CSA Wednesday

When we arrived to pick up our CSA box today we passed a friend who was on her way out.  “This week is going to be a tough one, Kiyah. Basil, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, potatoes, and lettuce. Go!” (She’s started stopping by the website with some regularity to see what what’s happening with the CSA goodies in our household and was clearly curious about what I would come up with given the ingredients on hand). I decided to rise to the challenge.

My in-laws arrive this afternoon and we planned a welcome backyard BBQ. These days, Tim’s fav’ thing to grill is bone-in chicken (using this, which replaced Annies as his go-to BBQ sauce). Most things go nicely with BBQ chicken, which meant I was free to come up with sides that would either (1) be consumed in their entirety, (2) travel well, or (3) keep while we were gone (we’re heading to the coast tomorrow or a few days).

There are a few things in the fridge that need to be used before we leave: leeks, half each of a red, yellow, and orange pepper, more cucumbers (including lemon cucumbers…do you know them?), carrots, roasted beets, mozzarella cheese and swiss chard. The carrots, young and tender, would make an easy on-the-go snack (especially when paired with hummus or a little fresh nut butter) so I decided to save those for the road trip (plus they also go limp pretty fast so I didn’t want to risk loosing them over the weekend. If you’re looking for something new to do with carrots, though, try this. I hear it’s delicious). Fresh, in-season, tomatoes are simply too good to let go to waste; so with the fresh mozzarella and basil on hand making the seasons’ first caprese salad was a no-brainer choice for our appetizer.

Next, cucumbers. A simple cucumber salad with vinegar, salt and dill (or a creamy version made with plain yogurt) seemed like an obvious choice. I considered making this, replacing the cherry tomatoes with cucumbers and using the box of Isreali couscous I had in the cupboard. Certainly the leftovers would travel well, but for some reason I wasn’t quite satisfied with the idea of this salad, so I kept looking. This also caught my eye, but two of the five dinner “guests” (my husband and my daughter) can’t have peanuts, so that was out (if you make it, though, please tell me how it is!).

Smitten Kitchen provided some fabulous inspiration with a cucumber lemonade cocktail called The Porch Swing (which also calls for a simple syrup, and I just so happened to have a minted simple syrup in the fridge which I thought would be a nice addition to the original recipe). I was also reminded about tzatziki sauce, which Smitten Kitchen pairs with gilled lamb kebabs but which is also delicious over grilled chicken or falafel (if you’re a vegetarian). And of course, pickles! Bread and butter or classic dill; although pickling cucumbers tend to work best and I had quite a mix on hand. (Speaking of dill pickles, try making dill pickle green beans when you can get them fresh). There was also this dilled potato and pickled cucumber salad which meant I could also use at least a few other CSA ingredients (bonus!), but I made a potato salad last week and already pickled my radishes.

In the end, I decided to try an original Kiyah creation (even though I know one should never serve a new dish for company without testing it first) starting with a recipe I made often in Tanzania using chickpeas and leeks. I’m thinking that I’ll replace the creamy yogurt-cumin dressing with a simpler oil-vinegar-lemon dressing, but I have the yogurt on hand and may stick with the original recipe in the end. This salad may be a bit much- too heavy to pair with grilled BBQ chicken- but I’m going to try it. If it’s terrible, I’ll wrap it to go and stick with my initial idea.

Pan-fried Chickpea Salad with Cucumbers Recipe

This recipe was heavily adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Pan-Fried Chickpea Salad Recipe at 101 Cookbooks.com. The link is provided above (see “original”). In her headnotes, Heidi says that you can certainly skip the browning of the chickpeas if you are pinched for time, but I think this adds wonderful depth to the salad and would advise against it. She also suggests adding a handful of toasted, slivered almonds, which would be nice, especially if serving this all alone as a meal. And a note about the cucumbers used in this salad. I had a combination of pickling and lemon cucumbers. Because the color is so beautiful, I left the skin on the lemon cucumbers but partially peeled the others. I also chose to deseed the pickling cukes, just because. Finally, I say 4-6, but the amount is flexible and should be to your taste; want more crunch, bump up the number!

1 tablespoon clarified butter, olive oil, or coconut oil
2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), pat them completely dry with clean dish towel
1 cup of chopped leeks1 medium clove of garlic, minced
4-6 cucumbers (see headnote) , chopped roughly to the size of the chickpeas
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons vinegar (white wine or rice)
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
1/2 cup of loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped (you could also substitute basil, dill, or chives. Or a combination)
1/2 cup red onion or red spring onions, finely diced

Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet and add the chickpeas. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they start getting a bit golden in color. Stir in the leeks and cook until the chickpeas are more golden and the leeks have browned a bit as well, roughly 7 – 10 minutes total. At the last minute stir in the garlic and the lemon zest. Remove from heat, and set aside.

While the chickpeas cool (I like to serve this salad at room temperature), chop the cucumbers and make the dressing by combining the oil, vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt (to start) in a small bowl. Taste, adjust, and set aside.

When you are ready to serve the salad, toss the chickpea mixture with most of and your herb of choice and most of the chopped red onion. Add the dressing a little at a time, tossing gently between each addition, until you’re happy with the flavor. Serve on a platter sprinkled with the remaining onions and herb.

Serves 4 as a side.

(PS- I have a few other thoughts about basil. When presented with basil, pesto is an obvious choice for me (pesto can be made in a seemingly infinite number of ways, so I’m not providing a recipe here). I’ve also found that it freezes pretty well, so once we’re in the thick of basil season buy as much of it as you can, freeze it in small batches in ice cube trays, wrap the frozen bricks in wax paper and store in a freezer bag. It’s not as pretty as fresh pesto, but when the weather turns colder and you want to hold on to the taste of summer homemade frozen pesto beats store-bought any day. Pesto is great in pasta, but you can also toss it with blanched green beans or top grilled squash and zucchini with it.  You might also try making a basil simple-syrup. I was really into this a few years ago, as it was a key ingredient in this drink, which I love, love, loved. It would also be good in lemonade or your favorite sun tea.)


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