I’ve been with our CSA for the past 4 years now, but this is the first year where I’ve felt that I’ve really got a handle on things. Previously, cucumbers would get mushy at the back of the crisper or a bunch of lettuce would start to melt into brown liquid when I wasn’t watching. But this year, I decided to get a grip on the weekly bounty that invaded my refrigerator.
So every Tuesday night from the end of June to the end of October, instead of wedging the produce into any available space in the fridge, I lay out the week’s contents onto my kitchen table and organize it. By organizing, all I mean is that I give it a good once over, just to visually take stock of what’s available. Then, I wash everything since it’s usually covered in dirt. I re-use those plastic produce bags from the market and sort things into bags before putting it into the crisper. Zucchini, summer squash, cucumber, broccoli, beets, turnips, carrots, onions, etc. all go into their own bag. Tomatoes go into a bowl for the counter and garlic gets popped into the cupboard.
Lettuce is the thing that really gets a good prep. I take all the lettuce, separate it into leaves and wash before giving it a quick dry in my salad spinner. My salad spinner is actually pretty invaluable tool because each week, I put the salad spinner, lettuce leaves inside, right into the fridge. Crisp, ready-to-eat salad whenever I want. It’s kinda awesome.
This year, it was extra important for me not to have my lettuce melt into a brown mess because not only do I receive a few heads a week with our CSA, but I started growing romaine lettuce right on our balcony. I was pretty successful too, until the harsh sun of summer made my container crop bolt. And bolting, from what this amateur gardener can figure out, isn’t a good thing as it turns lettuce bitter and inedible. If anyone wants to tell me how to prevent bolting from happening for next year, let me know.
So, I have the crisp salad tucked away in my fridge and a bag of the best tasting cucumbers ever, whatever will I do? Luckily, I had some feta and olives handy, along with a red pepper and celery from the local market, so that sealed the deal. Chives & oregano from my balcony garden? Hello! This is one tasty mediterranean salad. If you have sun-warmed tomatoes, throw some in because that would be a good thing too. I’m still a bit squeamish over raw tomatoes, but that’s my problem – don’t let it be yours! Go for it!
What I really like about this salad is that everything is nicely chopped – there are no gigantic bits of anything so every mouthful is amazingly flavourful.
For the vinaigrette, I used some good grassy olive oil and some dried herbs to punch up the flavour. Fresh lemon juice plus some good red wine vinegar adds the needed tartness and some local honey gets squeezed in for sweetness. It’s a great dressing for a fresh salad. Simple.
If you’d like to eat this salad for several days, make the salad and dress the vegetables, but leave out the lettuce. All the vegetables can stand a good marinating, but the lettuce is best served immediately. Just add the lettuce to the bottom of each bowl before serving and top with the rest of the salad.
1 red pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large cucumber, diced
handful of chives, snipped
1 T fresh oregano, leaves torn & stems removed
romaine lettuce, torn
1 lemon, juiced
2 T red wine vinegar
4-6 T olive oil
1 t dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 – 1 t honey
1/2 t herbs de provence
1/2 t dried oregano
pinch of dried dill
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1/3 c chopped kalamata olives (pits removed)
1/3 c crumbled feta
In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables & fresh herbs and toss lightly. In a small lidded jar, mix together the vinaigrette ingredients and give it all a good shake. Taste and adjust seasoning to your own preference. Pour dressing over top of vegetables and add in the olives and feta, giving everything a good toss. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
Your veggie prepping reminds me of the sound advice Tamar Adler wrote about in An Everlasting Meal. I was pretty good about the beets that came in my CSA, but you’re totally right, I have some lettuce that needs tending to, stat!
Wonderful tips! I agree that cleaning and spinning the lettuce and having it ready is key. I am always impressed with your CSA creations, too!
My solution to bolting lettuce as summer got deeper was to plant some crops in the shade/partial shade (you could move your containers to a cooler shadier spot maybe). The crops in direct sun bolted but the shadier ones lasted a lot longer. Everything seems to bolt eventually, though, that’s just the life cycle of the plant.
Molly, I have to read that book! Now, tend to that lettuce 🙂
Vera, I’m glad to know that all lettuce bolts eventually. I’m a bit bummed because it was the one crop that did super well on my balcony. I’ll just find a shadier spot next time.
That’s a really good idea about prepping the lettuce in advance! I bought a salad spinner this year because I found it would have come in handy last year.
Because I found my CSA stuff would go bad a lot more quickly than supermarket produce, I bought some of those green bags that are meant to let fresh things last longer. I’ve been using them for a year, they’re super handy and they seem to work!
Managing a CSA box is so much harder than you expect at first, isn’t it? Glad to hear your system is working well. 🙂
Your balcony lettuce is amazing! Mine bolts every year. I have no idea how to make it not. Sigh.
Great tips! I just joined a CSA for the first time, and am still working out a system for produce “management”. Love the salad and your point about chopping those veggies small – it does make for much tastier bites.
I joined a CSA last year and yup…lettuce and cucumbers were totally the things to fall by the wayside. I took a break from it this summer but when I go back to it, I really want to try to let nothing go to waste! This salad sounds like the perfect use of your goods!
Lydia, salad spinners are the best! I never knew I needed one, but we got one for our wedding & it’s the best. So handy. I’ll have to try those bags, I’ve seen them around, though so far I’m doing well with my system!
Eileen, it’s totally tough – especially since I usually shop every 1-2 days and pick up only what I need. Having a big load of stuff to last a week is a bit more tricky!
Thanks Julie, I was shocked too. This was the first time I tried growing lettuce and it went like mad. Apparently, bolting is a fact of life for lettuce. More shade to keep it going longer?
Jess, I hope you find a system that works well! Good luck 🙂
Joanne, making freezer pickles was my fall-back when we’d get a huge amount of cukes. And last year I discovered grating zucchini and then freezing it. I think today I’ll make some zucchini bread to help things along!
You have inspired me to thouroughly clean out my fridge and start a fresh! I love the idea of the salad spinner in the fridge bit ( and it will free up space in my tiny cupboards). I think the idea of moving the lettuce to a cooler, shadier spot when the sun gets really hot is a great idea…and easy enough to do if you use containers to plant your lettuces.
Leaving the lettuce in the salad spinner in the fridge is a great idea. I’m very slow to use up lettuce–maybe that method will help me remember to get it out and use it.
Hooray, Hag! Glad I could inspire. Also, picking lettuce leaves from the outside is the way to go to prevent bolting (a tip from our mutual friend, Pam).
Yes, agreed, RC!! Who has room for a huge spinner in their cupboards, not me. Enjoy!
You never cease to impress, kickpleat! Growing your own lettuce with great success and on a balcony no doubt. The salad greens look luscious in the mediterranean salad. I would never have thought to use two acids in the dressing i.e. vinegar and lemon but I’m curious to try it out and see how it tastes.
Thanks Bijoux 🙂 I’m pretty pleased with our balcony garden and can’t wait for next year!!
This dressing is wonderful!!! (and so is the salad)
Yay! Glad you enjoyed it, Nicola.