Emily Van Eck
Meal planning with local produce
Updated: May 1
Last week, I moved to New Orleans to start my dietetic internship. This city is endlessly interesting, entertaining, and beautiful. In customary fashion, I spent the first several days (and counting) biking around exploring and grocery shopping. I've already been made fun of for going to the majority of the city's shops in the first 72 hours. I've been asking everyone who will talk to me where they like to buy groceries and what their favorite *cheap* places to eat are. And now I'm completely overwhelmed.
New Orleans has a plethora of reputable and historically significant restaurants that I cannot wait to try. Apparently, I live just a couple blocks from one of the best po-boys in the city, Parasol's. Can't wait for that - tried last night but they had closed an hour early. Seems like this could be a not-so-uncommon phenomenon around here. For now though, I'm soaking up the rest of the fresh summer fruits and vegetables and cooking in my new, amazing kitchen. Thanks Sarah and Eric.
All that grocery interviewing gave me lots of opinions on all the local grocery stores - Rouse's, Breaux Mart, and Whole Foods seem to the three main choices. I heard lots of disagreement about which is the best, which is the most "local" and what the produce sections are like. Finally someone told me exactly what I wanted to hear - Hollygrove Market & Farm.
Hollygrove on a Sunday afternoon pre-downpour and lightening storm
This week I went and picked up their genius way of doing a CSA box. You go into the market and for $25 you fill up your bag with 2 of heirloom tomatoes, 1 cucumber, a bag of okra or green peanuts, a bag of baby eggplant, a bottle of one of several dressings, for example. It was so novel picking the veggies I wanted out of the bins. And look how adorable it is in there!
I hear they sometimes give you a bag of freshly made pasta! This week, the bag came with a bottle of locally made salad dressing - very cool. The market, which is set on their urban farm also carries other farm fresh goodies and locally sourced meats, beans, grains, dairy, coffee, and all kinds of other stuff. And they do a thing I've been DYING to see - they offer clearance produce. The ones that are just a tad bruised or a couple days too old. I really hope larger grocery stores (especially the big chains that encourage local sourcing, ya know the one) start doing this soon - figure it out guys.
They accept SNAP, and offer discounts to folks from the neighborhood, members, and students. They also teach composting and gardening classes - my kinda place.
After leaving with a ton of produce and a huge smile, I decided to cook all my meals with these veggies, and as little else as possible (what's in my fridge is fair game). Oh, and the local fish. I use it's extra special nutrient value as an excuse to eat it all. the. time. And so should you, especially if you live near water. The thing about shopping this way is you get a TON of produce. I've heard many folks struggles about how to actually eat all the food you get before it starts to rot in the fridge. I understand, it is a challenge. So let me help.
Buying into a CSA, and cramming all these veggies into your diet, is a nearly full-proof way to make sure you're eating really well. I highly recommend this option given the following:
1. You have a reasonably stocked pantry - I'll be writing a post on how to do this coming up
2. You are at least partially comfortable cooking from scratch, and from a recipe
3. You are willing to experiment with new flavors and produce
4. You have tupperware and a freezer (OR) a roommate or two to share the bounty with
You've got to plan ahead, but just a little. You'll need some whole grains, herbs (if they didn't come in your box), oils and vinegars and citrus, some cheese if that's your sorta thing - and it is mine, and some protein - animal or plant. So for night #1, I decided on a chicken and okra stew. I had recently bought a package of boneless chicken thighs - my favorite low-cost, easy, delicious meal maker. I could make a big batch with all that okra - so much okra - eat it for dinner that night, and freeze the rest for a couple meals later in the next couple weeks. This is one technique I cannot emphasize enough, especially if you're busy, or cooking for just yourself, or have kids. (More tips for freezings things later)
Recipes I made this week with my bounty include:
Moroccan Chicken and Okra Stew
Spiced Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Poached Eggs
Farro, Eggplant, and Basil Salad with Olive Vinaigrette
Crisp Cucumber, Peach, and Feta Salad
Sweet Pepper and Chickpea Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
Spicy Shrimp with Sweet Peach Salad
Green Tahini Sauce
I hope you find this CSA guide useful!