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Cooking out of your CSA box

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Linda Ly, an avid gardener and the blogger behind the Garden Betty website, grew up in Las Vegas eating the typical diet of a Vietnamese immigrant, including all kinds of exotic produce and bits and bobs of meat.

Then she moved to New York for college, and since she was broke, she started dressing up her ramen noodles. In 2002, she moved to L.A. and started eating out of her own garden, trying to use up every inch of her homegrown produce following the same, thrifty guidelines of her immigrant upbringing.

Ly shares to share these no-waste tips — from using carrot tops for pesto to throwing pepper leaves into soup — in a new cookbook, “The CSA Cookbook,” offering 106 globally inspired, veggie-centric recipes for cooking your way through a community supported agriculture (CSA) box, the farmers’ market or your own backyard bounty.

“It’s mostly vegetarian because I want to encourage a style of cooking that is more vegetable focused,” said Ly, one of the speakers at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa this week. “Meat just complements vegetables, so there are a few meat recipes in there, like a beef and barley stew.”

Part cookbook and part reference guide, “The CSA Cookbook” gives all kinds of tips on how to store, handle and use up your vegetables so that they don’t wind up in the compost bin. It’s a technique she calls “scrap artistry,” similar to the “nose-to-tail butchery” techniques favored by a new generation of chefs.

“I became quite adept at ... taking the odds and ends of my vegetables and turning them into full-fledged ‘kitchen pantry’ meals,” she wrote in the book.

“I was a fan of vegetables that offered two-fers (or more), such as crunchy beets with tender leaves or pumpkins that provided sustenance through their seeds, flesh, flowers and leaves.”

In her introductory chapter, “The Basics,” Ly explains how to store each vegetable so that it stays fresh and crisp. For example, if you have a carrot or a beet with the leaves on, take the greens off immediately.

“Storage is a lot of the reason people have a hard time using up the CSA in time,” she said. “By the time you remember what to do with it, it’s already past its prime.”

If you find your greens and carrots have become wilted and limp, however, you can revive them in a sink full of cold water.

In the cookbook’s introduction, Ly provides loose recipes for making vegetable stock, with multiple substitutions for each group of ingredients, as well as a primer on making pesto from a wide range of herbs and greens, cheeses and nuts.

“Lately, people have been all about the pesto combinations,” she said. “They are discovering they can make pesto with anything and everything, especially stems and stalks.”

Ly likes to make unexpected pestos, from ingredients such as a spicy Thai basil, which adds a nice kick to the traditional Italian pesto. In the fall, she also suggests freezing the pestos into balls, or in ice cube trays, so that you can enjoy them throughout the year.

The bulk of the book is organized by vegetable groups, including Tomatoes and Peppers, Leafy Greens, Bulbs and Stems, Roots and Tubers. Each vegetable can be prepared in a few different ways, and many in the same family — such as kale, chard, cabbage and collard greens — can be substituted for each other.

“I use a lot of the sturdier greens interchangeably,” she said. “They are similar in flavor, and all they need is to be sautéed or braised on high heat to get the soft, tender texture.”

Substitutions are easy on the home cook, since they don’t require an extra trip to the store to find a specific ingredient.

Some recipes in the book revolve around vegetables that people find intimidating, such as kohlrabi, a bulb vegetable that resembles a spaceship. The cookbook includes recipes for Kohlrabi and Carrot Slaw, Kohlrabi Home Fries and a Kohlrabi Greens and Wild Mushroom Ragout.

“I try to give a way to keep the ingredient raw, one that’s cooked, and one that’s different,” she said of the cookbook. “People think you roast beets and that’s it. But there are so many ways to prepare them. You can put them raw in a salad, or pickle them. I put them on pizza, and saute and braise them.”

A few of the more unusual recipes in the book call for using pepper leaves in a Ginger-Spiced Chicken Soup, which is common in Filipino cuisine; using tomato leaves in a Tomato Leaf Pesto; and using leek tops in a Leek Green and Saucy Shrimp Stir-Fry dish.

“The leek greens have the same flavor as the white, only they hold their texture really well,” she said. “It’s a part of a common vegetable that everyone discards and doesn’t know why.”

