CSA Tip–Place your basil in water
I have found that fresh basil wilts and turns black very quickly, whether you keep it at room temperature or refrigerate it. My solution to this problem is to put the basil stems in a glass of water as soon as I get home. You want the stems, not the leaves, to be submerged. I also have found that covering the whole thing with a plastic bag helps keep the basil fresh the longest. Keep at room temperature. I have been successful keeping basil this way for a week. Just remember to change the water every other day or so.
Do you wish you could emancipate yourself from your dependence on recipes? Do you dream of just taking a basket of ingredients and pulling them together in a tasty, interesting, wildly creative meal like those talented chefs you envy on “Chopped”. Hold on to your hats, folks, because I am going to introduce you to my biggest cooking secret.
I used to be completely dependent on recipes. In fact, my entire shopping list was derived from ingredient lists from recipes I was experimenting with. When I first started out at Holcomb farm, this method was turned on its head as I suddenly came home with a wonderfully surprising mixed bag of produce items I hadn’t selected ahead of time. In my dependence, I would return from the farm and search Internet recipes in order to find ideas for the items in my share. But finding recipes that conveniently used the type, amount, and particular combination of share items I received was challenging . So I started approaching my meals differently. I began tuning in to my acquired knowledge of cooking basics (saute, braise, grill, roast) and my experience as a long time lover of international and gourmet food to become a “Chopped Champion” (yes this is only in my head of course). I started experimenting, refining my methods as I learned, while continuing to be a consumer of food media.
So back to my secret weapon (drum roll please…). The biggest asset I have developed in my experience as a CSA enthusiast is a learned network of flavor profiles that help me organize my approach to my unique weekly “basket ingredients”. These flavor profiles are predicated loosely around international flavor traditions. For each profile, they highlight major herbs/spices, main vegetables and fruits, dominant proteins, and other miscellaneous items that tend to meld together well. For instance, my Middle Eastern profile contains spices such as cumin and coriander, vegetables like eggplant and zucchini, meats such as lamb, and other items like honey and dates. So when I find myself with a bag full of Holcomb produce my mind runs through these flavor profiles to come up with a viable mix, including fun add-ins, for a complete meal.
As an example, this week I had frozen ground lamb on hand, as well as some leftover supermarket cauliflower I needed to use. My Holcomb share brought in an abundance of zucchini and eggplant. When I considered this combination of lamb, eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower the Middle Eastern and Indian profiles came right up for me. Sifting through those profiles I settled on Middle Eastern and proceeded to make a ground meat saute similar to the one I posted last week (Skillet Curry Recipe). The profile led me to add cumin, coriander, and cinnamon (versus Curry powder) to the mix, along with some tomato paste and chicken broth to make a sauce for the eggplant to simmer and soften in (because I find eggplant needs moisture in order to cook fully). For add-ins I included dried currants and pine nuts, serving the whole saute over cauliflower “rice” studded with cumin seeds (again, informed by the profile). Topped off with a bit of yogurt or a drizzle of tahini and lemon juice, this would have made most anyone happy (with the exception of the vegetarians of course), or at least kept them from being ‘chopped” on a cooking show (that was a joke folks).
So…..I decided that I would share these profiles with you in the hopes that you might learn to use them to inform your own experimentation in the kitchen, ultimately freeing you from recipe jail. I encourage you to try at least one meal this week using these profiles. Put your produce out on the counter and compare its contents to the profiles. Find one that fits the ingredients best and/or that appeals to your taste buds in the moment. Then use the profile to design a dish that utilizes a mixture of the profile’s contents.
Of course, you will be most successful with this if you have knowledge of basic cooking techniques. It is my belief that most people have much more knowledge of this kind than they think. They have sautéed, roasted, baked or grilled hundreds of times, but because they have always followed a recipe, they don’t realize that they have gained some true knowledge of general cooking techniques along the way. I encourage you to pick a profile, gather your ingredients and think through the cooking options you know.
With this approach, it also helps if you have a varied pantry. If your pantry is rather bare, consider buying some key spices or spice mixes, as well as some fun incidentals, found in a couple of different profiles. If you are concerned about things spoiling, pick items that can be frozen (meats, nuts) or condiments like soy sauce that last forever. If you are concerned about space, clean out your pantry of processed food clutter once and for all (it shouldn’t be there anyway) or those items that have been there for over a year that you keep meaning to use. Buy a couple of staple grains and legumes (brown rice, lentils, black and cannellini beans), and consider always having fresh citrus (lemons and limes), ginger root, and herbs on hand.
In order to help you with your pantry contents even more I have made a short list of the items that come up repeatedly across the different profiles. These include:
- Sesame seeds
- White and red vinegars
- White and red cooking wine
If you at all like Asian cuisine, I recommend also adding organic low sodium soy sauce, Red Boat brand fish sauce (it has no preservatives or sugar), and cold pressed sesame oil to your list.
Want to try it? Let’s say you choose Italian. It’s hot so you don’t want to turn on the oven, but you need to use up items like zucchini, eggplant. peppers, and fennel. However, raw eggplant isn’t too appetizing so you know you have to do some cooking. You know how to grill vegetables so you decide on that. You make up a straightforward balsamic vinaigrette and toss it with the cooled grilled vegetables, throwing in some fresh basil and chunks of mozzarella for fun. What a yummy salad. The next day, you decide to toss the leftover mixture with cooked pasta. Voila….two delicious meals made with NO recipe! Congratulations! You did it!
Some caveats to the profiles…first, I admit that they are rather loosely related to cultural traditions. Many items in the mix are Americanized versions for sure. Further, I include items that I have found go well with a given profile even if they aren’t indigenous to or common in the country represented. Thus, this list represents international flavor profiles a la Julie Wern. But they are tried and tested by my very well fed and gastronomically satisfied friends and family. And the ultimate compliment is the comment I repeatedly get, “You should go on ‘Chopped’”!
Flavor Profiles A La Julie Wern