugar-sweet. I like to bake them, unpeeled and whole (unless they’re large, in which case I cut them in half). I fill an 8x8” baking pan with beets, add ¼ cup water, and cover with foil. The water helps steam them more quickly and they’re easy to peel, cut, and serve straight up. Sometimes I add small whole carrots, too.

Broccoli

Right now we get two heads of broccoli per week. I use them mostly in a stir-fry with soba noodles, tofu, thinly sliced carrots, leafy greens, and spicy black bean sauce, or with a peanut sauce. There are some delectable stir-fry recipes in Isa Does It, my new favorite vegan cookbook. Broccoli (or cauliflower) roasted with olive oil and salt is another household staple.

Garlic scapes & spring onions

Garlic scapes are reaching the end of their run, but I still get a good bunch each week. I chop and puree them in the blender with olive oil and pumpkin seeds (or nuts) to create a rough pesto. I keep it in a jar in the fridge and add spoonfuls whenever I want a kick of garlicky flavor – in salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise, sandwich spread, scrambled eggs, creamy pasta sauce, etc. Spring onions are milder than regular onions and delicious sliced over salads, although I use them in place of yellow onions, too.

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi are great peeled, diced, and made into a vegetarian curry with potato and coconut milk. I also grate them into salads and soups, and thinly slice in sticks for stir-fries. My kids eat slices dipped in hummus for snack. They’re a very mild vegetable that sort of disappears into whatever you’re making, so don’t hesitate to get creative with using up kohlrabi.

Green beans

My favorite summer vegetable has just started! I used the first batch in a delicious vegetarian coconut curry that’s simmered with potatoes and spinach. They’re also wonderful blanched briefly, then sautéed in olive oil and garlic, topped with slivered almonds and torn basil. Kids like them raw, especially with hummus for dipping.

Fava beans

I have a love-hate relationship with fava beans. They’re so labor-intensive, with very little reward for the hard work required to shell and peel the individual beans, but they are delicious. I recently discovered a recipe in Ottolenghi for a lemony fava and radish salad served with a delectable green tahini sauce and pita. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Fennel

I discovered fennel while living in Italy as a teenager, when my host father ate it raw after every lunch to clean his palate and help with digestion, and have loved it ever since. Now I slice it very thinly over lettuce salads, braise it with olive oil in the oven, and grill on the BBQ to toss with other vegetables for salad. It can also be shredded and added to cabbage coleslaw – better yet if toasted fennel seeds are added to the dressing.

How do you use your CSA share or the bounty from your mid-summer garden?

Tags: Cooking | Food Miles | Fruits & Vegetables | Local Food

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