I have a confession: I have no idea what’s in my CSA box this week, and, I’m confident I’m not alone. Sure, I can recognize the sugar snap peas and carrots, the lacinato kale with its pebbled dark green leaves, the baby collards (which we’ll combine with cream and the last of our overwintered shallots for this creamed collards recipe), but some stump me: the fragrant and prickly leaves I pulled from our box today, or the odd and gnarled roots that appear from time to time. If you’re lucky, the vegetables might be well labeled and some CSAs even slip recipe cards into your box; but most of you, like me, will be navigating your box in wonder. So if you’re ever stuck for how to prepare the mystery vegetables that arrive in your CSA box, try these simple methods.
1. tough greens: braise them.
Swiss chard, kale, spinach and collards can be tough – long woody stems, broad dark-green leaves – can be made tender through braising, a process that tenderizes the greens and brings out their earthy and briney flavors. First begin by trimming any woody or tough stems and veins from the broad leaves. Then melt some wholesome fat such as grass-fed butter or ghee (see sources), coconut oil (see sources) or home-rendered lard, then toss in chopped onion, garlic or shallots as needed and fry until fragrant, then stir in chopped greens, frying for a minute or two before deglazing the pan with a stock, juice or water. Then cover the greens and simmer until tender, just a few minutes more. Then season the greens as needed with a splash of vinegar, naturally fermented soy sauce or good quality, fragrant olive oil (see sources).
Simple Ratio for Braised Greens: 1 tablespoon wholesome fat (see sources); 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped garlic, shallots or onion; 1 bunch trimmed and chopped leafy greens; 1/2 cup liquid such as stock, juice or water
2. tender greens: serve them raw with a vinaigrette.
Young greens like beet trimmings or baby chard and kale as well as tender greens like tat soi and mizuna can be served fresh and raw in salads, with just a splash of a homemade vinaigrette. So if you come across odd greens in your CSA basket, but they appear tender or young, serve them fresh and raw. To make a vinaigrette, whisk vinegar with oil and any seasonings or fresh herbs that like together, and dress your tender greens at the table.
Simple Ratio for Vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons vinegar or other acid, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unrefined extra virgin olive oil (see sources), seasonings as needed
Root vegetables, tough-skinned and gnarled, are naturally sweet and their sweetness is enhanced through roasting. To roast root vegetables, peel them of their tough skins and chop them into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces. Toss the vegetables with melted fat and any seasonings that you like, then roast them in an oven preheated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty to forty-five minutes as needed, stirring once or twice during the roasting process to prevent burning and promote even cooking.
4. strange, sweet herbs: make herbal sun tea.
Lemon catnip, wild mountain mint and other odd herbs have found their way into our CSA boxes, and one of my favorite ways to serve these sweet herbs is in an herbal sun tea. Toss fresh or dried herbs into a quart-sized or half-gallon mason jar, cover them with filtered water and secure with a tight lid. Set the tea in a sunny section of your porch and allow the herbs to infuse the water with their flavor and color for a day or two, filter and sweeten as needed with honey, unrefined cane sugar, green stevia or another natural sweetener of your choice.
Simple Ratio for Herbal Sun Tea: fresh herbs; filtered water; honey, unrefined cane sugar or other sweetener (see sources), as needed
5. serve a gratin.
Almost any vegetable – leafy greens, roots and tubers, shoots and buds – can be made into a gratin. A gratin is a soothing dish, both simple to prepare and deeply nourishing. Allow the vegetables to dictate the flavor of the dish: spinach pairs well with cream and cheese; zucchini pairs well with tomato, olive oil and bread crumbs. To prepare a gratin, first cook vegetables in a good quality cooking fat, then stir in your liquid and toppings as suit you: breadcrumbs, nut flour seasoned with herbs, grated cheese.
Simple Ratio for a Gratin: 2 tablespoons butter, ghee (see sources); 1 to 2 pounds vegetables; 1/2 cup liquid such as cream or stock; 1 cup topping such as breadcrumbs, nut flour, grated cheese and seasonings of your choice.
6. serve a soup.
Serve a good soup with your vegetables. Made from homemade stocks and broths (likeroast chicken stock, homemade beef stock, fresh chicken broth or even a broth made ofchicken feet) Broths and stocks, made from the bones and meats of pasture-raised animals, is potently rich in trace minerals, glucosamine chondroitin, collagen and other nutrients. Learn more about the benefits of broth. All vegetables are suited to soups. Begin your soup by melting a few tablespoons of fat in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed stock pot, stir in onion and fry until fragrant, then stir in vegetables (except greens) and fry them for a few minutes before adding stock. Simmer the soup for at least a half hour until the vegetables are tender, then remove the pot from the heat, stir in greens and herbs, cover and allow the greens and herbs to cook in the residual heat of the soup for at least five minutes before serving.
Simple Ratio for a Good Soup: 1 to 2 tablespoons butter, ghee (see sources); 1 chopped onion; 1 to 2 pounds chopped vegetables; meat (as needed); 1 to 1 1/2 quarts stock or broth; fresh herbs and seasonings
7. vegetables (but not greens): ferment them.
And if you have extra, consider fermenting them! Lactofermentation is an extraordinary process that transforms ordinary vegetables into extraordinarily nutrient-dense pickles that are brimming with beneficial bacteria, food enzymes and B vitamins. To ferment vegetables, simply shred them and pound them with salt, and toss them into a vegetable fermenter or crock (see sources) and allow them to ferment at room temperature for at least seven days before tasting. Make sure that vegetables rest below the level of the liquid, lest you open the ferment up to contamination by microbes. If you’re interested in the process of fermentation make sure to check out our 13-installment online course covering everything there is to know about fermented foods: Get Cultured! How to Ferment Anything.
Simple Ratio for a Fermented Vegetables: 1 qt shredded vegetables; 2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt (see sources); organic spices as needed)