The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Agriculture Box, Farmers’ Market, or Backyard Bounty — book review
By Linda Ly (Author) and Will Taylor (Photographer); 224 pages; trim-size 8.4″ × 10.4″; published March 20, 2015 by Voyageur Press; hardback $11.15, e-book $10.59
For anyone participating in a CSA, The CSA Cookbook (a project of spouses Ly and Taylor) may prove an indispensible resource. But for some of you, the first question may be, “what the heck does CSA stand for?” Well, if you’re from the deep south, you might think of the Confederate States of America. I’m happy to report, though, that this CSA has nothing to do with the Stars and Bars.
Rather, this CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it means “Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
Basically, you subscribe to a farm for various types of produce. They may sell half-shares or full-shares, depending on how much produce you want and they have to offer. Also, they may sell seasonal shares. You might be able to get a spring, summer and/or fall share. Often the shares must be picked-up at the farm, but sometimes they’ll be available at a local farmers market, or perhaps even be delivered to your home. It all depends on the CSA program. If you didn’t know it, there are quite a few CSA’s here in Southern Maryland. You can click here to see many of them in our Food & Drink Business Directory.
The thing is, you and your family are then at the mercy of the CSA as to what you will get in your CSA package. As Ly puts it in the Introduction, “I’m sure there’s been many a time when you’ve peered inside your weekly CSA box and thought, ‘What the hell?’” That’s where this book can help you out.
The CSA Cookbook’s Front Matter includes: Preface, page 9; and Introduction, page 15. Here are the eight chapters (lower case titles is the style of the book):
- 17, the basics
- 33, tomatoes & peppers
- 57, leafy greens
- 89, peas & beans
- 109, bulbs & stems
- 135, roots & tubers
- 173, melons & gourds
- 205, flowers & herbs
The Back Matter includes: High-Fives & Hugs, page 218; Resources, page 220; Metric Conversions, page 220; About the Author, page 222, and Index, page 223.
Most recipes are on two facing pages, with a title and one or more photos. A sidebar includes a list of ingredients, along with the number of servings. There is also a section with specific instructions on how to make the dish. A few recipes are on just single pages. The photography is gorgeous throughout the book. It’s nice to see photographer Will Taylor get credit on the cover.
there are no black thumbs, only green thumbs in training.
The key message of author Ly is not only to use all of the produce you get in your CSA share, but to use all parts of that produce. Don’t toss away those radish or carrot greens — cook them and eat them! Of Vietnamese heritage, Ly was taught by her mother to use all the parts of the vegetable. Where most people might throw away tomato vines, she’s got a recipe for that: Spicy Minty Tomato Sauce Infused with Tomato Leaves, page 34.
The receipes apply just as well to your backyard garden as to a CSA box. Ly writes in her Preface: “there are no black thumbs, only green thumbs in training.” I know that applies to most, if not all of us, at least at one time or another in our lives if we’ve tried growing produce.
Begin with a set of definitions and specifications seems like a no-brainer to me — I mean, Sears can do it — but hey, that’s just my opinion.
CSA Cookbook: The Basics
I’ll start right out by saying I love Chapter 1, “The Basics.” It provides a detailed set of descriptions and definitions for what follows in the rest of the book. Subjects include: sizing standards, to peel or not to peel, salt (what she uses and how), butter (usually salted), milk (whole, unless otherwise noted), egg (her standard is large, not medium, not jumbo), olive oil, wine, soy sauce, and on and on. I wish more cookbook authors would do this.
I just went to one shelf of our cookbooks (we have them in several places), and of a dozen I pulled out, only two had such an introductory chapter. One of them was a 64 page, 4″ × 8″ booklet: Cookies: A Gift to You From Sears. Begin with a set of definitions and specifications seems like a no-brainer to me — I mean, Sears can do it — but hey, that’s just my opinion.
A few recipe highlights
Leek and bacon breakfast pizza
If you’ve looked at any of the more than 20 recipes we’ve published here on Southern Maryland Food & Drink, you know we’re not purists, in that we’ll use pre-packaged items for convenience’s sake. It’s nice to see that Ly is willing to do the same. For this breakfast pizza (pages 122 – 123), she makes them in less than half hour, with “no kneading or rolling in sight.”
Instead, she uses pre-made pita bread (not that you couldn’t make your own) for individual pizza crusts. She tops the pitas with olive oil, leeks, bacon, Monterey jack cheese, eggs, and pepper to taste. Sounds delicious to me — this is a recipe I have to try.
Savory sweet potato hummus
Sweet potatoes in hummus? Different, yes, but sounds good to me (pages 162 – 163). Here, sweet potatoes are used with garlic and chickpeas instead of tahini (sesame paste). Other ingredients include olive oil, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, lemon zest and juice. Again, Ly uses prepared (canned) chickpeas. But she also gives directions on how to cook your own chickpeas, if you’d like.
Gingered butternut bisque
Just the title alone makes my mouth water (look for this one on pages 192 – 193). I love soups, and butternut squash is a tasty vegetable. Adding ginger? Great combo. Ly describes it as “rich and creamy bisque, sweet butternut squash is balanced with spicy ginger and a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg” — imagine the aroma in your kitchen with that simmering. She suggests making a meal out of this soup by serving it with a glass of wine and some crusty bread.
You can see a complete list of all the The CSA Cookbook recipes in the Table of Contents on Amazon.com. Just click here and you’ll be taken to the book’s page on Amazon. Then look for the big picture of the cover in the upper left corner. Above it you’ll see a “Look inside” icon, which means you can view some of the pages, including the Table of Contents.
In case you’ve not yet figured it out, I think The CSA Cookbook is pretty good. Ly (award-winning blogger of Garden Betty) and Taylor (a commercial and editorial photographer), knocked it out of the park. For some of the vegetable parts in this book, you may not readily find recipes for them elsewhere. The book is beautifully illustrated and well-thought-out.
Is it perfect? No. The justified text in places makes for some awkward spacing. The Index is not as good as this book deserves: seafood is listed, with a couple of pages, only to be immediately followed by scallops, which aren’t listed in seafood. There are several soups in the book, but no “soups” listing in the index.
But those are minor complaints. I definitely recommend this lovely volume to anyone looking to make the most use of their produce, whatever its source. ♦