This week my friend Michelle and I started a trial membership in a CSA. No, we didn’t become rebel soldiers or Hollywood casting directors; CSA is short for community-supported agriculture. Basically, you cut a check to an independent local farm and every other week (or, if you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed, every week) they deliver you a box of that week’s freshest produce. We signed up with Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which I think is misleadingly named, because their backyard garden is big enough to deliver fresh goods to Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.
And also, you get a lot of stuff. Specifically:
Four cucumbers; one giant scary cucumber that was fuzzy and hairy; amaranth; kale; mint; five Hungarian wax peppers; five jalapeño peppers; four sweet purple peppers; two zucchini; four squash; a whole bag of okra; a giant spaghetti squash; a dozen small potatoes; four shallot-like onions; four eggplant; and orange and purple carrots.
This was the part where we thought: crap. What are we supposed to do with all this food?!?!
So Saturday we got together at 1 p.m., hit two groceries, and began prep work at 3 p.m. We finished cooking around 10:30 p.m.
The Cooking Adventure
Here’s what we did!
Have you ever wondered, like since seeing it in the first picture, what the inside of a purple carrot looks like? Here’s the answer:
Our first trick: we recognized that the mint leaves were going to be hard to get rid of, so we used some of it, along with a whole lot of lemon zest, to broil up some lemon-cumin-mint chicken. Surprisingly tasty, I’ll have you know, partly because the ingredients were used in just the right amounts, so the flavor is actually rather subtle and a little tangy, not overpowering.
Next, Michelle took care of the sweet peppers along with a bunch of basil from Central Market in a batch of basil pesto.
The basil pesto was going to serve as dressing for some ravioli we made using the squash and a shallot, along with a bit of crabmeat. The ravioli turned out to be a pain–not necessarily to form, which Michelle found relatively simple, but to keep from (a) falling apart in the pot, and (b) sticking together into one giant blob of noodle on the plate afterward.
Meanwhile, I was forming pork meatballs, along with the jalapeño peppers and onions, plus other goodies: an egg, parsley, breadcrumbs. They turned out to be really freaking tasty, especially when dipped in a tzatziki dip we made with yogurt and one of the cucumbers.
Also going on: along with some store-bought stew beef and tomatoes, we killed off the entire consignment of okra and Hungarian wax peppers in a gigantic pot of stew. Most of the carrots and half of the potatoes went into the stew, too. The pot of stew ended up making probably about 10 meals’ worth of food, although the Hungarian peppers turned out to be far less spicy than advertised, so we had to kick in a whole ton of salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne. This defines thick and hearty.
Meanwhile, I grated the zucchini, squash, and a couple of red potatoes into a great big Neapolitan tricolor pile of veggie goodness.
I was making an oddball variation on a Turkish classic: mücver, or zucchini fritters. Oddball because I forgot to include one of the central ingredients, feta cheese. (It was 9:30 p.m. Can you blame me?) On the other hand, because we had them on hand, the fritters included both red and green onions. And they came out golden-crispy and utterly delicious.
At some point I looked up and Michelle had carved out the spaghetti squash and mixed it up with some mushrooms and dressing for a veggie side dish. (Johnson’s Backyard Garden strenuously denies growing spaghetti squash and claims this is some other variety, but…nope.)
Oh, remember that feta cheese I tragically forgot to use in the zucchini fritters? That will serve as part of the garnish for the eggplant, which got sliced and broiled and paired with a shallot vinaigrette.
Head spinning yet? Trust me, mine was. Seven hours of nonstop home cooking was enough to convince me that I could never work in a restaurant. Michelle felt similarly. Our only break between 3 and 10 was when a dead spot in the cooking allowed us time to go and build two IKEA nightstands. At the end of the night, Michelle quickly cooked up the kale and amaranth so it would keep in the fridge longer, but before we collapsed in exhaustion, there was one more thing left to deal with.
The rest of that huge bunch of rapidly-dying mint.
Now, at some point, the plan for the pork-pepper meatballs had been to make them lamb meatballs with mint, but I strongly oppose the prevailing societal view that lamb needs mint flavoring. Also, lamb is expensive. So there was only one option left to us.
We reconvened Sunday and made our own Oreo cookies.
We’ll be honest: these tasted kinda weird. The dough has a bit of saltiness and the filling is runny. But hey, they’re not bad as a chocolate delivery device.
Left over from the CSA produce haul: a couple shallots, a few small potatoes, a couple cucumbers Michelle will slice and drop into her water pitchers; and the gigantic, hairy, terrifying cucumber we’re very literally afraid to touch.
Now in my possession: by my count, 12 main course portions and 6 veggie sides. I plan on freezing the stew for use in the future and chowing down on meatballs, ravioli, lemon chicken, eggplant, and zucchini fritters for basically this entire week. Michelle got just as much food out of this (slightly more; she kept the kale and amaranth, since I already have some spinach in my fridge). I don’t expect to go to a grocery store for 10 days.
In our day of cooking, we used up two-and-a-half heads of garlic.
Here’s some advice for anyone looking to join a CSA:
1. Plan out multiple full menus to use all the ingredients you’re going to get.
2. Try to get your delivery close to the weekend so the produce will mostly still be fresh when you have time to cook the insane amount of produce you’ll be getting.
3. Be willing to say things like “I really want to try making X, but I guess that will have to wait until we get through this CSA box.”
4. Take risks. If you’re not comfortable saying “hey, lemon-cumin-mint chicken could be good,” you might have a hard time.
5. Be really, really hungry.