8 Essential Tools for Your CSA Kitchen

Apr 13, 2023 | Uncategorized

Pots, pans, (big) stainless bowls, large roasting trays, sturdy cutting boards, and sharp knives. These should be the givens in any cook-worthy kitchen. But what about the extras that just make things easier? We’re not one to endorse vapid consumerism, and wouldn’t be suggesting these tools if we didn’t think they were worth the (sometimes cumbersome) cabinet space. Keep reading for your farmer-approved gadgets list.

1. Salad spinner

Here in Central Texas, spring and fall are considered “salad season”, and there is no better tool to help you use your local greens than a salad spinner. Here is a great option. Having clean and very dry greens is vital to getting the most out of your lettuce. Well-dried greens will not only last longer in the fridge, but they’ll also more easily accept oil-based dressings which will slip off of wet leaves. Even though it takes up a lot of fridge space, we often store washed and dried greens directly in the spinner, in the fridge. (Have you ever seen the way many small farms use old washing machines to dry their greens? Watch a video here.

2. Veggie cleaver

Have you ever heard of a vegetable cleaver? It’s safe to assume most of your vegetable prep is happening either with a big chef’s knife or a tiny pairing knife. But there is an option in between. Vegetable cleavers, also known as a Chinese chef’s knife or Chinese cleaver,  are similar to a cleaver you’d use with meat, except smaller in scale. They’re easy to hold and handle than a meat cleaver but have a heft to them that makes chopping, slicing, and dicing a breeze. We like this one from Made-In (an Austin-based company), though there are plenty of great options, varying in price range, out there. Like a good pillow, invest in your knives. 

3. Mandolin

If there was one tool on this list that would win the ‘annoying-to-store’ award, it would be a mandolin. But if you’re constantly wading your way through a haul of root vegetables like carrots or radishes, or even summer spoils like onions and cucumbers, a mandoline is a must. Using a mandolin, salads of thinly sliced roots come together in a jiff. Sometimes over-powering fennel is rendered a delicate wisp with a mandoline. It’s great if you’re making pickles or escabeche, and we won’t make coleslaw without it.  Like the salad spinner, a good mandoline is worth the space. If you’ve never owned a mandolin before, maybe go with the starter, hand-held variety. Know you love a mandolin and want to up your game? Go for one with an arm brace and various blade settings. Either way, please watch your fingers, and don’t get greedy with that last carrot nub. 

4. Julienne Peeler or Zoodler

If you don’t have either of these tools, we’d recommend starting with at least one. We’re not sure that you really need both, but you definitely need one.  A tool that quickly transforms veggies into thin stringy things is useful beyond just a noodle replacement. You can use thinly-sliced or noodled vegetables as a salad or stir-fry component. Raw zucchini strings tossed with some chili, lime, and fish sauce is an excellent, easy side. We like this Japanese peeler that comes in a thick or thin-Juline size. As for the zoodle-er, we’ve tried many of them and prefer the small hand-held version which takes up minimal space and feels like an easy answer to a pile of sweet potatoes.

5. Souper Cubes

When you’re signed up for a CSA, it’s hard to pump the breaks on the influx of veggies. The best way to deal with too many veggies when it’s a busy week and you’re eating out? Freeze them. Super Cubes are a great way to freeze your vegetables. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and put them in a ziploc, freeing up the cube mold for more preservation. Greens on their way out with no plan in sight? Quickly saute, then freeze them. Bumper harvest of parsley from the garden? Frozen chimichurri for the year. Sauces like ragu or curries, soups, leftover braised meat… the cubes are perfect for them all. We especially love them during tomato season when they make the perfect vessel to freeze a mess of confited cherry tomatoes or batch fresh salsa.

Frozen meals, like shakshuka, work well in Super Cubes.

6. Immersion Blender

It may sound ludicrous, but we’d trade our immersion blender for a food processor and regular blender, both.  Why? Because they’re easy to clean and therefore far more accessible. Our immersion blenders actually get used, frequently, and the act of pulling it out is untethered to any fear of cleaning. Literally, just a quick rinse under hot water will often do.  An immersion blender can make hummus, spreads, pestos, and blended soups. In the wintertime, a quick pureed soup is only a moment away. Summer tomatoes and cucumbers can quickly become a cool gazpacho. It’s like a magic wand, but for your CSA vegetables.

7. Box Grater

A box grater is a classic, inexpensive tool, that has far more utility than shredding a block of cheddar. It’s an excellent tool to have around if you’re working through a lot of vegetables. Grated radish can become a quick pickle condiment. Grated onions are excellent mixed in a salad, or dissolved in a sauce. Grate carrots for a classic French or Indian salad, or to throw in a carrot cake. Grated raw beets, quickly tossed in a bit of vinegar and dash of sugar, make for an excellent salad topping. Grate a tomato, strain, and spread on toast for a Spanish pan con tomate. You get the idea. 

8. Microplane

For having such a limited scope of use – zest, garlic, ginger, and the occasional nutmeg – our microplane gets a lot of use. If you’re a CSA Member with a fridge stocked of local produce, you know that you don’t need to do much to make the veggies sing. Garlic, lemon, salt, and olive oil are often all that’s needed to transform a vegetable from a raw crop to a delicious dish… and a microplane can help you with both the garlic and (lemon) zest bit. Enjoying some of your vegetables raw but need a quick vinaigrette? A clove of garlic is a good idea. A friendly aside, if you’re like us and are often buying lemons to supplement your CSA shares but are not using the zest… you’re missing out! Even if you don’t have an immediate use for the zest, you can let it dry out on a plate, and then store it in a jar for future use. Dried zest is great sprinkled on veggies, over a salad, mixed in a batter, or even steeped in tea. 

Happy cooking! And as always, thanks for supporting your Central Texas Farmers.