Having a share in a CSA is wonderful. In theory.
CSA = community-supported agriculture. If you’re not familiar, it’s a system where a group of customers prepays a seasonal subscription fee directly to a farmer (or multiple farmers) and, in exchange, they each receive a lovely array of fresh fruits/vegetables on a regular basis throughout the growing season.
There’s just one problem.
As a CSA subscriber, sooner or later you’re bound to end up with strange, inexplicable vegetables in your share that you have no idea what to do with. And you panic, and you freeze up, and they sit in your fridge, and then they rot, and you waste your money, and then everyone’s sad.
So! Herein are some doable, delicious ideas for how to cook and eat a few of the most often problematic or over-abundant CSA suspects: kohlrabi, garlic scapes, turnips, chard, beets, and sugar snap peas. Because they deserve to be eaten, and you deserve to eat them. Carry on.
So what should I do if I got 17 tons of KOHLRABI?
TELL ME WHAT IT IS! A vegetable in the brassica genus (cousins include cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc) that grows as a big, tough bulb just above ground level and has leaves sticking out of it like weird little alien arms.
TELL ME WHAT IT TASTES LIKE! Kohlrabi isn’t actually a root, but it acts a lot like one. The crunchy, starchy texture is similar to jicama or turnips, but it has a mild, slightly sweet cabbagey flavor. You can eat it raw or cooked. The leaves are fair game too; you can approach them the way you would a tough bunch of kale or collards.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH IT! First of all, make sure you PEEL the HECK out of kohlrabi. It has a thick outer green layer that you want to completely slice away so you get to the non-fibrous white interior. After than, you can…
4. Slice kohlrabi thinly with other fruits and veggies to make a salad.
A mandoline is a great tool for this, but a sharp knife works too. Just watch out for your cute little fingers — kohlrabi can be pretty tough.
What if I’m scared of these creepy GARLIC SCAPES?
TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE! The above-ground central stalk of a garlic plant. Scapes turn up at markets and in your CSA box in early summer, before the garlic bulbs are mature.
TELL ME WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE! Uh… garlic. But very gentle, fresh, slightly spicy garlic. Which is great! Because most of us don’t go around chomping on raw cloves, but garlic scapes are mild enough that you can eat them straight up without experiencing mouth pain or hours of stinky breath. Texturally, they’re like firm, crunchy scallions.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THEM! Well, you can…
5. Chop garlic scapes up and add them to vegetable and grain salads.
This is the easiest way to use them; they’re a great way to add a little bit of garlicky zip (and nice crunch) to something without overwhelming it.
What if I’m drowning in TURNIPS?
TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE! It’s a root, and a brassica cousin to kohlrabi. The turnips you’re most likely to see in a summer CSA share are harvested while they’re still small and delicate. Some varieties, like hakurei turnips, are white all over; others have purple or red tops.
TELL ME WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE! Crunchy, a little bit sweet, a tiny bit bitter. Similar to a radish, but with a denser, less watery texture. The greens on top are slightly bitter in taste and are very good for you.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THEM! Well, you can…
11. Serve roasted turnips and sautéed greens together.
Roasting obviously isn’t ideal if it’s too hot to turn on the oven, but a good technique to bust out in the fall.
What if I have CHARD coming out my ears?
TELL ME WHAT IT IS! It’s a sturdy, leafy green that’s called either Swiss chard (all green) or rainbow chard (lots of pretty colors).
TELL ME WHAT IT TASTES LIKE! Sort of earthy (the polite way of saying “tastes like dirt”) and a little bit sweet. You can eat it raw in salad if you slice it into thin strips, but it’s usually best if you steam or sauté it first. The stalks are edible too, but they take much longer to cook so it’s a good idea to separate them first.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH IT! Well, you can…
What if I’m being buried alive in BEETS?
TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE! I mean, you know what a beet is, right? It’s a big ol’ root.
TELL ME WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE! Very very earthy, and thus divisive. People tend to fall into one of two beet camps (can’t get enough vs. would rather chew on a handful of sand). The edible green tops are similar to chard, except a little more sturdy and taste like — yep, you guessed it — beets.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THEM! Well…
19. Roasting is hands-down the easiest, least messy way to cook beets. Here’s how:
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Trim the tops off the beets. Keep the greens for cooking if they’re in good shape.
2. Scrub the beets to get any dirt off; you don’t need to peel them.
3. Wrap the beets in a large piece of tin foil and close it up to make a cozy little pouch.
4. Put the pouch in the oven, either right on the rack or on a baking sheet.
5. Walk away for about one hour. Smaller beets will cook faster (so check them a little sooner).
6. Unwrap the foil and stab a beet with a fork. If it goes in easily and the beet feels tender, they’re done.
7. Wrap the foil back up and let the beets sit until they’re cool. This helps the skins loosen and you should be able to just peel them off with your fingers or a paring knife once the beets cool.
22. …or shred them to make a pretty pink beet cake.
26. What if I ended up with an avalanche of SUGAR SNAP PEAS?
TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE! A cross between English shelling peas and snow peas (the flat ones). They have identifiable little peas inside, but the shells are tender and meant to be eaten.
TELL ME WHAT THEY TASTE LIKE! As the “sugar” part of the name suggests, they’re sweet (and the fresher off the vine they are, the sweeter they’ll be). They’re nicely crunchy, and you can eat them raw or cooked.
TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THEM! Hot tip: Watch out for strings. Before you eat or cook snap peas, snap off the little stem that grows at the top and pull down along the inside/straight edge of the pea pod so that it takes the tough string there with it. After that, you can…
27. Serve snap peas as crudités with dip.
If you don’t love them raw, quickly blanch the peas first — just dunk in boiling water for a minute or two and then shock in ice water. Watch out not to overcook them so they don’t get limpy wimpy.
Recipe: Coconut Curry Peanut Dip
31. When in doubt with any veggie: quick-pickle that business.
Quick-pickling is a great way to add flavor to stuff you don’t love passionately for its inherent virtues (looking at you, kohlrabi) and tenderize stuff that’s no fun to eat raw when you don’t feel like actually applying heat to it.
Slice the veggies very thin if you want them ready soon, or thicker if you want them to last longer. Mix with the pickling liquid, refrigerate, and they’ll stay good for about a week. You can snack on them straight up, mix with noodles or pretty much anything else.
You can use this technique with any veggie that’s pickle-eligible (firm enough that it won’t dissolve into mush, so stay clear of greens) — which includes kohlrabi, cabbage*, broccoli stems, chard stems, fennel, radishes or daikon, turnips, carrots, cucumbers, beets*, onions*, and garlic scapes.
*NB that red cabbage, beets, and red onions will turn all other veggies they share their brine with a pretty pink color.
My current favorite pickle approach is the Asian-inspired brine from this noodle salad.
It uses lime, ginger, garlic, and fish sauce. It tastes great and you don’t have to boil it (which, if you’ve never boiled vinegar, it’s not a pleasant experience). But if you like something a little more traditional, give this recipe a shot.