Dealer's choice, the CSA share, and flavor

by Owl's Nest Market CSA member Denise Graveline

Today, I got to the Petworth Community Market too late for strawberries from Owl's Nest Farm, but told the farmers that I'm okay with the "dealer's choice" aspects of subscribing to a CSA. Liz observed that it pushes you into cooking that's based more on the seasons, and she's right. Letting the ingredients suggest what you cook, rather than shopping with a list of must-haves, leads to some great and unexpected meals.

This week, in addition to some seedlings for my own garden--hot and sweet peppers, and lettuce--I chose baby bok choi, sorrel, sprouting broccoli, cilantro, and the mild hakurei turnips. From last week, I had some sprouting broccoli, tat soi, and some radishes. Once I got home, I washed and started looking at my finds and figuring out what to make from them.

I cooked down the sorrel and tat soi and pureed it into a sauce I can use on vegetables, fish, or meat. The ingredients include butter, shallots, garlic, and broth. You can add lemon juice, but sorrel has so much tartness, I didn't add any. This New York Times recipe is a good guide. I have some Alaskan scallops that will be in this sauce soon, and I may make some of it into a cold soup.

Making sauces is a great way to cook down vegetables so they take up less space in the fridge. I have two bunches of cilantro from the farm, and this cilantro sauce may be what results. Cilantro sauce on tacos, breakfast eggs, in soups, in some mayo for sandwiches--I'm ready. In the meantime, I store my bunches of cilantro stem end down in a short glass of water, with a plastic bag over the top. And this is lovely, fresh, delicate cilantro that also packs a flavor punch, a far cry from the dry supermarket version.

You may choose a CSA for political reasons, but I've come to love my share for the flavor. Nutrition researcher Marion Nestle, in her landmark book What to Eat, recalls a tour of a California broccoli farm's warehouse and processing plant. She absentmindedly broke a piece of broccoli off from a crate of the stuff, and tasted it during the tour. She was shocked at how fresh, water-filled, and tender it was...before it got shipped 3,000 miles to her New York neighborhood. Owl's Nest Farms sprouting broccoli is just like that, and I've been getting as much as I can carry. All of it got steamed lightly, so it's ready to be served cold with a vinaigrette; go into a quiche or frittata; or get reheated as a side dish. And over tofu marinated in this way, from Faye Food. I make this tofu and serve it over soba noodles and then do as she suggests, piling on cooked and raw veg. I can see this with sprouted broccoli in a vinaigrette, some avocado, and maybe some of the bok choi.

Baby bok choi is such a gift, and another of those early season vegetables, as Liz reminded me, that has to be picked before it starts sprouting flowers. As a result, Owl's Nest Farm's baby bok choi has stalks, not bulbs, and is young and super-tender. I'm planning to stir-fry it using this recipe, which features sesame flavors. If you're new to vegetables coming straight from the farm, you'll find that sautes and stir-fries take much less time, as the vegetables are young and tender, and have a higher water content.