When it comes to preparing food, a lot of people rely too heavily on perfectly-executed recipes curated from only the finest of sources. But who has time for that? You have a box of food waiting to be eaten, and you want to eat it!
You don't have to run to the store to get pine nuts for your pesto. You don't have to have each and every spice suggested in a curry recipe. Getting a CSA box is a great way to learn how to make food you love with what you have around.
Here, we've written up a collection of tips for food preparation and storage that will help you enjoy the produce when you get it instead of feeling like you have to run to the store to get just the right ingredients. Have fun with these, and stay in touch with us on our Facebook page for more recipes and discussion.
Further preparation tips
Making vegetable stock | Juicing & Smoothies | Rethinking salad
Cooking with Tomato Mountain salsas | Cooking on the grill | CSA Stir-Fry | Pickling
Making your own herbed vinegar | Canning | Eggs: Storing, Freezing, and Hard-Boiling
Kitchen tips from around the web
All three of these are moist heating methods. Moist heat preserves color while softening texture. It’s helpful to remember the guide for green vs. root vegetables: boiling and steaming work for green vegetables, simmering for root vegetables. The intense heat of a boil or steam works to keep the vegetable’s flavor fresh and color bright.
Depending on the vegetable and the length of the boil, there can be an impact on nutrition and flavor. Avoid overcooking most vegetables, as doing so can cause valuable nutrients to leech out of the vegetable. It's best to err on the side of undercooking, as the food will continue to cook from its own internal heat. (Click on the vegetable in our table to get an idea of cooking times [coming soon].)
For boiling, be sure to use plenty of water to prevent the water's temperature from dropping too quickly when you add the veggies. Add generous amounts of salt once it's boiling -- between a teaspoon and a tablespoon per quart of water.
To boil, place the vegetables in the liquid after it has reached a really rolling boil.
To simmer, place the vegetables in cold liquid and heat without allowing liquid to reach a boil.
To steam, place the vegetables in a metal basket just above the boiling water and cover.
For boiling and steaming, do not cover the pot. Also keep the heat constant (high heat for a boil, low heat for a simmer). For steaming, it's helpful to use a lid to keep the moisture inside the pot.
Unless the smell of the leftover water is unpleasant (as it may be with produce like broccoli or cabbage), save the liquid to use as a base for future soups or stocks.
Blanching is another moist heat method that sets a vegetable's color, often reduces its bitterness, and softens its texture. Blanching (or parboiling) starts the process of cooking the vegetable, making the final product easier to work with in many dishes. To do this, briefly boil an item, taking it out before it's thoroughly cooked. You can either shock the veggies in cold water to stop the cooking process (with greens, for example), or spread them out to cool on a cookie sheet (good for root veggies or squash). This is also the best way to remove tomato skins (though the skins are full of nutrients that you should keep).
Many vegetables are best preserved by blanching before freezing. A great way to cook many vegetables is to blanch them, cool them, and then sauté them in a very hot pat with liquid or a bit of oil.
It's also handy to parboil many items for later use. Try blanching cut-up potatoes, turnips or rutabaga for about 10 mintues and putting them in the fridge -- you'll have a head start on any dish you might make with them later.
Somewhat similar to the effect of grilling, intense heat gives vegetables a crisp, appetizing coating while allowing its inside to remain moist and flavorful. High heat is directed just above the vegetables, quickly cooking some vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes) and finishing off others that require a longer cooking time (onions). Apply a light coating of fat and seasoning (salt, pepper and an optional herb or two). Blast the heat for a short time, turn, and it’s done.
A method of quickly sealing in flavor and crispness by immersing vegetables in hot fat.
Heat oil or another form of fat until it reaches about 360 degrees (some fats preferas low as 350, some say as high as 375). It's a good idea to use a thermometer. Here's a chart for deep frying temperatures based on oil type.
Use a neutral or lightly flavored oil -- peanut, safflower or canola oils work best. We also sell sunflower oil in our store, which works well.
The heat level depends on what oil you use. A deep fat thermometer is helpful, but you can tell the oil is a bit too hot if it starts to smoke.
Don't put cold or wet food into the fry oil; cold veggies will lower the fat's temperature, and wet veggies will splatter. Either batter your veggies or pat them dry before deep frying.
Use a heavy pan, pot or wok, and then, without overcrowding (which would lower the temperature of the oil too much), submerge small batches until a thin, crispy, golden layer forms.
Whether you will need to turn the veggies or not is determined by the recipe and the item.
Pull out when ready, check color (use frying times as a loose guide [coming soon].). Place in a paper bag or on a paper towel to drain, and season.
