One way to get more out of your CSA subscription and keep your CSA kitchen sustainable is to collect dishes that are flexible, easy, and veggie-intensive. It’s not hard to do – dishes like this exist in every food culture and have the following characteristics:
- high vegetable to meat ratio (perhaps infinite)
- infinitely variable in amounts and ingredients (with a few seasonal restraints)
- can serve as one-dish meals
- don’t call for a lot of additional ingredients
- don’t require too much attention or time once you get the idea down
Here’s a quick list of possibilities. (Our two current favorites – lo mein and cottage pie – are discussed in more detail below.)
- vegetable soup or stew (pretty much everywhere)
- cottage pie (Britain)
- ratatouille (France)
- briami (Greece)
- lo mein, fried rice (China)
- yaksoba (Japan)
- pad thai (Thailand)
- gado gado (Indonesia)
- curries of all sorts (India)
Too variable to be called recipes, these dishes are invaluable to the CSA subscriber. For centuries, they have been the bedrock of diets for millions of people for excellent reasons:
- They’re nutritious. People thrive on them.
- They’re yummy. People will willingly eat them.
- They make use of what food is around, and they make use of most of the parts.
- They are not complicated and are easy to get sufficiently good at making. They are either made quickly or take take a long time and need little oversight.
Sometimes a CSA delivery will contain vegetables that aren’t in awesome condition or that I’m not that fond of. In addition, haunting my crisper from past deliveries are always aging bits, stems, and greens. I imagine the same will be true in your kitchen, and if you can’t find ways to use the humbler, easily-forgotten pieces, your CSA subscription quickly becomes an albatross of waste and guilt. You’ve paid an upfront premium for conscientiously cultivated produce, and you want to use every bit you can.
Enter the peasant dish. For instance, I’m happy to report that if you chop purple-top turnips and stir-fry them with other vegetables, you can’t really taste them. (Don’t buy into the “you can make turnips taste like mashed potatoes” nonsense. It doesn’t work unless you already like turnips.)
At the other end of the spectrum is drop-dead gorgeous CSA produce. In my first year as a CSA member, I would receive a beautiful vegetable and convince myself that I had to find and create the perfect dish to honor this pick-of-the-litter. How wasteful it seemed to consign it to casserole anonymity!
Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that the far greater indignity is to lose a vegetable in the crisper while I get around to buying other ingredients or finding the time and energy to cook that perfect meal, and, over time, I’ve given up most of my gourmet aspirations. Years of cooking day in and day out and receiving box after box of fresh produce have taught me a ruthless pragmatism that gets us through our weekly drop and keeps me more or less sane.
If you (or someone in your household) wants to cook more complicated recipes, go for it. But keep in mind the simple beauty of the peasant dish. It’s nutritious, tastes good, and conserves your energy for dinner conversation and fellowship – and everything else you have to do before bed.
Finally, these dishes reheat well, so they make excellent leftovers and lunches. Honestly, what’s not to love?
The top two peasant dishes in my house are lo mein and meat casserole/cottage pie.
Lo, lo mein!
Lo mein has all the fridge-cleaning benefits of fried rice with the additional perk of noodles. (If you call it “noodles” in one dish and “pasta” in another, then you get to eat twice as much in a week. Noodles and pasta are clearly different foods – even if in my kitchen they’re both dried durum linguine.) Also, fried rice really needs day-old rice to work right, so lo mein is the better option if you are leftover-rice-less.
Like any stir-fry, the tricks are chopping ahead of time, separating vegetables in terms of cooking time, and using high heat. (Or medium-high for a non-stick pan.)
Here are three posts with cooking instructions – two about lo mein and one about fried rice:
And here are some photos of our latest lo mein.
Meat casserole/Cottage pie/Shepherd’s pie
This dish is Chris’ favorite. If I have potatoes, I mash them and make cottage pie. Otherwise it’s just a casserole made of veggies and browned meat. First, they’re cooked in broth, Worcestershire sauce, and brown mustard plus whatever useful herbs might be lying around. Then, they’re topped with breadcrumbs and melted butter (or mashed potatoes for cottage pie) and baked at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Here’s my original Shepherd’s Pie post with more detailed instructions.
Recently, we’ve been short on potatoes, so we’ve done the meat casserole thing instead. It’s perfect on a cold winter day.
Got a yummy peasant dish to share? Leave us a comment!