Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

It is amazing to me how being a CSA member has made me so much more aware of what I eat throughout the entire year.  What I have learned is how differently I eat during the CSA season compared to the winter months, not necessarily because of what is not available (I mean we can get pineapples in December!), but because of what is available.
During a CSA season I cook much more spontaneously and creatively because of the amazing bounty that is unexpectedly before me to take home each week.  Conversely, during the winter, I follow recipes and tend to stick to the few tried and true organic vegetables that are available at the regular supermarket.  What I find fascinating is that during the CSA season, I literally become a different kind of cook.  I try new combinations just because I have the beautiful foods and I don’t want them to go to waste.  I eat many more vegetables and plan my meal around those rather than a chosen protein.
In short, during the CSA season, my culinary world completely revolves around the farm in a way that it never revolves around the supermarket.  In winter, the supermarket is simply a means to an end.  In spring, the CSA is a veritable artist’s palette!
I can’t wait to become that new chef again this spring, just as I can’t wait to share my experiences and culinary creations with you once more this CSA season.  As always, I encourage you to share your comments, recipes, and tips so that we all have the best CSA experience that we can.  To comment on the Simply Fresh blog, just click on “comments” at the end of the blog post.  Also, remember that there are many vegetables with associated recipes covered in past posts.  To access this information, simply enter a search term on the blog page.
Last year I made a case for “stocking the pantry” in the beginning of the season in order to facilitate the creative cooking process.  Take a look back and read my suggestions(Simply Fresh).  I have definitely found that the more stocked my pantry, the more creatively and fully I tend to use my CSA bounty.

This week at the Farm

As it is the first official week of the CSA season, the distribution will be a little light.  We can expect the following, with possibly a few additional surprises:
Joi Choi—see featured item below
Harukei Turnips—see Simply Fresh for extensive selection, storage, preparation tips and recipes.  Note that the leaves are edible and delicious even when they have holes in them.  This is the result of munching of tiny beetles that like to dine on the tasty leaves (Simply Fresh).


Flowering Sorrel

Featured Item—Joi Choi

Joi Choi is a quick growing variety of Bok choy, a member of the brassica, or cabbage family.  It tends to grow large heads with crisp white stalks and dark green, edible leaves.  Joi choi is one of those great nutritional powerhouses that offers very little in terms of calories and fat, but provides significant sources of vitamins (especially A, C, and K), minerals, and antioxidants.
Joi choi should be stored loosely in plastic in the refrigerator and will last about 5 days.
When Joi choi is young, it is delicious raw in salads or used for crudite.  As it gets older, or especially if the plant has bolted (gone to seed), the stalks become tougher and are better when cooked, where joi choi stars in stir fries, soups, or even on the grill.  Just remember that the stalks take longer to cook then the leaves, which should be added at the very end of the cooking process.  See last year’s post on pac choi for an extensive discussion of selection, storage, and cooking methods/ideas for this variety of vegetable (Simply Fresh).
Joi choi is delightful and refreshing when used in raw preparations.  Again, taste your stalks to make sure they are tender and juicy rather than tough (in which case it is best to cook them).
The following was adapted from a recipe featured in Fine Cooking (2012).  The fish sauce really gives the dressing depth and authenticity, so don’t be tempted to leave it out.  Fish sauce, a staple Vietnamese condiment, is readily available in the Asian section of most supermarkets.

Vietnamese Joi Choi Salad        Serves 4

– 1 large joi choi, sliced, stalks and leaves included
– 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
– 1 teaspoon sesame oil
– 2 teaspoons fish sauce
– 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
– 1/4 cup packed basil leaves, chopped
– 1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Place joi choy and basil in a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, whisk vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Pour over joi choi and basil and toss well to coat.  Toss with peanuts just prior to serving.
Stir fries are a delicious and popular way to serve joi choi, but I thought it might be fun to come up a different way to cook it.  I developed the following recipe when attempting to find a side dish for grilled pork chops.  My husband loved it so much he had seconds!

Sweet and Tangy Joi Choi        serves 4

– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– large bunch joi choi, sliced with leaves separated from stalks
– 3/4 cup veggie or chicken broth, preferably homemade
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
– 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
– 1/2 teaspoon salt (if using salt free homemade broth)
– 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
– 3 slices crisped bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto, crumbled
1. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened but not browned, about 5- 7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk broth, brown sugar, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch in a small bowl until cornstarch is dissolved with no lumps.  Set aside.
3. Add joi choi stalks and sauté for one minute.  Add broth mixture and bring to a boil.  Bring mixture down to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and choi is tender.  Add choi leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until leaves have wilted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Turn out into a serving bowl.  Top with crumbled bacon, pancetta, or prosciutto.  Serve.

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