If the process is done right the vegetables will be crispy and light without absorbing much oil. It is essential to control the temperature so that it remains constant. Do not allow the temperature to drop much or get much higher than it started. If you strain the oil and keep it in a cool, dark area (or refrigerator), it can be used two or three times. Smell it to determine whether it has developed an off odor and discard particles that collect at the bottom.
Grilling is often considered the province of hot dogs and hamburgers, but vegetables also fare quite well on the grill. Grilling provides intense, dry heat, which allows foods to dry out, often improving sweetness. Here's a list of recipes that will have your grill blazing all season long: Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, fennel, zucchini ... the list goes on and on.
The thing these recipes generally have in common is brushing the veggies with oil and throwing them on the grill, flipping once, and not worrying if there's a bit of char on the final product. It's really the best way to cook.
Another great grilling option is the foil pack. This quick guide from the Food Network says it best. Check out the slideshow of recipe ideas to get an idea of how versatile this method is.
Almost any vegetable tastes great after a stint in a hot oven. Potatoes turn delicious, turnips turn into treats, and tomatoes turn into candy. A good general guide for roasting vegetables is to set your oven to about 375-425 degrees, cut veggies into one-to-two-inch chunks (just slice tomatoes in half), toss with oil, salt and pepper, and roast for between 20 and 45 minutes or so. Try mixing root veggies on a sheet with some thick-cut onion (toss garlic cloves in for the second half of roasting as they cook more quickly).
Some good roasting recipes: Roasted garlic, Mixed roots, Five ways to spice up your roasted roots, and Slow Roasted Tomatoes. Anytime you see celeriac, parsnips, etc, you should feel free to swap in turnips, rutabaga, carrots, potatoes, and winter squash.
High heat and small amounts of fat gives vegetables great flavor while retaining color and adding browning and allowing you to achieve a desired level of crispness . Use a heavy pan or skillet and a medium-high to high heat to warm the pan. Add the fat and wait until it just begins to move easily ("make waves") across the pan – do not allow it reach a smoking point. Add one layer of vegetables -- if they're crowded they will steam rather than brown; this also reduces the cooking temperature too quickly. For mushrooms, it's helpful to let them sit and release their liquid for a few minutes. Stir, turning the heat closer to medium until you've reached the desired level of doneness.
Add garlic partway through the cooking process so that it doesn't burn.
If you want to brown the vegetable, use a bit of fat to draw out the natural sugars; if you'd like to caramelize something, start with fat and then add a bit of water or any flavorful liquid and continue the sautéing process.
Stir-frying is similar to sautéing. For a stir-fry, maintain high heat and constantly move the veggies around in the pan for just a few minutes, pulling them out while they are very crisp.
Vegetables that require longer cooking times can be initially parboiled or steamed so that they can then cook quickly in a skillet or wok.
Don’t confuse sautéing with sweating. Sweating is a method used for preparing onions and other roots (carrots, celery, garlic) so that they release their liquid and flavor before introducing other ingredients (such as liquids). To sweat a vegetable, slowly cook it in a covered pan on lower heat, usually without salt, so that it sweats out its moisture without browning.
Further preparation tips
A great way to go through any almost-gone-bad veggies or to use those greens that just didn't fit in any of your green-heavy meals for the week is to make your own vegetable stock. Sean blogged about it on our Tumblr; a more in-depth discussion can be found over at Squidoo. It's such a great thing to have around - and it freezes nicely so you can have delicious broth all through the winter. If you're a meat-eater, throw any meat scraps or bones in here as well to add to the flavor!
Juicing is a great way to use up lots of veggies, and green juices can be extremely delicious. Juicing separates flavorful liquids from fruits & veggies, allowing you to blend flavors seamlessly. Purchasing a juicer can be a bit of an investment upfront, but it might just change your approach to your CSA share. Here's an article from The Kitchn discussing juicers. For some great juicer recipes, check out this page. (Juicing is a great way to use your beets, by the way!)
Smoothies aren't just for strawberries and bananas (though that's a pretty great combination). Get creative to really crank through your share - greens like our super-sweet spinach or hearty kale, herbs, shredded raw beets, sweet turnips, cherry tomatoes and more can be included. Use your intuition (and a sprinkle of sugar if necessary) and you can't go wrong.
Angela Liddon of Ohsheglows.com has a great post about making green smoothies here.
