Mini-Review: The CSA Cookbook, Linda Ly & Will Taylor (2015)

July 6th, 2015 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss.)

I don’t belong to a CSA (community-supported agriculture), but I have kept a summer garden religiously for the past 14 years, with the setup ranging from over-the-top, wth-was-I-thinking ambitious to more modest container gardens. My most popular picks are tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and peppers, but I’ve also experimented with cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, corn, asparagus, and gourds. I also have a few fruit trees: apples, pears, apricots, and one peach that was sadly on its last legs when we moved in (rest in peace).

Most years I end up with more produce than I can possibly hope to consume fresh. My strategies for dealing with the extras run the gamut, from adding them to our dogs’ food (veggie stew + their regular kibble = more volume, without the extra calories; also the gravy is great for the oldest two, who haven’t managed to hang onto all their teeth); washing, dicing, and freezing for later; making dehydrated snacks, including fruit leather; and donating it to the local food pantry (one year we delivered upwards of 500 pounds of apples!). Even so, come August and September the pressure not to waste the food I’ve worked so hard to grow and gather can get pretty intense.

So you can only imagine my excitement when I spotted The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Agriculture Box, Farmers’ Market, or Backyard Bounty for download on Edelweiss. Based on its product description – “vegetable-focused recipes” – I’d hoped that the recipes would at least be vegetarian, as terms such as this (e.g., “plant-based”) are often used as code for “vegetarian” or “vegan” (don’t want to scare off the omnivores!). Unfortunately, there are some meat-based recipes among the bunch: a breakfast pizza with bacon here, a chicken-thigh omelet there. As expected, eggs and various cheeses also make an appearance (four and ten to be exact).

The veganizability of these recipes ranges from simple (in the recipes calling for honey, for example, just swap in agave nectar; and many of the soups call for chicken broth, vegan versions of which are readily available) to more difficult. Take the aforementioned Breakfast Pizza: while it’s super-easy to use Lightlife Smart Bacon instead of corpse de Wilbur, finding a substitution for raw eggs – yolks and all – is a little more complicated. I’ve heard talk that you can create a vegan fried egg using The Vegg (or, say, mashed potatoes and tofu for a more DIY version), but the process would be much more involved than just cracking an egg open onto a piece of pita bread and cooking it. Methinks you’d have to prep the egg separately and then add it prior to serving. Now I love me some creative pizzas, but that sounds like too much work, at least outside of a special occasion-type dinner.

Happily, there are still a number of “accidentally vegan” recipes to be found here: Spicy Minty Tomato Sauce, Infused With Tomato Leaves; Kale Stem Pesto; Chard Stalk Hummus; and Green Onion Pancakes With Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce, to name just a few. Just leafing through the index, I spotted a number of dishes I’d like to try once my tomatoes, zucchinis, and squashes start coming in. Sadly, there’s only one apple recipe – Fennel, Apple, and Celery Slaw – which only calls for one lone apple and doesn’t especially strike my fancy. (Especially when the author lauds its pairing with pulled pork. Yuck. Does a grosser term for a meat-based foodstuff exist? Pink slime, maybe?) This won’t even begin to put a dent in my autumn harvest!

As for general usability, I read this on a Kindle and found it to be accessible and well-formatted. There aren’t a ton of gourmet food photos – which is usually a drawback to most readers – but here I really didn’t mind, since pictures of dismembered animals are kind of a turnoff. Each section – tomatoes & peppers; leafy greens; peas & beans; bulbs & stems; roots & tubers; melons & gourds; and flowers & herbs – begins with a brief yet informative introduction, as do many of the recipes/recipe groupings. If you have any doubts about, say, nibbling on a tomato leaf, Ly will lay them to rest once and for all.

Generally I don’t recommend non-vegan cookbooks to vegans, BUT. If you’re an avid gardener or don’t know what to do with all that weird stuff in your CSA box, The CSA Cookbook might be worth a look.

(This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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