University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.
Farm Journal 11: What do I do with this?
Every week I stagger home from the farm with a bushel box filled with vegetables (and all the zucchini and cucumbers I could want on top of that). Just so you know, a bushel box of vegetables is a LOT of vegetables — usually enough to feed a family, not just one person.
I’m a vegetarian, so I eat more vegetables than the average bear. However, my cooking skills up until this summer were essentially non-existent. As I started bringing home my weekly produce, I learned quickly that while raw and slightly steamed vegetables are good, they get old fast.
I had promised myself that other than purchasing dairy products or bread, I was not going to go grocery shopping this summer. Therefore, I realized that I needed to learn how to cook, and fast! It has been a little over two months, and while I am no seasoned chef, I have learned quite a bit. I’d like to share a few resources that have proved invaluable, as well as a couple recipes that I really love (and that are really easy!).
First off, like any good twenty-something-year-old, I turned to the Internet for cooking help. In my first couple boxes, I was getting vegetables (like kale and chard) that I didn’t have any experience cooking, and a lot of other vegetables that I didn’t want to eat alone.
Google, I discovered, is great for finding recipes to fit the ingredients you have on hand. Did you know that after you do a search on Google, you can do another search within your results?
For example: Let’s say you have green onions and kale and you want to find a recipe using them. After you’ve searched “green onions+kale+recipe, you can search within the 1,500,000 results to narrow your choices. You go to the bottom of the screen and click “search within results.”
Then you can add any other spices and vegetables that you have, and Google will narrow your results to show only recipes that include the specific ingredients you’ve searched. This has helped me find a number of odd, random recipes for the equally odd, random assortment of vegetables and spices that I frequently have left over at the end of the week.
There are also literally hundreds of thousands of websites devoted to recipes — so many, in fact, that I don’t really have a favorite. However, I will say that for those of you who have no idea how to prepare certain veggies, YouTube is also a great resource. There are several budding chefs who have posted videos on YouTube that focus solely on preparing one vegetable.
These same chefs usually have several other videos that will walk you through making everything from soups and stews to frittatas and crepes. I found these videos to be indispensable when I was learning how to cook leeks and beets.
For those of you who prefer physical manifestations of recipes (i.e. cookbooks), I recommend that you find, buy or steal from a friend this great resource: From Asparagus to Zucchini, A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. This book is produced by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition and can be purchased for roughly $20 online.
This book focuses solely on the produce (arranged in alphabetical order) you would get from a farm and has tons of great (and relatively simple) recipes. It also gives tips on how to prepare and store the veggies for later use. I got my book at the beginning of the summer and already it has been well used, as is evidenced by the food splatters across the cover and the dog-eared pages.
Last, but not least, I promised I’d share a few of my favorite cooking tips and recipes. I started out just throwing stuff together in a frying pan with some green onions and a little olive oil and frying it. This worked out great! If all else fails, almost every vegetable tastes good when it has been lightly seasoned and fried in a little olive oil. You just can’t go wrong there. I didn’t include a lot of measurements because most of these are “whatever you think will taste right” recipes.
Early Spring Stir Fry
One of my early favorites this summer was lightly stir fried kale, chard, garlic, snap peas, and green onions in olive oil. Cut the kale and chard into thin strips, the peas in half, and the green onions into thin circles. You can use dried or fresh crushed garlic. I combined this mixture with all sorts of things, including eggs and wild rice. My family really liked when I combined it with cubed potatoes that I had lightly coated in olive oil and baked in the oven (20 minutes, 350°).
Cornmeal Fried Zucchini
One of the workers at Cramer Organics gave this recipe to me and it has been a big hit at the picnics and parties I’ve been to this summer. You just need cornmeal, flour, and a beaten raw egg — and of course, a zucchini or two (or three).
Slice the zucchini in half and then slice quarter-inch-thick half moons.
Then, piece-by-piece, dip the half moons into first the flour, then the raw egg, then the cornmeal (making sure that the piece is evenly coated with cornmeal when you’re done). Set the pieces aside until you’ve tired of coating them (this takes a while, I admit).
Then, fill a frying pan with olive oil until the bottom is completely covered. Cook the coated pieces for five minutes on medium-high heat on both sides until they are lightly browned.
These taste great room temperature or even cold, and they are even better dipped in salsa!
This is my great grandmother’s (entirely un-original) recipe.
First, bring to a boil (and then allow to cool) one cup of vinegar with a half a cup of water and ¾ cup sugar. Combine this with four peeled and sliced cucumbers and one small, thinly sliced sweet onion. Add dill to taste.
Try this recipe with apple cider vinegar for a sweeter variation!
As a final note, I have discovered that dressings and spices can make or break a meal. Here are a couple suggestions that I really like:
Sweet Salad Dressing
Mix equal parts balsamic vinaigrette, honey, and olive oil and whisk together. Works with just about any (lettuce and cabbage) salad. It’s even better if you mix in currants or cherry tomatoes.
Fried Vegetable Seasoning
Mix a little rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, tarragon, savory, and marjoram with some olive oil and use this to stir fry your veggies. Add salt and garlic for a little extra kick.
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