Turn the clock back 10 years and there’s a good chance I was ripping into a bag of Safeway potato and onion perogies and turning on the stove in my Regina apartment.
I also would have been prepping my fancy, schmancy side dish: Harvest brand farmer’s sausage.
I know this because a meal of perogies and sausage was a staple during my university days. I ate them at least once a week, occasionally changing things up by using potato and bacon or sauerkraut perogies. Call it an homage to the many Ukrainian settlers who roamed the Prairies before me. Or, you can call it lazy, though I’d argue uncreative is better. But that’s what industrial food and a world that only includes a big-chain grocery store will do to a person. It’s easy to get stuck in a meal rut.
The dinner tables started to turn when I became a vegetarian three and a half years ago. Suddenly the meat-as-a-centrepiece, bracketed-by-a-carb-and-veggie meal wasn’t going to do me, easy as they were to fix. (Boring to eat, mind you). So, if I wasn’t going to wind up anemic and with even less muscle mass than what I had, I had to get cooking. And cooking I did. Tofu, legumes, faux meat — there was a lot of experimenting going on in the kitchen. Creativity was crucial to my survival.
Eventually, I fell into a meal rut again. Veggie Pizza. Pasta. Chana masala. Asian noodle soup with tofu. Those were my new staples.
Enter an intriguing e-mail from a colleague a few months later telling me about a local CSA. For those who don’t know what a CSA is, it’s almost like buying shares in a local farm. You make a commitment to buy vegetables, for example, from a farmer for a season and the farmer plants accordingly.
For me, that farmer was Wellandport veggie grower Linda Crago. Here was my tip-off that my weekly baskets of veggies weren’t going to be a yawn: the woman was growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes at the time. (A previous blog entry shows she’s up to 700 now).
I told Linda the veggies I like — Swiss Chard is my one true love — but each week and every basket, I was exposed to something new. Ever had eggplants the size of chick peas? How about white carrots? Eat a mangel recently? Dino kale? How about a tomato covered in peach fuzz? Or garlic scapes, the flower from the garlic plant? Mustard greens anyone?
Here I thought veggies were orange carrots, peas, potatoes, lettuce, a handful of tomato varieties, yellow, green or red peppers and my chard thrown in for variety. And I considered myself a bit of a foodie.
There were also the veggies I knew existed — take beets as an example — but had the preconceived, unshakable notion that they were … gross.
Getting fresh, unique vegetables forced me to get even craftier in the kitchen. I got a few recipes from Linda but each week, I’d come home and also search recipe websites for tasty ways to use what was in my CSA basket. I’ve never eaten — or cooked — better.
Linda even plied me with beets in all shapes, sizes and colours, like the guys in the photo to the right. Forgot to mention to her my feelings about the beet before signing on to her CSA. Given that some weeks they had a big presence in my basket, I didn’t want to just chuck them. A few reincarnations later of the lowly root vegetable and I figured out I actually really love beets. I even get cravings for them now.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. But it should stand for Cook Something Amazing.
And as a tribute to the clearly misunderstood beet, here is a recipe I discovered that is enough to turn beet doubters into beet believers. There are still plenty of local beets around ready to convince you of their merits and be fodder for the following:
Baked Grated Beets
5 beets shredded
1 small onion finely chopped
1 potato, grated
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Place beets in a greased 1-quart casserole dish. Add onions and potato. In a small bowl, stir together oil, vinegar, sugar, water, salt and pepper. Stir into vegetable mixture, cover tightly and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Stir once or twice during cooking. *** I like to take the lid off at the end for a couple of minutes to brown the top.
(source: littlebearproduce.com) (photo source: Tree and Twig Farm)