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Unearthing Culinary Gems: Unexpected CSA Ingredients and How to Use Them

June 26, 2024

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Unearthing Culinary Gems: Unexpected CSA Ingredients and How to Use Them

Embracing the Unexpected: A Culinary Adventure

I’ll admit it, I’ve been doing a spectacular amount of hemming and hawing over this post. There’s the “Is it too late to talk about eggplants and tomatoes?” question, as it is well into October and those late-summer stars have long since taken their bows. But then I remember that there are still a ton of these beauties at the local markets, likely due to the warm fall we’ve been having. So while they may not be the perky specimens that first appeared in August, they are absolutely perfect for the kind of cozy, comforting soup I’ve been craving.

Then there’s the “Ugh, SOUP” issue, wherein I have to admit that I find soup kind of dull. Sure, I’ve got a slew of soup recipes in the archives that I find interesting, but still, the vast majority of soups out there taste like limp, boiled vegetables or are little more than cream bombs. I’d rather save my heavy cream to top a pie, thank you very much.

And finally, there’s the fact that this soup is excellent the way it is, but with endless potential for tweaking. Who wants a slightly unfinished recipe, right? But then I said to myself, “Zzzzz” and also “Pbbbblt.” Because if I put myself to sleep with all of this hand-wringing, I can only imagine how few of you will make it past paragraph one.

Eggplant Soup: A Surprising Gem

So here’s how this soup began: My mother gushed a couple of weeks ago about an eggplant soup from, of all places, a casino in Atlantic City. Eggplant soup at a casino? Worth talking about? Who knew? And so I dug through my recipe bookmarks and found one from an old Bon Appétit that sounded just right, with a few steps that would save it from many of the aforementioned soup evils.

By roasting the eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and onion first, you’d deepen their flavors before throwing them into a stock bath. And although the original recipe called for a whole cup of cream, the headnotes suggested you could skip it entirely, although I had no desire to do a silly thing like that. In my experience, it only takes a modicum of cream to make a soup taste especially lush, and that cream can go a long way towards anchoring the flavors that otherwise get a little lost in the “slosh of it all.” Too much cream, and the flavors are held at a distance while you drown in richness. And I’d much rather save that for things that involve cheese or chocolate.

The results were pleasing, and my parents enjoyed it, but it wasn’t exactly right. Obviously, next time, I’ll have to insist my mother carry specimen cups in her purse when visiting a casino. Which, every time I read this back to myself, sounds like an even more ominous idea.

Perfecting the Unexpected

The original was chunkier, which can easily be adjusted by simply not fully pureeing the soup. But then, quite after the fact (but I’ll give her a pass on it), she mentioned the spices. Which she couldn’t put a finger on, but it doesn’t matter because I wasn’t listening anymore. Nothing new there.

And yes, I’m already getting my adorable payback. “Cumin!” I shouted over my mother’s talking. “Coriander!” I continued in this one-sided conversation. “A squeeze of lemon juice,” I rambled on and on, but I use AT&T, and so, of course, by then, my call had been dropped without me realizing it. Should I be concerned that my mom didn’t call me back?

Embracing the Unexpected Bounty

As I mentioned, this soup has a lot of potential. The next time I make it, I might give it a spin with 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, and a pinch of red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper added in with the broth. I might finish the soup with a squeeze of lemon juice, and I might use feta, which has a stronger flavor than the soft chevre I used.

But you know what? That’s the beauty of cooking with the unexpected bounty from a community-supported agriculture (CSA) service. The ingredients might not always be what you expect, but that’s where the real culinary adventure begins.

Unexpected CSA Gems and How to Use Them

Take kohlrabi, for example. This alien-looking vegetable with its bulbous body and leafy greens might seem daunting at first, but it’s a veritable flavor powerhouse. Shred it raw into salads for a crisp, slightly sweet crunch, or roast the bulbs until tender and golden, then toss them with olive oil, garlic, and your favorite herbs. The leaves can even be sautéed like kale or collards, making for a nutritious and delicious side dish.

Or how about those vibrant, striped chioggia beets? Sure, you can roast them and serve them in a salad, but have you ever tried pickling them? The resulting jewel-toned slices add a tangy, crunchy punch to burgers, tacos, or even a simple cheese plate.

And let’s not forget about the humble rutabaga. This unassuming root vegetable might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “culinary gem,” but roast it with some olive oil and rosemary, and you’ve got a delightfully sweet and earthy side dish that pairs beautifully with roasted meats or even as a stand-alone vegetarian main.

Embracing the Unexpected: A Culinary Odyssey

The beauty of a CSA is that it challenges you to step outside your comfort zone and explore new ingredients that you might not encounter at your typical grocery store. And while it can be tempting to stick to the familiar, I encourage you to embrace the unexpected. Because that’s where the real culinary adventure begins.

Think of it like this: when you open up that CSA box, it’s like embarking on a culinary odyssey. You never know what treasures you might uncover, from the familiar to the downright mysterious. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it? Discovering new flavors, textures, and cooking techniques that breathe new life into your kitchen.

So, the next time you find yourself staring at a strange-looking vegetable or an unfamiliar fruit, don’t be intimidated. Instead, let your curiosity guide you. Dive in, experiment, and don’t be afraid to get a little messy. Because the rewards of embracing the unexpected are endless – from the satisfying crunch of that roasted kohlrabi to the tangy, jewel-toned pop of those pickled chioggia beets.

Conclusion: A Culinary Adventure Awaits

At the end of the day, cooking with the unexpected bounty from a CSA is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the unknown. It’s about being open to new flavors, new textures, and new cooking challenges. And who knows? You just might uncover a hidden culinary gem that becomes a new family favorite.

So, the next time you open up that CSA box, take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and get ready for a culinary adventure. Because the true beauty of a CSA lies in the unexpected – and that’s where the real magic happens.

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