I eat a lot of vegetables compared to the average person. After all, I’m a registered dietitian. But when I signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, last spring, and opened that first half-bushel box, I realized I’d have to eat even more: The box contained more leafy greens than I’d probably eaten in the past three months combined – and I had just one week to get through them before picking up my next box from the farm. It was time to get creative.
A CSA allows people to buy a “share” of a farm by paying a fee upfront. Then, when the season begins (usually around June), they get a box of whatever the farm is harvesting that week. Most CSA subscribers don’t get to pick what ends up in their weekly box, so it’s a great way to immerse yourself in eating seasonally, and to experiment with foods outside of your established habits.
Although many CSA novices have visions of vibrant tomatoes and tender eggplants dancing in their heads, the reality is that these beauties often don’t make their way to market until July or August, at least here in New England. Eating locally in the late spring and early summer months requires both patience and a salad spinner. That’s because the harvest this time of year is often comprised of bunches and bunches of leafy greens: romaine, bibb lettuce, Swiss chard, collard greens, herbs and more.
If you, too, are just now embarking on a CSA journey, or are striving to eat seasonally before summer crops make their way to market, do not be deterred. In addition to their stellar nutrition profile, leafy greens are actually some of the most versatile vegetables in the produce section. Here are my three favorite ways to make use of this underappreciated food group:
1. Make a huge salad.
Make no mistake: You’re going to be eating a lot of salads. But local seasonal produce can inspire some of the most hearty, entree-worthy salads out there. Get creative with your salad toppings by weaving in whole grains, proteins, dressings and crunch. My springtime go-to is often a variation of a Greek salad featuring chickpeas, freekeh, sliced radishes, chopped cucumber, parsley, feta cheese, a simple vinaigrette and, of course, ample lettuce.
2. Make a stir-fry.
Once you get into the habit of steaming greens, suddenly a half-bushel box doesn’t seem big enough. That’s because with a little bit of heat, your gallon-sized bowl of washed greens magically shrinks down to a manageable two-person serving. Dark, leafy greens (such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach and collard greens) take beautifully to cooking. In fact, one of the most elegantly simple dishes I ever tasted was callaloo (an African heritage leafy green) gently cooked in olive oil with just an onion and tomato. I’ve had my eyes peeled for callaloo at every farmers market since.
For more common greens (like collard greens, kale or even bok choy), one of my favorite stir-fries calls for steaming greens on the stove until they just begin to wilt, then tossing them with teriyaki sauce, cooked quinoa, leftover grilled chicken and a sprinkle of lightly salted peanuts.
3. Make pesto.
There is no need to pillage your herb garden of your entire basil supply to get pesto. Leafy greens like spinach or kale work surprisingly well in this traditionally herby spread. When a CSA box included an abundance of collard greens one week, our farmer shared this recipe for pesto, which uses collard greens, kale and peanuts in place of the traditional basil and pine nuts. It’s been one of my go-to pesto recipes ever since.