Thursday, November 18, 2010

It is I, Captain Vegetable!

(You get extra points if you remember this song from Sesame Street.)

A couple of months back, our family signed on with an organic vegetable delivery service. Once a week, they bring us a giant plastic bin full of about 17 different fruits and vegetables, most of it local or at least regional, all of it certified organic.

We did this for a few reasons:
  1. I was sick and bloody tired of the forlorn-looking, uninspiring fruits and vegetables at my local supermarket.
  2. I knew we weren't really eating enough veggies ("What should we have for supper? Chicken? With what vegetables? Peas? Oh, okay."), but I had been working with such a limited variety for so long that I was having trouble imagining how to change that. I figured having someone deliver a large box of vegetables to our door each week might jar us out of our routine.
  3. I like the idea that our supplier chooses seasonal, locally produced fruits and vegetables first. It galls me that we are so used to eating out-of-season foods that we think nothing about the carbon footprint of having most of our produce shipped halfway across a continent, or around the world.
  4. Having a big box of produce delivered to one's door every week feels a bit like Christmas: you are never quite certain what you'll get. Collard greens? Wow! Kale? Who would have thought? (Look, I don't live a very exciting life; it takes little to amuse me.)
When we signed up, though, I hadn't really anticipated a couple of extra bonuses.

For one thing, it turns out that it's more of a challenge than you might think to fit that much green (or orange, or red) stuff into our diet.

At first, we were eating up the fruits just fine, but our fridge was still packed with leafy green mystery vegetables by the time the next shipment got here. But gradually, I've found that "using up vegetables" has become an interesting challenge to my inventiveness in the kitchen.

Too many butternut squashes? Bake them with a few apples, and turn them into butternut squash soup. Cauliflowers crowding your vegetable bin? They make a great vegetable curry. It took me a while to figure out that cabbage is not only for coleslaw—chopped and sauteed in its own juices, it makes a fantastic side dish with meats.

I was a bit puzzled by the aforementioned collard greens, my only experience of them being vague references to "Granny's fixin' up a mess of collard greens, Jethro!" But one night while I was cooking chicken thighs, I washed and chopped the greens, threw them into the pan, and clapped the lid on tight, letting them wilt for a few minutes. Unbelievable.

Oh, and faced with a surplus of carrots, plus one white turnip, I chopped and steamed both of them in the same pot, then added an improvised sauce involving orange juice concentrate and fresh ginger. Oh, my.

And it turns out that beets, which I've never cooked much, are amazing when combined with maple-syrup glazed walnuts, goat cheese, and baby lettuce. (There was also the Giant Borscht of Doom, which seemed to reproduce in the fridge when we weren't looking, and never really got any smaller no matter how much of it we ate...for about a week. But perhaps the less said about that, the better.)

Another advantage: we now bypass the produce section almost entirely when we're shopping. It's great—the only time we visit our supermarket's displays of vegetables is when we're looking for things like fresh herbs. It really cuts down the time and energy I must devote to shopping, which is perfectly fine by me.

Anyway, the Veggie Dude was just here, and I have a bunch of fresh, crisp chard sitting on my kitchen counter awaiting my culinary attentions. I wonder if there's any way to to fit chard into a meal that includes pasta and meatballs?

(By the way, the socks are moving along at quite a decent clip; I'm nearly halfway down the foot now. Okay, the feet; because when these babies come off the needles, they will be done, baby, done!)


Mary Keenan said...

Rainbow chard was my favourite discovery when I was getting the tub o' veggies! I steamed it in chicken stock to great effect, just as you describe. And beets - try wrapping them in tin foil and baking them at highish heat for 90 minutes or so, then tossing in butter or dropping bits of goat cheese on top. I'm all about the lazy ;^)

Minding My Own Stitches said...

It can a challenge to use veggies that you don't customarily buy, but it sounds like you're determined. Our neighbours have organic veggies delivered and sometimes we benefit when they get more winter vegetables than they can handle.

There's a Mennonite cookbook called "More with Less" which was our fave growing up. It has lots of good recipes for local produce including cabbage.

Christine said...

I love chard and actually still have a goodly supply growing in my likes cold weather. I chop it and add it to anything that resembles soup, stew or sauce. Add it about 5-10 minutes before serving so that it is really more wilted than cooked.

Mary Wilson said...

Baked beets are absolutely fabulous. Wash them (sort of -- no need to be fanatical about it) and stick them in the oven, whole, at about 350 for about 90 minutes or so depending on the size of the beet. They take a LONG time to bake. Once they emerge (looking a bit grey and depressed on the outside), peel them. Fabulous, they are!

Robbie has figured out a way to peel them which involves stabbing them with a fork, then peeling with a knife. He thus does not get beet juice on his hands. I lack the patience for this approach, but they are worth the stained hands. mmmm...

I second the More with Less recommendation too. Great book.