Cooking out of your CSA box
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.