This past Tuesday marked the Crown Heights CSA‘s first ever pick-up. Some terrific volunteers organized a CSA in the neighborhood for the first time this year, and I am beyond thrilled to be a member for a variety of reasons. I love fresh veggies, I love directly supporting a farmer, I love having paid for the share up front so it feels like I’m getting free stuff every week, I love the idea of picking up my veggies outside a great bar, the produce laden happy hour possibilities, and I love the element of the unexpected, the mini cooking challenges that arise from a bounty of produce that was not hand picked or planned out in advance — not by me, anyway.
I have been telling Shawn for a very long time that I was going to make a meal plan for us. Any day now. For months and months. Packing lettuce heads and unruly turnips and tall asparagus into the fridge Tuesday night, I realized that I needed a plan to make sure the veggies would be eaten in a week, before the arrival of the next batch. The day for advanced planning and scheming had come. The meal plan is now in effect, reamshackle though it may be.
Step one was to divvy up the goods. I am splitting a share, so Anna came over Wednesday morning to take some stuff away. I’m obsessed with asparagus season and have personally consumed several pounds of asparagus in the last month or so, and I had some snap peas from the market in the fridge already, so Anna got Sang Lee’s asparagus and snap peas. She also took some nice red lettuce and a few scallions, and we split the luscious baby strawberries down the middle. I think the split was a bit uneven, with me making out with more, but she assured me that it was good and fair.
I wound up with a bundle of harukei turnips, two heads of Boston lettuce (one red, one green), a huge head of bok choi and scallions and strawberries. Here is what I planned:
- Sugar snap pea and harukei turnip salad
- Lettuce wraps with tofu and almond sauce
- Biscuits and gravy with turnip greens (biscuits and gravy are a comfort food of Shawn’s that he has introduced to me. We had the fixings in the fridge, purchased on a rainy day last week, and I thought turnip greens were an appropriate pairing)
- Wine-braised seitan and bok choi
- Boston lettuce salad with blue cheese and scallions
We ate the first things — turnip and snap pea salad and lettuce wraps — on Wednesday night, and they were great. The harukei turnips are incredibly mild, without the spicy, bitter tang that so many turnips possess. They are great raw: sweet and crunchy and the slightest bit juicy. I tossed them with snap peas and fresh mint and a very simple dressing of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and a tiny bit of sugar and mustard. The lettuce wraps were tasty, too, as were biscuits and gravy and turnip greens made slightly smoky with smoked sea salt and paprika, brightened up with a squeeze of lemon.
The seitan is bubbling away as I type this, in my favorite cooking liquid. I find the combination of red wine and soy sauce bizarrely addictive. Add half a head of garlic and a bunch of ginger, and I have just about found my bliss. When simmering homemade seitan, I almost always return to this flavorful combination of wine and soy and spices. I love the texture of seitan, but find that it can be quite bland, so I take every opportunity to punch up the flavor, usually using broth instead of water in the seitan itself and spicing the sticky dough, and cooking it in as strongly flavored broth as I can whip up. I made today’s seitan with vital wheat gluten and a combination of soy sauce and whey instead of water, mostly because I have a jug of whey leftover from making cheese and this seemed as good a place as any to work it in. How I will wrangle the huge head of bok choi into a pan for braising with the seitan and its cooking liquid remains to be seen, but the seitan has just finished up, and it is delicious, and I’m sure the end result will be, too.
As part of the meal plan, I will be packing up the latest cooking adventure and taking it out for a picnic this evening. Shawn and I have tickets to Alvin Ailey tonight (!!!), and I’m very much looking forward to an affordable start to our date and a celebratory start to a summer of healthy, sustainable, most enjoyable cooking and eating.
I’m off to eat the first of many lettuce-based salad lunches!
Approximately 2 cups red wine
1/2 to 1 cup soy sauce
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
The Seitan Itself:
1 1/3 cups vital wheat gluten
onion and garlic powder to taste
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup vegetable broth or water (I used whey)
How to do it:
1) Combine all ingredients for cooking liquid in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you prepare the seitan.
2) Toss wheat gluten with onion and garlic powder and any other dry spices you wish to add.
3) Combine soy sauce and broth or water. If you wish to add fresh garlic, grated onion, or any other wettish aromatics, now is the time.
4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and knead for about 5 minutes. The mixture will be lumpy at first, then spongey, and will ultimately become elastic and somewhat smooth. Let sit for a few minutes before cooking.
5) Cut uncooked seitan into small pieces (they will puff up as they cook, so cut them to about 3/4 the size of the desired end product) and add to cooking liquid. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
Note: This recipe is extremely adaptable. Add dried mushrooms or vegetables to the cooking liquid, play with spices to your heart’s content. Gluten is pretty bland on its own and very forgiving. Add finished seitan to sauces and stir fries, or braise with massive amounts of bok choi and serve with whatever grain is in your cupboard. I love it in sandwiches with cooked vegetables and a little melted cheese, a variation on the cheese steak that is nothing at all like the real thing, but tasty just the same.