The following recipes are from Linda Ly’s “The CSA Cookbook” (Voyageur Press), available at voyageurpress.com and amazon.com, at the Petaluma Seed Bank and at the National Heirloom Expo (at the Real Books booth.)

“I always cringe when I hear people say they cut all the leaves off their leeks before starting a recipe. They are throwing away perfectly good food and don’t even know it,” Ly writes. “This recipe starts with the leaves, the fan-shaped, dark green tops of the white stems.”

Leek Green and Saucy Shrimp Stir-Fry

Makes 4 servings

For the sauce:

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sriracha

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar

For the stir-fry:

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

4 cups chopped leeks (dark green leaves only)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1- inch piece ginger, minced

1¼ pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a small bowl, combine all of the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl the sunflower oil around the wok and add the leeks, spreading them across the surface in a single layer. Cook undisturbed until they begin to wilt and brown on the edges, about 2 minutes. Give a quick stir and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes until the leeks are tender. Add the garlic and ginger, tossing them around frequently so they don’t burn.

Add the shrimp and stir-fry until the flesh begins to turn pink on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the sauce and toss to coat. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

“These zucchini noodles (zoodles?) are like pasta in disguise, and that’s what I love about them,” she writes. “Since the zucchini brings its own subtle flavor to the table, no heavy sauce is needed for this ‘pasta’ dish.”

Zucchini Noodles With Roasted Tomatoes, Pesto and Pint Nuts

Makes 4 servings

1¼ pounds cherry tomatoes, halved

3 garlic cloves, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

— A few pinches of kosher salt

— A few grinds of black pepper

3 rosemary sprigs

3 thyme sprigs

2 pounds zucchini, julienned

½ cup pesto (homemade or store-bought)

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

— Shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the garlic, oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Spread the tomatoes across a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, cut sides up, and scatter the rosemary and thyme on top. Roast for about 1 hour until the tomatoes are softened and shriveled. Discard the dried herbs.

In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, combine the zucchini and pesto and heat through for about 2 minutes.

To serve, divide the zucchini among four plates. Top each plate with a generous heap of roasted tomatoes (including all the juices), a spoonful of pine nuts, and some shaved Parmesan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

“Bibimbap — or b-bap, as I like to call it — is a classic Korean rice bowl,” she writes. “I keep my b-bap simple and use whatever I can find in the kitchen. This is a good way to use up excess squash from your CSA box, leftover carrots or greens ... and a mushroom or two.” You can find gochujang at Asian markets

Bottom-of-the-Box Bibimbap

Makes 4 servings

For the sauce:

¼ cup gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

2 tablespoons hot water

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

2 garlic cloves

For the rice:

2 cups uncooked white rice, rinsed

4 cups water

For the bibimbap:

8 cups packed spinach

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 zucchini, thinly sliced

2 carrots, cut into 3-inch matchsticks

1 cup packed pea sprouts

4 eggs

For the sauce: Combine all of its ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To make the rice, bring the rice and the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring another medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the spinach for 1 minutes, then drain and thoroughly squeeze out all the liquid. Gather the spinach into a clump and coarsely chop. Transfer the spinach to a large platter, then drizzle the sesame oil and scatter the sesame seeds on top.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

Stir in the zucchini and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to the same platter as the spinach.

In the same skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, stir in the carrots, and cook for about 5 minutes until tender. Transfer the carrots to the platter.

Divide the rice among four bowls and arrange the spinach, zucchini, carrots and pea sprouts on top of the rice.

Reheat the same skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, swirling it around to coat the surface. Crack the eggs into the skillet, making sure the whites don’t run into each other. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the whites are set and the edges start to brown, about 5 minutes. Top each bowl with a fried egg and serve with a few spoonfuls of sauce, to taste.

Thai Basil Pesto

Makes 1 cup

2 cups packed Thai basil with flowers

1⁄3 cup dry-roasted peanuts

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1½ tablespoons chopped ginger

3 garlic cloves

— Zest and juice of 1 lime

¼-½ cup peanut oil

Add all the ingredients (except the oil) to a food processor and pulse to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Continue pulsing and add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the pesto reaches the consistency you like. Use less oil for a thick paste or more oil for a thin sauce.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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