Back in the “salad days” (ha ha, food blog humor) of this blog I participated in a CSA. If you’ve been following since then, you may have noticed I haven’t talked too much about it in well, a long while. I’ll freely admit that I got overwhelmed and didn’t renew. To make good use of a CSA, I think, you have to just be able to “roll with it” and when I was last a member, I was still too hamstrung by the need for a recipe. Especially when so many of the things packed into my box were vegetables I hadn’t really had much before, so I often stared at them blankly waiting for inspiration to hit (which it never did). I was frustrated by being provided only a bit of this and a bit of that, and if I couldn’t find a recipe that magically combined the products in the box in the correct quantities, I was at a loss. The fact that CSAs send email previews of what you can expect perhaps did more harm than good in my case. I would try to prepare and brainstorm what I would make in advance, to take the pressure off, but my tendency to overthink things would prove it was still in fine fettle.
A few weeks ago the farmer’s market near by office reopened and after two visits, buying a few bunches of greens and maybe a pint of berries, I did the math and realized that I could probably get a better deal out of using half a CSA box than hitting the various stalls at the market. Or the grocery store, lest anyone think I’m singling out the local farmers. (I am always frustrated that my bill is as high as it is, when I buy mostly unprocessed food, and staples like pasta and canned tomatoes. Ah but there is this thing called cheese…). So I promptly went and signed up for one. My mathematical calculations, I decided, would essentially eliminate any pangs of guilt.
What’s different (I hope) this time around? I feel less bound to a recipe–and having just finished Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal, I’m trying to keep in mind her guidance on how to bring various components together in a unified whole. I can wilt down greens, and fill them out with polenta, whole grains, or beans the next day or the next. I can fold the whole mess into a bowl of beaten eggs, toss in the end of a tub of ricotta, and have a delicious frittata. I can puree it for toast, or set it aswim in broth for a light soup. None of these require strict adherence to a recipe, and especially with the summer’s fresh herbs growing in my backyard, any form my food takes is sure to be delicious.
Still, some greens are easier than others, and when mustard greens appeared in my first CSA box this year it took me a minute or two to realize it wasn’t some form of curly kale. I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a quick spin on the internet and came across several recipes for sarson ka saag (see here, here, and here), a northern Indian preparation of these greens. To make it a meal, and a beautifully colored one at that, I cooked up some red rice that I had from an impulse buy (yes, you’re thinking, maybe there’s your supermarket problem, but I did have a coupon)–though you could use any rice you had. Red rice cooks up a bit faster than brown rice and (I think) it is still whole grain–plus I’m pretty sure I caught a cocoa aroma when pre-toasting the rice, but then I may have just been having really bad chocolate cravings.
Though this recipe uses a food processor (and the thought of cleaning it often is enough to put me off using it) it comes together quickly and is aromatic with the classic Indian spices. Besides a fast and easy dinner, I got a couple of servings for my lunch box, which, on reflection isn’t all that bad for something pulled together on the fly with a vegetable I didn’t even recognize.
Indian Style Mustard Greens (Sarson ka Saag) with Red Rice
- 1 cup red rice (or other rice)
- 1 large bunch mustard greens (or other bitter green, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2t red pepper flakes
- One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil or ghee
- Salt to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoons of ghee. Rinse the greens and when the skillet is hot, transfer the greens with any water clinging to them to it. Turn every 30 seconds or so until the leaves begin to wilt down, turn more frequently until the greens are fully wilted. Transfer the greens to a large bowl (it can be your eventual serving bowl). Wipe the skillet dry with a paper towel.
Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and ginger to the food processor and finely chop. Add the onions and finely chop. Reserve the food processor (you will be using it for the greens).
Add three tablespoons of ghee or oil to the skillet over medium heat. When the ghee has melted, add the garlic-onion mixture. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. While you are doing this, add the greens to the food processor, and pulse several times until finely chopped (almost pureed). When the onions are cooked, add the greens and cook for 4-5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few spoonfuls of water if the mixture starts to dry out. Adjust for salt.
Scrape the rice into a serving bowl, and then the greens on top. Serve.