6 fresh ideas for your CSA

A healthy cooking guide to make that box of produce less intimidating.

At the same time you're switching your closet from winter to spring, local farmers are beginning to harvest the first warm weather produce, such as leafy greens, juicy berries and bright vegetables. Get a standing order for what's just come out of the ground (and support sustainable agriculture in the process) by joining a CSA, or community-supported agriculture.

As its popularity has grown, so too have the options for purveyors, plans, and pick-up locations, such as a farm or local restaurant, or opting for home delivery. It also means you'll never have to show up at the farmers' market first thing in the morning to avoid getting the leftovers.

Equinox Tier 4 Trainer, holistic health coach and nutritionist Bethany Snodgrass encourages her clients to join up, as she's found that embracing the CSA ideals surrounding health and environmentalism shows in their performance. “CSA shares are like summertime Christmas presents,” she says. “They deliver such a variety of nutrients, plus the fruits and veggies look and taste so much fresher.”

The complaint about CSAs is sometimes you're faced with an overflow of a certain item, possibly one you've never cooked before. Below, a few ideas to use up every last root, stem and leaf. If you're faced with a vegetable that makes you wary, remember: A touch of healthy fat, like coconut and olive oils and grass-fed butter, helps with satiety and nutrient absorption, Snodgrass says. Also, cooking methods that use the whole vegetable and short cooking times tend to maintain the highest level of nutrients.

Here, a few ideas to get you started:

fresh herbs

If your CSA’s filled to the brim with herbs, here’s an easy summertime salsa verde for brightening up all things grilled. In a food processor, chop 3 big handfuls of picked herb leaves (any combination of parsley, mint, chives, scallions, basil, tarragon, cilantro, oregano or others) with 2 or 3 garlic cloves. Transfer herb mixture to a bowl and stir in 1 minced red chili pepper or a pinch of crushed red pepper and ¼ cup red wine vinegar and season with sea salt. Add up to ½ cup olive oil and refrigerate, up to a week.

root vegetables

Supermarket-bought root vegetables often come with their tops chopped off, but those discarded leaves are full of nutrients. Trim tough stems, wash the leaves and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, then steam or sauté. As for the roots, peel rough skin (usually not necessary for radishes and turnips), cut into 1-inch wedges, and toss with olive or coconut oil and a few pinches of salt. Arrange on a baking sheet with a couple sprigs of woody herbs, like thyme or rosemary, then roast at 400° until tender, about 25 minutes. Eat immediately or use through the week with eggs, grain bowls, or as a side dish.

romaine, endive, arugula, etc.

While stir frying hearty green vegetables, like sugar snap peas or asparagus, may seem obvious, tender greens benefit from a flash in the pan, too. Sauté a couple of chopped garlic cloves and an inch of chopped ginger root in a slick of sesame oil, then add a head of torn butter or romaine lettuce. Also try with other leafy greens, pea shoots or sweet potato leaves. Dot with a few drops of soy sauce, if desired.

all those berries

Overloading on berries may seem impossible until they come weekly and pints risk going bad. Quarter any strawberries, sprinkle raw sugar or honey and a squeeze of lemon. Crush a couple of times with a potato masher or fork (depending on how much you have) then transfer to a plastic container with a lid. Freeze, up to 6 months. Defrost for use on yogurt, toast or atop dessert.

cruciferous vegetables

CSA vegetables can make a great main dish by treating them like a protein. Rub this vadouvan spice blend on thickly sliced onions, broccoli trees, cauliflower steaks, cabbage wedges and brussels sprouts and grill. Makes enough for 2 pounds of vegetables. Grind together in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle 1 bay leaf, 1 Tbsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp kosher salt, ¼ tsp cayenne, and a pinch each cinnamon and cloves. (If using pre-ground spices, simply stir them together.)

the leftovers

Maximize your CSA by preserving parts of produce that usually head for the compost bin. Pickling is great for leftover roasted vegetables, like beets, or sliced fruit. For example, add pickled chard stems to salads or placing atop fish: Wash and trim stems of 3 bunches of rainbow chard, about ½ lb, and transfer to a 1 quart jar. In a small sauce pan, boil together 1 cup white wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1½ tsp sea salt, a pinch of crushed red pepper and 1 cup of water; transfer to jar and let cool. Cover and refrigerate, at least 2 days and up to 2 months. (Sub in other 'scraps' for chard.)