This year was the first time we enrolled for a CSA box every two weeks. Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to get a selection of fresh, local produce straight from the farm. The consumer has the benefit of saving some grocery shopping time yet getting as-fresh-as-can-be produce from the source. The money you pay upfront helps the farmer have a buyer before having things to sell, money he can put straight into his farm, enabling him to get the best out of his land.
Since we began living in California and learned of the concept, we have been fully supportive of it and all it stood for, at least in theory. We didn’t think it would work for us and our two person household. A CSA box holds a plethora of wonderful and exciting things, most of which are fresh and/or ripe. That also means that not everything in the box will hold up for too long. With our erratic work schedules, we were certain that we couldn’t get through a box before we started to lose them to spoilage. We were safer heading out to the Farmer’s Market when we needed to shop, so we thought. Also, there are great Asian markets in the city that have beautiful, fresh produce at very reasonable prices. Having lived close to Chinatown in the past, and with Clement Street fairly accessible now, we figured we had the voracious need for vegetables in this household covered.
One of our favourite farm stands at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market is Eatwell Farm. It’s one that has been part of the market for a long time and is one we assiduously seek out when we visit. Aside from some amazing produce, they also have great products like flavoured oils, sugars & salts for sale (including the world’s best smoked chilli salt that I’ve been infatuated with since its introduction). No visit to the Farmer’s Market is complete for us without stopping by to see what Eatwell has on offer.
On one of our visits, I chatted with a bright young lady there who handed me my purchases and asked if we knew about their CSA program. We acknowledged that we did but didn’t think it would work for us. She agreed that it was possible, but there was only one way to know for certain. We were pleasantly surprised when she handed us their weekly CSA box to try out, so we could decide for ourselves. So try it we did. It was like a tiny little treasure box of beautiful foods. There were juicy ruby strawberries that we washed and ate standing over the sink. There were delicate pink radishes we turned into raita. There was a head of crisp lettuce and a bag filled with the most fragrant basil. As we dug through the box, exclaiming about the contents we also became aware that we needed to consume some of the contents quite quickly. Being the sort of folk that shop exactly for what we want, it was a novel for us to have all these vegetables and then figure out what to do with them.
We made short work of that box soon and discovered that we could certainly handle the quantities with a little diligence and discipline. So we enrolled for the program. Over the last six months, we’ve been delighted by all the things we’ve discovered in our boxes. It has taught us how to deal with vegetables we wouldn’t go out of our way to buy, things like turnips or pumpkins. Our most entrancing discovery though, was broccoli romanesco.
I guess it is called broccoli because of the great green tint it has. It is actually part of the cauliflower family. Amey and I were fascinated by this fabulous evidence of the Fibonacci sequence, displayed so well in the gorgeous florets. It seemed like sacrilege to take it apart and cook it, but that is exactly what we did. We like our cauliflower caramelized and concluded that this could probably be cooked in a similar fashion. So combining it with some broccoli we had in the crisper, we cooked in the familiar way that our mothers cooked cauliflower.
Both vegetables benefit from the generous application of cumin and coriander. Goda masala or kala masala is a Maharashtrian spice mix. Please feel free to use garam masala in its place, which is a different mixture of spice but will lend flavour to most vegetables equally well. Both the broccoli and romanesco broccoli benefit from the cooking process, slowly sweetening and softening as they cook. We ate this with some rice and yogurt and loved what the simple cooking did for the vegetables. This is our favourite new vegetable discovery, one we wouldn’t have tried out at home without that CSA box.
If you are on the fence about the CSA program, I encourage you to give it a shot. These programs support farmers and give you access to wonderful, new, nutritious things. A complete win-win if there ever was one. The program is wonderful vehicle for introducing you to the extraordinary.
Romanesco and Broccoli stir-fry
Makes 3-4 servings
Broccoli romanesco – 1 medium head, cut into medium size pieces
Broccoli – 1 medium head, cut into florets
Onion – 1 large, diced
Potatoes – 2 medium, cut into medium cubes
Green chillies – 3, diced fine
Mustard seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Dhana-jeera powder – 2 tsp
Goda masala – 2-1/2 tsp
Cilantro – 1/4 cup, chopped fine
Oil – 2 tbsp
– Heat a large pan on the stovetop and add the oil.
– When the oil shimmers, temper with mustard and cumin seeds. Then add chillies. Fry for a bit.
– Add the onion and sauté till the onion softens and is translucent.
– Add the potatoes and fry further until potatoes are semi-soft, 10 minutes or so.
– Add the romanesco and broccoli along with the dhana-jeera powder and goda masala. Stir to incorporate. Add salt to taste.
– Fry until all vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Sprinkle over chopped cilantro.Mix.
Serve with rice or along with chapatis.