It's time for me to once again sing the praises of community sponsored agriculture (CSA) shares and how valuable they can be to creative cooks without a lot of time, but with the desire to make sure their families have a wide variety of healthy fruits and vegetables in their diets. My family is fortunate enough to have a bi-weekly CSA share that brings with it the chance to try vegetables we might otherwise not have access to (ever tried finding nettles in your local grocery store?) or simply not consider for lack of time some weeks. We get about a bushel of vegetables every couple of weeks and it then becomes my challenge to incorporate that bounty into our menus for the next couple of weeks. I consider it a fun challenge to do so and have gotten incredibly good at balancing a given box so that we're using the last of it just as a new box arrives. Moreover, items that are more perishable are used early on and items with more staying power come into play shortly before another box arrives.

One of the keys to getting the most out of a CSA share is blending two approaches:

  1. I pick out a few items to make meal centerpieces and might even find or create special recipes that will showcase them. This tends to involve a fair bit of planning and forethought and tends to be a bit adventuresome. Maybe it's trying stinging nettles for the first time as a bruschetta blended with garlic and onion, or roasting a pile of heirloom tomatoes for the base of a late summer pizza. Either way, these dishes tend to take some time, whether it's finding out how to prepare nettles without swollen skin or taking the time to roast a pan of tomatoes.
  2. Understand that most of your CSA boxes will include some tried and true items. You might end up with spinach one week and a blended salad mix another week, but you can be pretty sure that most of your spring and summer boxes will have great salad fixings in them. Use that information. Plan at least one main dish salad, like the one below, for each box. Plan side salads to complement other meals as well. I like to also plan one stir-fry or fried rice dish for each box because I know I'll have items that will be great for chopping and including in dishes like that. One time it might be pea pods and another time it might be fresh carrots, but you'll have items to include. Another favorite go-to recipe for CSA season is spring rolls. I keep the wrappers on hand and a bottle of teriyaki sauce or the like to help make those a quick and fun meal.

To get you started, I'm including a typical CSA-inspired main dish salad recipe below. Chock full of fresh greens and vegetables, it gets a protein kick from fiery chicken and chopped peanuts. It's really a meal unto itself and one we rather enjoy. You can opt to switch out the selection of greens, veggies, and protein to fit what you have available on any given day. The idea is to take advantage of the fantastic local produce while it's available and at its freshest. If you don't have access to a CSA share, consider frequenting your local farmers' market. It's a great time to be eating fresh!

CSA Chicken Salads

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp. chili oil
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. Penzeys Vindaloo Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. Penzeys Bangkok Blend
  • 8 oz. mixed salad greens
  • 1 ripe tomato, sliced into wedges
  • 2 T. sliced green onions or green garlic
  • 6 thinly sliced breakfast radishes
  • 1/2 c. lightly steamed peas, chilled
  • 2 T. chopped peanuts

Trim any visible fat from the chicken breasts. Rinse with cool water, pat dry, and set aside.

In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the chili and olive oil together over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sprinkle with half of the Vindaloo and Bangkok seasonings. Allow the chicken to cook for 4 minutes, then carefully flip each piece of chicken and sprinkle the remaining Vindaloo and Bangkok seasonings. Allow the chicken the cook for an additional 4 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, arrange the salad greens, tomato wedges, green onions or garlic, sliced radishes, and peas on two large dinner plates. Set aside.

When the chicken has been browned on both sides, remove the pieces from the pan and place them on a cutting board. Carefully slice the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and return briefly to the nonstick skillet without turning the stove back on. Toss the chicken pieces with the pan juices to heavily coat them. Arrange the chicken on the prepared salads and sprinkle with chopped peanuts before serving.

  • Yields: 2 main dish salads
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

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