Johanna Voss is a certified health coach, Greatist ambassador, half marathoner, and bookstore dweller. She'll help you be your healthiest, happiest, sexiest self. The views expressed herein are hers. Visit her at www.johannavoss.com.
Photo: Suzie's Farm
There are a lot of things to look forward to each summer: sunshine, beach days, and lots of fresh vegetables! If you decided this summer to support your local farm through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, I’ll imagine you are really excited about the bounty of fresh vegetables coming your way each week.
By joining a CSA program, you’ve signed up to receive between 15-25 weeks of vegetables that can provide for 1-4 people, depending on the size of your investment. Oh, the veggies that are coming your way! While it’s really fun to get a new selection of vegetables each week, it can also be a bit stressful. Are you nervous about that week when your CSA share bag has 18 beets in it and lots of unidentifiable beans?
Make the Most of Your CSA Veggies
Learn how to stay on top of your weekly CSA share and impress your friends with how you get creative with veggies.
- Plan Ahead: Take a moment to plan. Now this is a wee bit different kind of menu planning than you might be used to. Instead of spending your Sunday to plan out your week’s meals, and then shopping accordingly, wait until the day you get your veggies to make your plans. This way you will see what you need to buy from the fruit and produce section at the grocery store to supplement what is in your CSA share.
- Question yo’ veggies: When you pick up your veggies each week, no matter how tired or rushed you may be, take a moment to peek inside your bag and see what treasures await you. Not sure what something is? Ask your farmer while you are at the farm picking up your share. If your farm delivers, ask the driver, who probably picked a lot of the vegetables in your CSA share. If none of those options are available to you, don’t hesitate to ask fellow CSA members or friends. What you don’t want to do is just pick up your veggies, head home, get caught up in life, and then not figure out what you’ve got until later. Now you’ll have to google the un-known vegetable and spend some time on Google images confirming exactly what’s in your hand.
- Prepare and store: As soon as you get home, prepare and store your veggies. Wash your leafy greens and store accordingly (more on that later). A lot of veggies, such as beets, come with leafy greens attached. When you get home, make sure to cut the greens off so that they stop drawing moisture from the vegetable. Carrots, Kohlrabi, turnips, and other root veggies are some examples of vegetables you’ll most likely receive this year that will come with greens attached. Most vegetables do well with a quick rinse and then stored in a dark, cool drawer in your fridge.Photo: MTSOfan
- Fry Lettuce: Yup. I said fry your lettuce. Switch up how you think of each vegetable. For example, move past thinking of lettuce just in salads. It can be sauteed, tossed into soups, fried etc. Have you ever added carrots to a stir-fry or into a blender? What about beets on your pizza? Get creative! On the other hand...
- Eat it raw: Figure out what you can eat raw and go for it. If you are unsure about which foods to eat raw, start with dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale or try carrots, celery, and cucumbers. Technically you can eat almost any vegetable raw, in its naked, natural state (careful around rhubarb!). It’s just a matter of taste and how well your body digests it. Just make sure to chew your food well to aid your body in digestion! Digestion of raw and roasted almonds in simulated gastric environment. Kong, F., Singh, R.P. Food Biophysics, 2009, Dec;4(4): 365-377
- Garnish, baby! When you receive a small quantity of something, think of how it can garnish your meal. For example, only receive a couple small beets this week? Grate ‘em and toss them on top of your dish.
- Be delicate: Cook and eat your delicate, leafy greens such as parsley, cilantro, spinach, and kale earlier in the week, and leave the items that can last a bit longer, such as carrots, onions and beets for a couple days later.
Read, read, read!: Read your respective CSA’s newsletter so that you know exactly what you are getting in your share each week. This way there are no surprises when you pick up your share, or your allotment of weekly vegetables. By reading ahead of time, you can start to think about what to do with your bounty. Photo: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Make it cold: Turn your fridge down a degree. By cooling your fridge down a bit, you’ll preserve your items a little bit longer. You don’t have to do much, just a degree or two colder could make world of difference. Thiry-five degrees Fahrenheit is an ideal temperature for your fridge. This way it won’t create freezer burn on your food, nor will it be too warm in there so that food spoils quicker.