You'll be getting at least some greens and/or lettuce in your box every week, with lots & lots pouring in during the early and late months. If your idea of a salad is chopped lettuce with ranch dressing, you might find yourself bored to tears. But with a little ingenuity and an open mind, you can greatly expand your idea of a good salad and see how getting a CSA share can transform your diet.
A few simple things to do to spruce up your salad: include whole-leaf fresh herbs such as celery leaf or parsley; toss in proteins like fried tofu, cooked bacon, or seasoned white beans; or mince lettuce into a noodle salad.
Here are some resources:
from the New York Times: Recipes for 101 Simple Salads for the Season (Lots of non-lettuce salads do well with a bit of shredded lettuce added.)
A fun chart giving you a ton of ways to combine salad fixins.
Extra lettuce can also be cooked into soup... Chickpea and Lettuce soup with Vermicelli
And, finally, a main dish: Panzanelle-type salad with lettuce, kale and toasted, garlicky bread.
Lots of recipes seem obsessed with romaine, but you can use any of our lettuces for those recipes.
We've put together a whole page of ideas for cooking with Tomato Mountain salsas. Take a look at it here.
A simple look at stir-frying up your greens... and pretty much anything else that might show up in your box. (PDF)
... is a great way to prepare and preserve almost any vegetable. Here are a few links to get you started:
Quick pickling is a great way to alter and enhance the flavor of a vegetable. Try this Quick-Pickled Zucchini recipe from Heidi Swanson to see it in action.
Incredibly easy Fridge Pickles make for a great snack.
Ferment your pickled veggies for a special, funky treat. Here's a basic recipe for fermentation. You can ferment for even longer than a week; if you keep the jar in a cool, dark spot, you can ferment for two weeks or more (just checking every few days to remove any schmutz that has appeared on the top of the liquid).
Take it up a notch with kimchi (also spelled kimchee, kim chi, etc), a Korean preparation for fermentation with chili paste. Sean blogged about it, based on a somewhat simplified (and extra-gingered) version of the recipe on this Instructables page.
Herb-infused vinegar tastes amazing, and you can use it in everything from salad dressings to cooked dishes. Pat herbs dry on a towel, then just fill a jar (preferably an attractive one with a cork top!) about halfway with the herbs. Fill the rest of the way with your preferred type of vinegar (rice wine is rich but generally neutral; use apple cider or red wine vinegar for more creative flavor opportunities). Let rest at room temperatures for about a week or 10 days, then remove the herbs and begin using your tasty vinegar!
It's not as scary or as complicated as you might think. While it's important to pay attention to temperatures and cooking times to can safely, you'd have to screw it up pretty badly to give yourself a case of botulism.
You can can most things with just some jars with new lids and a big pot of boiling water. You only need a pressure canner to prepare low-acid foods like eggplants or foods with more oil.
There are lots (and lots and lots) of resources online to help you along the way. One good one is the Ball Jar Company. They will try to sell you lots of fancy equipment, but their descriptions of canning basics are wonderfully easy to follow. Page down to the Printable Canning Guides to get started.
For a more in-depth description of the hows and whys of canning, check out the USDA's fantastic website with PDFs of their canning book available as well as some expository, no-frills explanations of the canning process.
Once you get started with canning, start following Food in Jars, an amazing blog and website devoted to canning. This link takes you to their "Canning 101" entries, which are chock full of useful information and tips.
Properly and continuously refrigerated, eggs will still be good for 3 to 5 weeks after the "sell-by" date on the package. For information on storing--and freezing (who knew?)--fresh, raw eggs, click here. For hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel try this:
* Start with older eggs; especially farm-fresh ones need to sit in the fridge for several weeks
* Put them from the fridge in cold water with ice added; let them sit for 30 minutes or more, the idea being to get the eggs and water the same temp
* Heat til boiling, roughly 15-20 minutes; set and re-set a timer as needed to catch the boil when it begins
* When they start to boil, turn heat off and allow them to sit for 16-18 minutes
* With a bowl of water and ice ready, remove from the stove and carefully lift them a few at a time from the boiled water into the icy water; add ice as needed to keep the water real cold
* After they've cooled down, strain for a few minutes, then refrigerate; use them within a week
An added benefit to this method is that the yolks don't turn green.
Egg shells are a wonderful addition to compost. What else can you do with them? This list offers a start; we'd welcome your suggestions, too.
Here's a list of sites with a broad swath of helpful hints.
The Bitten Word: The Vegetable Board: How we stopped wasting food - An idea for keeping track of what's in your fridge to prevent veggies from going bad.
The Kitchn: Garbage Bowls — A remarkably simple idea that makes kitchen cleanup a cinch.