The Organic Adventurer

I recently heard someone who has a lot of experience with buying organic food say that most people comment on the overwhelming amount of food in a typical Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or food co-op share, but that the real problem is that they don’t know how to use it. I immediately remembered laying out my first share on the kitchen table and thinking, “I’ll never be able to use all of this!” Once I realized, though, that it was the novelty of a lot of the vegetables, ironically one of the selling points of CSAs and co-ops, rather than the quantity of food that was giving me pause, it no longer seemed like such an overwhelming proposition. I figured that if I got stuck, I could always follow my husband’s advice and “ask Uncle Google.”
Let me first say that I’m no novice cook. Ever since my brother (a.k.a. partner-in-crime) and I carried out home-alone-after-school experiments making mystery mixes of everything edible, I’ve been playing in the kitchen. I’ve done my time on roast-turkey row and created a million variations on a friend’s leek soup recipe. Somehow, though, I’ve missed a lot. For example, I’ve eaten my share of cucumbers but never worked with pickling cucumbers. Joining a CSA, however, forces you to get up close and personal with that old saw of necessity being the mother of invention. Wouldn’t you know that pickling cucumbers were in my first share. What’s a girl to do but pickle?
Regardless of the handful of disastrous recipes I’ve gotten off the Internet over the years, that’s exactly where I turned. The problem was that the kosher dill recipe I’d found called for so much sugar, it seemed like the pickles would be sweet. I hate sweet pickles. I also couldn’t find the “easy, pre-mixed pickling packets” anywhere and my cucumbers wouldn’t hold out long enough for a UPS delivery, not to mention the fact that no recipe really specified what should be in “pickling spice.” Things were getting complicated. I got desperate. Since grocery store pickles apparently include corn syrup, I went ahead and put the sugar in mine. I also found a jar of “pickling spice” at the grocery store, which I knew couldn’t be right since it included things like cinnamon and cloves. I used it anyway. The pickles turned out sweet and tasted like cinnamon. Disgusting.
The next time I got hold of some pickling cucumbers, I flashed the cook’s distress signal (kind of like the Batman searchlight, but shaped like a spatula) on my social network. My friend MaryJo Trenkler saved the day with her delicious tried-and-true dill pickle recipe. The lesson learned is to find recipes on the Internet (anywhere, really) the same way you find plumbers in the yellow pages- always go with a word-of-mouth recommendation and, if you can’t get one, brace yourself!
That being said, I did find some great recipes online after I began to evaluate them more discriminately. I skipped right over recipes that didn’t have complete instructions or that had instruction sections that didn’t mention items in the ingredients list. The best stir-fry I’ve ever made came from an online recipe ( I used KYV’s scallions the first time I made it and added some KYV broccoli the second time. I also found a fabulous bok choy in coconut milk recipe online ( What I learned the second time I made that dish was that some things aren’t worth saved calories. The first time I made it, using regular coconut milk, it was rich and delicious. The second time, I tried to use light coconut milk and it was watery and not worth eating.
That’s generally my M.O. I like to follow a recipe (mostly) to the letter the first time, especially if it calls for ingredients or flavors I haven’t worked with before, and then make modifications the next time. That obviously didn’t work so well for the bok choy in coconut milk, but it worked brilliantly on a recipe I got from KYV owner and farmer Vivian Bayona. Her kohlrabi au gratin (featured in EU, November 2010) was simple to make and tasty. It’s also the kind of versatile recipe that invites creativity so the second time I made it, I threw in some onions, more cheese and used a more course bread crumb, and a great thing became even better. Vivian also led me to another online recipe that made use of the gandules, or pigeon peas, I had bought from her ( My husband’s exact verdict on that dish was, “I want to eat this every night.”
Another word-of-mouth method through which I found uses for my CSA bounty was to get recipes from fellow CSA members. KYV member Dawn Hutchins is very interested in healthy eating and exercise. I could eat the photos on her blog, Florida Coastal Cooking! Her creamy calabaza soup is to die for ( as are all of her other recipes, I’m sure. Through her, I also found some really tasty-sounding vegetarian recipes on another blog ( When I told my husband we were having apple and kabocha kale with quinoa, he said, “Who’s Quinona?” When he tasted it, though, he suggested, “Don’t tell me what we’re having. Just make it. If you tell me, I’ll dread it because it sounds weird.” He managed to say all that through mouthfuls of “the best stuff ever.”
There were times that no matter what I could have tried, my audience wouldn’t have liked the food. One share included a few bunches of cauliflower, which neither of us is crazy about. Determined to use every vegetable molecule we got though, I found a recipe for cauliflower soup ( It involved black truffle oil and was fairly fancy. My husband’s evaluation was, “It’s still cauliflower.” I couldn’t argue with that.
Finally, I’ve been using a lot of the vegetables we’ve gotten from the CSA in recipes that are old favorites. Sautéed spinach with garlic and pine nuts is fantastic with fresh, organic, locally grown spinach. And I know coleslaw isn’t a very creative use for cabbage, but you can’t beat the simple slaw from the cookbook-cum-social history Richmond Receipts Past & Present.
I’ll be sharing more recipes as the Organic Adventure(r) continues. Meanwhile, does anyone have a recipe that makes cauliflower taste like a Snickers bar?
Kosher Dill Pickles
(From Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Homemaker’s Handbook; recipe by Shirley Crews, adapted and shared by MaryJo Trenkler.)

Small cucumbers 3 tsp dill weed or dill seed
1 clove garlic per quart 2 1/2 cups vinegar
1 slice of onion per quart 2 1/4 quarts water
1 red hot pepper per quart 1/2 cup plain salt per quart

Place small cucumbers in quart jars. Add garlic, onion, red hot pepper and dill weed/seed. Set aside while you bring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil. Pour over cucumbers and seal. Let set three weeks (can be refrigerated) before using. For plain dills, omit garlic, onion and pepper. Makes approximately seven quarts.

Variation & Additional Notes: You can use lengthwise spears of cucumbers. Use fresh dill weed sprigs instead of dried. Omit the hot peppers or add more as desired.

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic and Pine Nuts
(Recipe by Anna Rabhan, although there are a million variations out there.)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter (optional)
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp red pepper flakes
About 2 bunches spinach
2-3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)

In large skillet over medium heat, combine oil and butter. Sauté garlic with red pepper flakes about 30 seconds or until lightly golden. Be careful not to burn the garlic or it will taste bitter. Add the washed and dried fresh spinach, sauté until just wilted, about two to three minutes. Remove from heat. Add pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parmesan. Serve immediately. Serves four.

Variation & Additional Notes: Also good with diced, sautéed onions and with low-fat feta cheese instead of parmesan.

Old-Fashioned Coleslaw
(from Richmond Receipts Past & Present by Jan Carlton; recipe by Ann Tyler, additional notes by Anna Rabhan)

1 1/3 cups evaporated milk or light cream
¼ cup sugar ¾ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp vinegar
6 cups finely shredded cabbage

Combine first four ingredients; mix well. Gradually add vinegar, stirring constantly; cover and chill at least one hour. Pour dressing over cabbage; mix well. Cover and chill at least one hour. Drain well. Serve with Southern Pork Barbecue on buns or as a salad. Serves six to eight.

Variation & Additional Notes: Add ¼ tsp dry mustard and/or 1 tsp prepared horseradish. This recipe never comes out the same twice, so use the “to taste” rule. I also like to add shredded carrots and/or celery, green onions and anything else I feel like throwing in there!