How To Cook With What You Have

How to Cook with What You Have

A guest post from Rachel Waldron, CSA Manager at Collective Harvest


Using the food that you source locally from your farmers market or CSA farm doesn’t have to be daunting – here are some great ways to make cooking with what you have simple and accessible!

Cooking with all that fresh local produce can be challenging if you don’t know what to do with it. If you are like me, you’ve brought home new items from the farmers market or in your CSA share that are exciting but also a bit overwhelming. I know plenty of people who consider purchasing a lot more local, seasonal produce but don’t because they don’t feel confident enough to use all those farm-fresh vegetables. But never fear! It can be done! And it won’t require purchasing twenty or so extra ingredients from the grocery store, either.

If you are one of those people who doesn’t feel confident in their cooking abilities, let’s demystify the kitchen and look at some simple ways to incorporate more local produce into your life. And if you already feel confident, maybe you will learn something, too!

One: store your produce effectively

Make sure you store your produce well in order to maintain its freshness for the longest possible time. Although there is a lot of info out there about produce storage, here are the basics I live by:

·         Greens (including both salad greens AND cooking greens): Store in an airtight container in the high humidity drawer of your fridge to prevent wilting. Wilted greens can be soaked in ice water for 5-10 minutes to perk them back up.

·         Roots: Store in a breathable container in the low humidity drawer of your fridge. Too little moisture and your roots will go soft, too much moisture and they may start to mold. If the greens are still attached, cut them off about an inch from the top of the root and store those leafy greens separately.

·         Tomatoes: Store on the counter out of direct sunlight for up to three days or in the fridge for a few days to extend their life. Tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine, so use them up, cut off any bad spots, and make sure to store cut tomatoes in the fridge. 

·         Potatoes, Onions and Winter Squash: Store out of the fridge in a dark, cool, well-ventilated space and check the produce regularly for any soft spots. Storing your potatoes and onions together will encourage your potatoes to sprout more quickly, so try to keep them separate.

For more tips and tricks, check out Dana Gunders’ Waste Free Kitchen Handbook. I use this resource all the time because it is packed with all kinds of useful kitchen information.

Two: free yourself from strict recipes

"You need to go beyond the recipe and see that cooking is more than a clever trick, a nifty shortcut, or a magic combination of secret herbs and spices. Cooking is an understanding of ingredients and processes,  done as simply and efficiently as possible." - Adam Liaw in an article from The Guardian

So much of what we hear about cooking today is about creating wonderfully delicious meals in short, discrete segments of time. Twenty healthy meals in twenty minutes - that kind of thing. There's nothing wrong with those recipes, but an equally (if not more) effective method is using a set of flexible recipes that can showcase practically any vegetable you happen to have on hand. Here is a wonderful list of simple recipes that do just that:

  • Fried Rice & Stir Fry can host a wealth of veggies from broccoli and carrots to leafy greens and peas. Make a batch of rice the day before and you'll have a yummy meal in no time.
  • Salads are a wonderful way to go through lots of veggies quickly - grate or finely chop everything from carrots to radishes to beets to fennel, throw together a simple vinaigrette, and pour it all over whatever salad green you happen to have lying around.
  • Curries, Soups & Stews can accommodate all kinds of veggies hiding in your fridge. Start with some onions and spices, add some kind of broth or stock, and go to town on the vegetables. 
  • Frittatas can include almost any vegetable - from leafy greens to tomatoes and peppers, from potatoes to squash. Just switch up what herbs you use, maybe add meat or cheese, and you are set.

In order to make these recipes on the fly, you need to spend a little time stocking your kitchen in advance. Not sure what you might need on hand? Check out this list from The Kitchn. Once your pantry is stocked with essentials, you'll be knocking out your CSA produce like a pro in no time.

Three: improvise and substitute

The basis of local and seasonal cooking – whether its with produce from a farmers market or a CSA – is using what you have and learning to substitute ingredients in recipes in order to make the most of your produce. Here is a list of great vegetable substitutions that can help you make the recipe you want with what you have on hand.

·         Greens are infinitely substitutable, both cooked and raw:

o   Kale, collards, broccoli greens, cauliflower greens, bok choy, kohlrabi greens, turnip greens, and even radish greens can be combined and substituted endlessly.

o   Out of spinach? Try substituting swish chard or even beet greens.

o   Almost anything can be a salad green as long as its tender enough. Try baby kale, mustard greens, collards, tatsoi, and beet greens, just to name a few.

·         Roast your veggies in all kinds of combos:

o   Carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes, beets, sweet potatoes and potatoes are good options in the roots and tubers group.

o   Some of your summer favorites like peppers, okra and summer squash are fantastic when roasted.

o   Kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are easy to mix in as well.

o   Any of these are delicious when chopped, tossed with a little oil and roasted in a single layer on a baking sheet.

·         Alliums are friends!

o   Onions, shallots, scallions, leeks, garlic and spring onions are pungent when raw and sweet when cooked. Don't have an onion? Use a leek or a shallot!

o   Don't have green onions (also called scallions)? Use chives or garlic chives instead.

·         Boil them, mash them, put them in a stew: 

o   Sweet potatoes, potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips, celery root, and turnips can be substituted for one another in mashes, gratins, soups and stews.

Feel free to add more veggies! Many recipes can accommodate twice or even three times as many veggies than the recipe calls for. Add in more of a vegetable already in the recipe or add variety with new additions.

For more information on awesome ways to cook with your local and seasonal produce, check out this article by Katherine Deumling that she wrote to celebrate CSA Day 2017.

The season of fresh produce is almost upon us. Get out there and grab your veggies so that you can start cooking up a storm! Good luck.