5 Vegetables My CSA Share Has Taught Me to Appreciate

You can't help but start liking things that show up week after week.

kohlrabi on cutting board

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For the past 10 years, I've been a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share program. I pay upfront at the start of the season for a 20-week subscription, and then pick up a box of organic vegetables every Wednesday afternoon that is overflowing with whatever was harvested that day. 

Not only does this provide my family with a steady supply of fresh and delicious vegetables, but it has proven to be an education in the diverse crops that exist. It's made me realize that grocery stores, while creating the illusion of choice, actually offer quite limited selections of produce. You get only what the store has deemed sellable—and it's not inclined to branch out because many shoppers are uncomfortable buying unfamiliar produce.

A CSA share, by contrast, reflects what the farmer chooses to grow, based on local conditions and equipment and his or her own desire to experiment. Because they've already paid, the CSA share members have no choice but to accept the vegetables and figure out what to do with them. The result is (almost) always delicious and gratifying.

As a result, there are a number of vegetables that have become a part of my regular cooking repertoire, thanks to their repeated appearances in my CSA box. If I hadn't had that exposure, I likely would not have learned to appreciate them, and now it's hard to imagine life without them. 

1. Fennel

Fennel bulbs in a market stall.

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The farmer who runs my CSA recently wrote in a newsletter, "After growing vegetables for more than 15 years for Community Supported Agriculture shares, we know that fennel is not everyone's favourite vegetable. And for all of us farmers, we just can't understand why because we love fennel so much! Crisp and juicy with a sweet, mild anise flavour, fennel shines both raw and cooked."

She is absolutely right. Fennel is a showstopper of a vegetable when prepared correctly, but it has taken me a while to figure that out. I love it grilled with other vegetables, or sliced thinly and added to salads. Sometimes I just eat big chunks of it raw, as my Sardinian host father always did at the end of every meal because it was "good for digestion."

2. Mustard Greens

It's not just mustard greens, it's all the greens that we get in our share that I've had to incorporate into my cooking—tatsoi, kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard. There are so many, all summer long, and I've had to get good at finding recipes that use up large quantities of them. 

Greens disappear beautifully into soups, I've learned. They shrink down when cooked and are excellent stuffed into phyllo or puff pastry with feta cheese and onions. They are great on their own when sautéed with butter and garlic. But you've got to use them fast and steadily or else they'll get limp and slimy and generally unappetizing.

3. Kohlrabi

While others may struggle with fennel, I continue to struggle with kohlrabi. There's nothing wrong with it—an unusual cross between a potato and a cucumber—but I find it to be a very plain, bland vegetable that never really inspires me. But if I don't use the two or three I get each week, they pile up in the bottom of the fridge, so I've learned to dice them into soups and curries, slice them into stir-fries, grate them into salads and faux meatball mix, and cut them into sticks for dipping and eating raw. Eventually, we work our way through them all.

4. Garlic Scapes

garlic scapes
Garlic scapes.

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For a few weeks out of the year, I get bags of curly, swirly garlic scapes that are cut off the tops of garlic bulbs to speed up their growth. They have a deliciously subtle flavor that's an interesting blend of garlic and scallions, but it has taken me a while to get used to preparing them. They can feel awkward to wash and chop finely because of their unruly shapes. Now I look forward to getting those scapes, blending them into pestos and marinades, flavoring mayonnaise and aïoli, mincing them for omelets, salads, and stir-fries, and sprinkling them over homemade pizzas.

5. Cabbage

Every week I get at least one cabbage in my share, either a regular white cabbage or a Napa cabbage. That's a lot of cabbage, even for a hungry family of five like mine. While it's not an unfamiliar vegetable, I've had to become more diligent about using it up, which has led me to explore new recipes. 

Our go-to is a spicy slaw that my husband makes using mayo, lime juice, and chili peppers (also from the share). The kids love it and we eat it straight or stuffed into tacos. It keeps for a few days, which means we can use the whole cabbage head at once. Cabbage also cooks down beautifully in a minestrone soup when sliced thinly, and softens into a mellow side dish when sautéed. When I am feeling ambitious and organized, I make a batch of kimchi, which is my all-time favorite way to use Napa cabbage.