Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: The CSA Cookbook

The first time I ever joined a CSA (Six years ago? Seven?), I remember how much D and I loved getting new-to-us, seemingly exotic fruits and vegetables. Of course, the Internet and food blogs have come a long way since then; back when we got started, it was a serious challenge figuring out what exactly to do with some of those veggies.

What do you do with sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes, as they're sometimes called)? How do you prepare fresh fava beans? Kohlrabi? Fennel? Okra? These were just a few of the vegetables I encountered for the first time through my CSA, vegetables I'd never bought from a store or even farmers' market before. These were vegetables that most of my ample cookbook library had no mention of, and at that point in time, even finding recipes on the Internet sometimes proved challenging.

Nowadays, that is less of an issue. But even still, as a lover of actual physical cookbooks, I have long wished for a cookbook that features tasty recipes for some of the vegetables that I have grown to love over the past few years.

So you can imagine how excited I was by the premise of The CSA Cookbook.

Linda Ly, well-known across the Internet for her Garden Betty blog, has poured her extensive gardening experience and love of "farm food" into every page of this delightful new cookbook. And whether you're a CSA subscriber, farmers' market aficionado, or just someone who loves to try new things (and does not love to waste food), or maybe all of the above, there are going to be recipes in here that sing to you.

There are many things to love about this cookbook.

The recipes, for starters, are amazing. They utilize a wide variety of veggies (and a few fruits), many of which are commonly found in CSA boxes (in California, at least; I have very limited experience with favorite CSA veggies in other states) and farmers' markets, and many of which the average home cook may have no idea what to do with.

Certainly, there are the usual suspects: recipes using kale, peppers, tomatoes, various beans, carrots, onions, leeks. There are more unusual items too: romanesco broccoli (or cauliflower, sometimes called fractal broccoli or cauliflower), fennel, fava beans, kohlrabi.

But where this book really shines is in Ly's use of the parts of the vegetables that many readers may not even know can be eaten. Turn those kohlrabi bulbs into Kohlrabi Home Fries (on my list of things to try next time I get to the market), and then add the leaves to Kohlrabi Green and Wild Mushroom Ragoƻt. Make Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad, but save those carrot greens to turn into Carrot Top Salsa. Those tough kale stems that every other recipe tells you to throw away can actually be turned into pesto, and your watermelon rinds can be made into kimchi or thrown into a stir fry.

Do you see how limitless the possibilities are? One thing I realized when reading through this book is that I am wasting so much food every day. I, who have always prided myself on diligently eating leftovers and patiently finding ways to eat every veggie in my weekly box, have been throwing away an awful lot of perfectly edible food. I just needed someone to tell me that it is, in fact, edible, and to give me ideas for how to use it.

Another cool features of this book is the formula for making vegetable stock. Because you don't need to buy specific veggies for stock. No, you can use all kinds of bits of veggie that you were probably already throwing away. Onion ends and skins. Stems from herbs. Corn cobs. Peels and leaves from carrots, the ends from beets, the stems from mushrooms. All of these things can go into making your own amazing vegetable broth, and by using the handy chart to keep the flavors balanced, as well as remembering to start with the token aromatics (onion, carrots, and celery, of course!), it's easy to make at home.

My other favorite feature in The CSA Cookbook is the pesto chart. Pesto can go so far beyond plain basil (although don't get me wrong; classic pesto is delicious and can be put anywhere!). But herbs of all kinds can be added to pesto, as can greens such as arugula, spinach, chard (as well as the stems), and even the leaves of green bean plants. Parmesan is great, but asiago or other types can be used as well. And while pine nuts are traditional, don't shy away from trying sunflower seeds or macadamia nuts. Ly's basic pesto recipe offers a ratio for combining less common pesto ingredients and getting spectacular results.

Aside from that, The CSA Cookbook has what every good cookbook has. Delicious recipes, clearly explained and featuring alternative ingredients in many instances (just in case you can't source that unusual ingredient - broccoli leaves can be pretty hard to find if you don't grow your own!). Gorgeous photography, guaranteed to leave you feeling hungry. Fun and informative headnotes, which provide little windows into the author's life (and isn't that one of the reasons we all love blogs so much in the first place?) and little facts that will keep your brain engaged and provide some dinner table trivia opportunities.

Even my toddler loved the Fresh Pea Soup!

As a vegetarian, I feel the need to point out that this cookbook is most definitely not meatless. But the majority of the meals are vegetarian, and some of the non-vegetarian ones could probably be adapted. And the fact that there are a handful of recipes in here containing meat definitely does not deter me from recommending this cookbook to everyone!

In case you can't tell, I pretty much adore this cookbook. There are so many amazing-sounding recipes in here, and the few I've managed to try already have exceeded my expectations. The recipes from The CSA Cookbook will be making appearances on my meal plans for a long time to come.

Note: The opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone! I initially reviewed this cookbook for San Francisco Book Review; you can find my review of The CSA Cookbook here.


  1. Love it! I had never used kohlrabi before or CSA either, and I'm wondering how I lived without it now! The selection at a grocery store seems so paltry compared to what's really out there. I will definitely be recommending this book to our CSA members who are always wondering how to use the mystery items! !

    1. I know, right? I think that having a CSA helped me to fully appreciate the variety available at farmers' markets and farm stands; before having veggies like kohlrabi and fennel "forced" upon me, I doubt I would have voluntarily picked them up, but I am so happy that I have tried them! So many veggies (and fruits!) that I can't imagine going without now. I first tried mulberries through my CSA, as well as persimmons, and those are some of our favorites now (one of the farmers at the farmers' market in Little Italy has mulberries for a short time each year, which makes me so happy).

  2. Holly, thank you so much for your kind reviews here and on San Francisco Book Review! I'm so happy you've been finding my book useful and hope you've had a glorious summer cooking and trying new things!