- Freeze yo’ veggies: Some people recommend blanching, which is boiling vegetables for a minute and then quickly dipping them in ice cold water, before putting the vegetables in the freezer, but it’s up to you. Just about every fruit, all your leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, beans and yes, even potatoes can be frozen raw or blanched to use later on. No doubt you will be excited to open your freezer and eat summer vegetables in the middle of winter.
- Embrace the bounty: MORE Kale?! WWWHHHAAATTTT? There are going to be weeks that you will get waaaaayyyy more of one vegetable than you bargained for. It’s what you signed up for. It’s going to happen. Embrace it. Welcome all the leafy greens like kale and other vegetables such as zucchini into your life. This is going to happen whether you like it or not. And instead of being cranky and annoyed that you are faced with another week of eating kale, embrace your creativity. Making loaves of zucchini bread? Make extra and give it to a neighbour. Throw a kale party where everyone brings their favorite recipe!
Now What? Get Creative!
Once you’ve gotten a good handle on how to prepare, serve and store each vegetable, as you start to get the same vegetables in consecutive weeks while their growing season lasts, here’s a bonus tip on how to continue to make the most of your CSA share. When planning out your meal to include your weekly veggie bounty, why not give each weekday night a theme?
- Monday becomes Meatless Mondays, and your meals are centered around a particular vegetable or two. Don’t like that idea? Monday could be Macaroni Mondays, and all your dishes are pasta based with whatever veggies you have on hand that week.
- Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays. Look for recipes that are taco-ish. Lots of opportunity to toss in vegetables to this dish.
- On Wacky Wednesdays you eat breakfast for dinner. Eggs + greens + sauteed CSA veggies? Yes please.
- Thrifty Thursdays roll around and it’s all about the crockpot. Or soup. CSA veggies are fab-u-lous in a soup.
- Fun Fridays which are all about DIY pizza. Turnips on a pizza? Sure why not! Not into DIY pizza? What about Fishy Friday?
By assigning a theme to each day of the week, it will take some of the stress away of deciding what on earth to cook. It’s a great way to manage the abundance of recipes coupled with a specific weekly assortment of veggies. Your comfort level in using each vegetable creatively translates to less time spent researching recipes.
Photo: Kim Unertl
Building Meal Ideas
Now, let’s get continue to get veggie creative! In anticipation of the abundance of veggies that are going to come your way this summer, here’s just a couple, different ideas of how to serve ‘em:
- Smoothies: What better way to eat your greens than to drink them! When blended with fruit, ice, and even some milk or yogurt, even the most rugged greens become smooth and tasty. Regular blenders can do a good job with greens such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, or watercress.
- Omelets: Spinach is an especially good option for adding to omelets. Other tasty options include arugula, beet greens, and parsley. The key is to choose greens that soften quickly, but ones that do not release too much liquid.
- Pasta sauces: Heartier greens, such as collards and kale, can cook down and soften during the simmering period, providing an additional texture to sauce. Make sure to chop the greens into bite-size pieces for the best results! Remember, you can make a pesto chock full of greens, such as basil and parsley — just go a bit easy on the olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese for a lower calorie version.
- Baked: Baked kale chips are amazingly fast, easy, and healthy! Simply wash the kale, tear into bite size pieces, and add a pinch of salt and/or some spices and a dash of olive oil. Toss the kale to coat and then spread across a baking sheet. Bake at 350° F for 10-15 minutes until the kale is crispy and enjoy!
- Soups & Stews: Many classic soups and stews include dark, leafy greens, such as kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. Similar to pasta sauces, soups and stews are cooked for a long time, so the greens can soften and provide a texture and taste to contrast the other ingredients. Greens go especially well in tomato-based stews or soups with beans.
- Sauteed: Whether cooked with bacon or lentils, collard greens create the foundation of some classic side dishes. Try cooking kale or Swiss chard with some olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon zest, and a dash of Romano or Parmesan cheese for an Italian-style satisfying side!
- Shredded: When shredded finely, even tougher greens become easy to handle. You can shred greens for a healthy garnish on mashed potatoes or mix them into your favorite coleslaw recipe. Use a combination of shredded greens with some quinoa, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil to make a simple tasty “tabbouleh.”
- Wraps: Crunchy greens that contain a good amount of water, such as Swiss chard, bok choy, escarole, or romaine lettuce, make fantastic “wraps” for a variety of fillings, ranging from roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onion, and garlic to teriyaki chicken with mandarin oranges.
How do you get creative with your extra veggies? Let us know in the comments below!