(Jennifer Prediger photos)
Welcome to week four of my CSA experience, which I’m chronicling here in this Urbivore’s Dilemma series.
This week’s CSA bounty included Bibb lettuce, mustard greens, sorrel, raspberries, sugar snap peas, and lovely, blossoming yet spicy curly cress.
Food like this is what makes switching from takeout to farm-fresh such a beautiful experience. Along with the pride that comes from cooking things you’ve never seen before, you feel healthier, happier, more connected to people and the land. It’s almost like riding off into the sunset with CSA produce in hand.
Except when it’s disgusting.
This week, I hit a food wall. Despite all of my good intentions and delicious CSA stash, I managed to make a really gross meal that made me just want to pick up a Thai takeout menu and never look back.
My quinoa was watery. I accidentally charred my mustard greens — though they were much better cooked, thanks to the suggestion to add water and sauté longer. I unintentionally boiled these beautiful shitake mushrooms I picked up at the CSA “sideshow,” from a nice woman who sells mushrooms and fresh eggs outside of the CSA pick-up. I cooked them in a small cast-iron frying pan. Who knew mushrooms need more surface area or they might boil in their own juices?
With little cooking experience under my belt, a short attention span, and a love of simplicity, sometimes I get it right and other times it’s very, very wrong. Trying to just make minimalist tasty meal, I made a mess instead.
I have to assume that all of these mistakes are all part of some important learning curve. No better way to learn than through a mistake, right? When my grandparents first got married, they took a trip to an aunt’s house. My grandmother, a dutiful war bride, made my grandfather eggs using her aunt’s castor oil thinking it was like vegetable oil. The eggs were terrible. My grandfather delicately suggested something was amiss. My proud grandmother scoffed. To his credit, he ate the eggs. Then got sick. Eggs were never cooked in castor oil again in my family. But it was a meal that served as an instruction tool for decades.
How about you, Readers? What funny mistakes have you made while learning the art of cooking? And at what point did you feel like you got good at it? At what point does it all just click?
Sick of my minimalist, soggy, and burnt cooking, I lost my appetite. Then I went to a lovely rooftop barbecue for a friend’s birthday. Other people’s food can be such a revelation. Molly made a bulgur salad with feta, red onions, and I don’t know what else — but I know it was delicious. It reminded me of how good diverse textures and flavors can be when they’re artfully combined.
“The key is to make a strong vinaigrette, mix it in with salad, and let it sit for a few hours or overnight,” she said.
So I made my own room-temperature summer salad. It was actually kind of delicious. I cooked bulgur, a grain made from various wheat that is often used in Middle Eastern food, for the first time. It’s easy to make and a tasty diversion from my quinoa obsession. The bulgur and snap peas, delicious after a quick sautéing, were enhanced with feta, fresh black olives, olive oil, and salt. Hooray. A much-needed small grain salad victory.
I also had simple success with the sorrel, which is cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable. It’s also known as “spinach dock”! The taste is thrilling with a lime, lemongrassy burst of surprising tartness. Apparently it makes a splendid soup. Staying simple, I put it in salad with the Bibb lettuce. It was a mouth-burst there. I hope there’s more soon so I can try the soup recipe. How does that work at other CSAs? Do you only get one window of opportunity to work with some ingredients?
I’m still debating what to do with last week’s lavender. It’s so pretty, I don’t want to touch it. But since I’m committing myself to combining ingredients, I must. One reader suggested lavender-infused vodka. Any other ideas? I tried adding it to a glass of water with a window-grown basil leaf. Delicious and refreshing!
What’s the farmer bringing to Brooklyn next week? Currants, raspberries, snap peas, lettuce, mint, and fennel! Readers, any suggestions you have for how to make a summer salad with any or all of these ingredients is much appreciated. Do share what’s in your CSA boxes around the country this week, and how you’re using them for your 4th of July celebrations!