Health & Cooking Coach, The Balanced Kitchen
As a health and cooking coach who focuses on demystifying cooking and food so that healthy eating can become a delicious, stress-free, and natural part of people’s busy lives, I am a big believer in the idea that great meals come from the simple preparation of high-quality ingredients, so one of the steps that I often recommend is to try out a CSA (community supported agriculture) or local farmer’s market.
My family joined our CSA six years ago because I really wanted to take advantage of local, responsibly grown produce. Being a member of the farm share has been a wonderful experience—from the warm and friendly staff, to the community atmosphere amongst the members, to the access to truly seasonal fruits and vegetables!
When we were first looking into joining a CSA the thing that I was nervous about was coming home with a box full of unknown vegetables, so I chose a CSA that was set up more like a farm-stand where I could have a bit more control over what I brought home each week. As I have become a more confident and curious cook, though, one of the things that I have really grown to enjoy is trying out a new ingredient every week.
As I have experimented with these new ingredients over the years I have figured out five tricks that make exploring new foods from your CSA or farmer’s market fun and easy:
1) Ask for recommendations! I have found that the staff at the CSA, as well as at farm stands and farmer’s markets, are incredibly knowledgeable about ways to prepare the fruits, vegetables, meat, and other products they have to offer. All you need to do is ask and they will happily share some ideas with you!
2) Google is your friend. Search for the ingredient with the term “easy recipe” and see what pops up.
3) Be flexible. If you find a recipe that seems like it might work but you don’t have all the ingredients, allow yourself room to fudge things a little bit—use a different kind of cheese, skip the spicy pepper, use regular bread crumbs instead of panko, etc.
4) Try using a new ingredient in a familiar favorite. If you come across an ingredient that is similar to one you use in a favorite recipe, try substituting! That way you are confident in the recipe, but just trying a new version. Over the summer, for instance, I had been snacking on raw kohlrabi (which is amazing by the way), but one day I decided to use it in a stir-fry as a replacement for the crunchiness of bok choy and it was delicious! Similarly, when I started experimenting with tatsoi, a small leafy green, I discovered it is delicious sautéed just as I would sauté chard, spinach, or kale.
5) Accept failures. There will inevitably be a couple of duds and that is ok! For instance, one time last year I picked up dandelion greens, brought them home, found a sautéed dandelion green recipe online that looked promising, and made it. BLEH! I quickly discovered that no one in my house enjoys dandelion greens, but that same recipe made with baby kale the next week was awesome!
So now that I’ve (hopefully) got you inspired to try a new ingredient, here is a recipe that uses acorn squash, one of the lesser-used winter squashes, that is plentiful at this time of year. This is probably my favorite kind of squash because it is not as insistently sweet as butternut squash but has a wonderful texture when pureed.
This soup is unbelievably simple and will warm you up on these chilly winter days.
Indian-Spiced Acorn Squash Soup
2 large acorn squash or 3 small to medium acorn squash
1 Tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
Optional Roasted Seeds
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
garam masala and salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds (put the seeds to the side if you want to roast them for an optional topping for the soup or a snack for later).
2. Place the squash, cut side up, in a large pan with 1-inch of water in the bottom. Bake for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork.
3. If you are roasting the seeds, separate them from the stringy stuff, rinse well, and pat dry. Then, in a small bowl, toss the seeds with the olive oil, garam masala, and salt. Then spread them out evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. When the squash is ready, remove it from the oven and turn it down to 275 (if you are roasting the seeds). Put the seeds in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes.
5. Chop the onion.
6. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over a medium-high heat.
7. Add the onion and sauté until it is translucent, about 5 minutes.
8. While the onion is sautéing, scoop the squash flesh out with a spoon.
9. Add the garam masala to the onion and stir well.
10. Add the squash, salt, and water. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, then turn it down to medium-low and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
11. When the timer for the seeds goes off, check to make sure they are crisp. If not, let them cook for another 5 minutes and check again. Remove from the oven when ready.
12. Puree the soup in a blender or with your immersion blender and then add the coconut milk, stir well, and heat until the milk has melted into the soup.
Add salt, pepper, and extra garam masala to taste. Serve warm, topped with roasted seeds, if using.