Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10 Tips for Making the best of your CSA share

If you'd like to support a local business, save money, eat an organic, plant-heavy diet, and save the planet all at once, then perhaps becoming a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is right for you.

For $20 a week, I get half a bushel of locally grown organic produce that would typically cost me 3x as much at the grocery store. It didn't travel very far so I'm reducing my carbon footprint. It's also healthier for me because it's more veg than I can typically afford to buy organic. It's tastier because it hasn't lost its flavor during the truck ride from the opposite coast.

Sounds perfect right?

Not so fast. There are a few downsides. Most of us learned to feed ourselves and our families by planning a menu, writing a grocery list, going to the store to pick up ingredients and then executing the menu as planned. When you receive a box of veggies all at once every 7 days and you don't get to pick what precisely will be in it, answering the question "what's for dinner?" is an entirely different game.

From my experiences between last year (when I unfortunately threw away a lot) and what I've done to avoid that this year, here are 10 ways to actually EAT what's in your CSA box.

  1. Make salad your first course
    Leaf lettuce has been in my box every single week. Making salad the prelude to dinner every night, I've able to keep up with all the bunny food. Buy (or make) some tasty toppings and dressings to keep it fun. Chop up cabbage, roots, scallions or whatever else you have in your box to flesh out the salad. If your family gets burnt out on salad with every dinner, be "that girl" who brings the big bowl of greens to every barbecue this summer. 
  2. Pretend your vegetable is something else. An obvious one is using the early season's onslaught of scallions in place of onions. Also, I've found a lot of recipes that employ CSA veggies instead of their traditional main ingredient: kohlrabi fries, mashed parsnips, summer squash hummus, kale chips, turnip gratin, lettuce or collard wraps. The possibilities are endless if you think outside the grocery cart.
  3. Be generous with fresh herbs and scallions
    You can add a lot of flavor if you aren't shy about your fresh seasonings. A lot of recipes will tell you to add something like 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley. Wimps. Pour it on! You'll use the plant before it goes bad and you'll get a lot of flavor which will decrease the need to add extra oil, salt, or (gasp) sugar.
  4. Set aside some time to preserve some food
    Spend a few hours in the kitchen now and then to pickle, dehydrate, can, or freeze a little bit of what you got so that you can enjoy your local veg outside of the season. You might not be a big fan of soup during the summer but if you turn those yummy summer crops into soup now, can or freeze them to enjoy during the winter months.
  5. Think ahead to make the timing work
    Depending on where you are, you'll get basil one week, parsley the next week, onions and tomatoes the following week and the garlic doesn't arrive for another month. Then you'll throw your hands up and scream, "WHY don't they all come at ONCE so that I can make pizza sauce?!?!" Work around this by thinking WAY ahead: can this season's tomatoes so that when you get those fresh herbs next spring, you're ready to whip up a batch of completely local marinara.
  6. Juice!
    If you have a vegetable juicer, you're in luck. Play with different combinations. Use beets and carrots to sweeten your juice. Run beet or turnip greens through so you can get those out of the way.
  7. Blend!
    Green smoothies are all the rage right now. Good thing because you're getting TONS of kale. Unfortunately you'll have to spend extra money on stuff like almond milk and fruit but if you have a high power blender, you can pulverize an obscene amount greens into your morning drink.
  8. Find a veggie you love to snack on
    Last season I discovered that I LOVE hakurei turnips. I sliced them up raw and ate them like chips. Same with cucumbers. Noshing on raw veg is great for digestion and hydration, thins your crop reserve and keeps you away from bags of deep fried starch.
  9. Stock up on staples before you get your box
    Last year I got my  box on Tuesdays and it sat there for the rest of the week while I tried to come up with a workable menu and ordered takeout. By the time I googled recipes, wrote my grocery list and got to the store, half the veg would be on its way out. This year I decided to hit the stores first to get things like rice, pasta, beans, meats, cheeses and other typical ingredients before I picked up my share. That way I planned the menu around using what I already had in my pantry along with my surprise veggies. It cut out a few steps and I've been able to get to most of my veggies before they take a turn for the worse. Bonus tip: Watch "Chopped" to be inspired to make a dish out of surprise ingredients.
  10. Make vegetable broth and compost
    The great thing about having more organic produce than you know what to do with is that you don't have to be terribly shy about scraps and trimmings. I throw most peels, cores and stems into a bag in my freezer that gets boiled into a lovely vegetable stock. If I'm impatient, things like dirty outer layers of scallions get peeled back and thrown right into the compost bin for my future garden. 

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