Someone Please Tell Me What to Do With This Rutabaga

by Meg Clark

I felt great about myself when I signed up for a CSA this winter. It’s environmentally, financially, and dietarily responsible! I love vegetables! My CSA, Plovgh, has a super cute website! The pickup point happens to be a cocktail bar three blocks from my apartment of which I am exceedingly fond! I imagined myself tromping cheerfully back to my apartment, hair in pigtails, recycled tote bags bursting with produce under my arms. It was too good to be true.

I neglected to recall that local produce is seasonal, and weird. When I showed up at my beloved neighborhood cocktail bar for the first time, I discovered a table piled high with all kinds of mysterious roots and leaves. I am a bacon-loving but otherwise mostly good vegetarian (WHATEVER), and I’d like to think I’m a great cook and a pretty adventurous eater. I make vegan pho. I put olive oil and black pepper in my apple muffins. I eat a lot of quinoa. Leaves should not intimidate me. Some of them had names I recognized: romaine, redleaf, butter. And yet I stood, trembling. Shungiku? Kohlrabi?

“Are you okay?” asked the CSA volunteer.

I held up a bunch of kohlrabi, which looks sort of like the Golden Snitch or Sputnik, but purple, and with leaves, and toxic. “What do I do with these?”

“Oh,” she said. “Make them into chips. Or eat them raw. They’re sort of like radishes that taste like broccoli.”

Radishes that taste like broccoli. Okay. There was the shungiku too, which my computer keeps trying to correct to “shunpike” and which is some sort of Asian chrysanthemum green. And raddichio, which didn’t look like the raddichio I knew, and which tasted bitter and unpleasant.

I carted my leaves home and laid them out on my counter in shame. What a plebe of vegetation I was! A rube, the butt of infinite future jokes about rhubarb, conquered by mere lettuce! What was to come next? Celeriac? Amaranth? Squash blossoms? Rutabaga? What is a rutabaga? I tweeted photos of myself weeping alone with my cornucopia of intimidating salad. It was all too much.

I ate the kale and the normal lettuce in a salad the next day, but by the end of the week, my fridge still looked like this:

Furiously, I threw out the wilted and mushy wasted produce, scrubbed the fridge, and returned to my pickup point with renewed vigor. I carted home even more green things this time: kale, collards, chard, turnips, and something called ho mi z.

This time, I knew I needed to tackle the scary stuff first, which was of course the ho mi z — an Asian mustard green. Raw, it had an earthy, spicy taste, like ARUGULA XTREME. I figured it would be at least decent hidden deep within some kind of stir-fry, and with the reassurance of my other homie, bourbon, I got down to julienning.

My homies Z and BB

I am one of those “well I threw it all together” cooks, which is infuriating for anyone who asks me for a recipe, but lends itself well to “I have these eight things in my house, what do I do with them” meals. Besides the greens, my fridge contained tofu, bell peppers, red onions, zucchini, and mushrooms, as well as makings for “some sort of Asian marinade,” which is usually soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar or some sort of citrus juice, and tons of fresh garlic, ginger, and scallions.

So I dry-fried the tofu (THIS IS LIFE CHANGING, Google it), put it in the marinade, set the rice a-makin’ and threw all the veggies in the pan with a little bit of the marinade. I chopped up Homie Z and threw him in the pan at the last minute, like you would with spinach, just enough to wilt. I served it all together in a bowl, over rice with sesame seeds and scallions on top. Voilá!

I was surprised at how flavorful the greens were — they gave the entire stir-fry an unexpected and awesome earthy tang. Ho mi Z: conquered. But there was still an entire fridge full of greens, and I had no idea which was the kale and which were the collard greens, since they looked, smelled, and tasted exactly the same, except one had slightly smaller leaves.

Whatever. I figured I’d just get ’em all out of the way at once, so I washed, de-stemmed, and chopped the whole pile of green stuff — collards, kale, chard, and all. I braised it — which sounds fancy if you don’t cook a lot, but just means “threw in a big pot with water, garlic, onions, and olive oil and boiled for like 20 minutes.” I drained it, and then tossed with orzo, more onions, cannellini beans, a lil’ bit of EVOO, salt, pepper, and RAISINS, because I am of the Raisins In Everything Always camp of cooking and those of you who hate on raisins (I know you are out there, raisin-haters) can get out of my kitchen RIGHT NOW, we are not friends.

I added some vegan sausage on the side (because I love it, and it’s the only good fake-meat product in existence) and a scoop of part-skim ricotta, which I use on everything as if it were sour cream, because it also is delicious. Which seems like a weird meal, but I was kind of amazed at how tasty and filling it was. The braised greens were almost sadly innocuous compared to the ho mi z — like spinach, basically. Guess they’re not that scary after all.

There are still turnips and turnip greens in there, though, so if anyone has any idea what I should do with those, BY ALL MEANS, speak up.

Meg Clark lives in Brooklyn, tweets at @MC1RK, and blogs at Good Morning Midnight.