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Join the ISC in Sangju, Gyeongsang province, for a weekend of farming and discussion about Korea’s agriculture. Link to register: http://bit.ly/1TDUp0D
By Taryn Assaf
Summer can be a difficult time for farmers. Weather can be unpredictable, with high temperatures, too much or too little rainfall; crop eating pests are at their peak. That hasn’t stopped the gorgeous leafy greens and fragrant herbs from growing on Gachi farms. Most people would be weary of buying greens with little holes in them, bruised fruits, or yellowing herbs. We prefer perfection: our greens rich in colour, glistening in the supermarket spotlights; our fruits shining and vibrant; and our veggies without a spot of dirt. You’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that most produce ever existed in an ecosystem. How much food goes to waste simply because its appearance is deemed less than perfect?
The items in my Gachi box are not perfect- and that’s what I love about them. I can feel the carrots being pulled out of the earth as I wash the dirt off them; I can see the rows of leafy greens swaying in the wind as I examine their little holes; I can feel the pride in the harvest of herbs when I receive such plush portions. My relationship to food is changing. I used to be a huge food waster. I was guilty of being afraid of the less than perfect produce. But, I grew wiser, and learned that even a yellowing piece of lettuce can be eaten in a salad and not take away from the freshness or taste. I learned that a bruised apple or orange doesn’t foreshadow the taste of the flesh and that I, like so many others, had little idea what food actually looks like.
I’ve just received my fourth box, but this post will detail some of the items I made with the vegetables from my third box. To reiterate some key points about this package:
- The produce is not enough on its own, but is a great foundation for the weeks’ meals
- You will need to supplement with other items to create well-balanced meals
- The element of surprise really incites creativity in the kitchen
- The food is seasonal, meaning you’ll likely encounter produce you’ve never dealt with before, which also means you may have to do a little research before meal time (hence this post!)
OK! On to the food (again, pics are NOT FOODIE STATUS. I’m about making good tasting food that looks like a normal person cooked it, but moreso I can’t bear to waste time making my food look good for a photo when I could be eating it). In my third box, I received:
Eggplant, onions (not pictured), green peppers, a variety of greens (perilla leaf, arugula, salad greens), buchu (garlic chive), blueberries, six eggs, two cucumbers and a bunch of arugula.
I have a bunch of portioned hanu (Korean beef) in my freezer that has been waiting to become a good topper. I used to love the combination of steak and arugula when I was living in Canada, so the first thing I made was a steak and arugula salad.
I plumped up the salad with some of the other leafy greens I was given and made a light, lemony vinaigrette. I added some cherry tomatoes from a previous box for good measure, and topped it with a juicy, seared steak.
Arugula is an amazing green. It’s peppery and fragrant and has a strong flavour. It’s amazing on top of pizzas (proscuitto, parm, mozzarella and arugula is my favorite), in or around anything with steak (steak sandwiches/salads), as the star of the show in an Italian style niciose salad (with lemon, salt, and olive oil dressing and topped with tuna), or even just tossed in lemon juice and placed on top of a piece of fried pork cutlet.
I was so excited about the eggplant. I love to use eggplant in almost anything because it is so versatile; I usually use it in place of animal proteins because of its thick, meaty texture- that means stews, sauces, sandwiches and other meals I would usually prepare with meat get eggplant instead. So I went ahead and prepared a Thai green curry with eggplant (and literally every other vegetable I could use up) and an eggplant parm inspired gnocchi (the gnocchi I got off iHerb.com). Both lasted me a few meals each. I contemplated making baba ganoush, but opted instead for a couple meals with more vitality.
Cucumber is so common that I doubted whether or not I should include it in this post. However, I got really excited about making one of my favorite summer salads: salatat laban wa kh’yar (in Arabic), or, cucumber yogurt salad. It was really difficult for me to find the right yogurt for this recipe (if anyone knows where to order quality, preferably home made greek yogurt, hit me up!) so the yogurt I used was not as thick as this salad usually calls for. There are five ingredients here: cucumber, plain yogurt, dried mint (you can use fresh) garlic and salt. All to taste. Since the yogurt was runny, I only just coated the cucumber, but normally the bowl would be full.
My absolute favorite Korean side dish are pickled vegetables. When I saw onion and green pepper in the box, that’s immediately what came to mind. Together with some garlic that I received the week before, I made my very own. I combined everything in one container, boiled the pickling brine and poured it over top. I let it sit for a few days in the fridge before tasting, so all the brine could really soak in. Since I like my pickled veggies a little sweeter and more sour than what I’ve tasted in the restaurants, I added a little more vinegar and sugar than the recipe called for: 2 cups water, one cup soy sauce, and somewhere between a quarter and a half cup each of vinegar and sugar.
Finally, I used all the perilla leaves I received to make perilla leaf pesto. I’ve been eating pesto or some version of it for 2 months now thanks to Gachi, and I’m not complaining (is there such a thing as too much pesto? No. There isn’t). It’s the exact same recipe as basil pesto, except sub perilla leaves for basil. It tastes very similar, and the perilla leaf flavour, usually overpowering, comes out subtly and smoothly. I tried it a variety of different ways: hot with whole wheat linguine, for a more western feel, and cold with buckwheat noodles, topped with cucumber and eaten with a side of pickled radish, for a more summery Korean noodle feel. Both were great. I didn’t take any pictures, because it looks exactly like basil pesto, (which isn’t very interesting) and everyone knows what that looks like.
What came of the blueberries and buchu? I mixed them into random meals at random times.
So I guess I’m still very much enamored with my community supported agriculture. The box I received this week is even more exciting, challenging and inspiring than what was featured in this post, and I look forward to continuing my culinary endeavors and sharing them. Have you subscribed yet?
We can easily forget as foreigners living in Korea that we are living in a forcibly divided country still at war. Join the ISC in a reunification tour to explore regions of significance to the inter-Korean conflict. You can sign up at http://bit.ly/1eTvmEL
By Taryn Assaf
If you’ve been thinking about purchasing a share in a CSA, then you likely already know what they are and how they function. If you don’t (from wikipedia: far more eloquent than me):
“A CSA is an alternative, locally based economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA also refers to a particular network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they periodically receive shares of produce.”
“CSAs generally focus on the production of high quality foods for a local community, often using organic or biodynamic farming methods, and a shared risk membership–marketing structure. This kind of farming operates with a much greater degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders than usual — resulting in a stronger consumer-producer relationship. The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole season’s budget in order to get quality foods.”
CSA theory was developed around three main goals:
“· New forms of property ownership: the idea that land should be held in common by a community through a legal trust, which leases the land to farmers
- New forms of cooperation: the idea that a network of human relationships should replace the traditional system of employers and employees
- New forms of economy: that the economy should not be based on increasing profit, but should be based on the actual needs of the people and land involved in an enterprise”
Is it worth it to buy your produce from a CSA? If you believe in this economic model of agriculture, then you may very well think so. I had been wondering for some time, and finally decided to buy a share in Gachi (formerly WWOOF) CSA. I chose the basic couple’s basket, which delivers a weekly share of eggs, one type of fruit and a variety of vegetables to your door. You can expect different produce every week, and the produce changes seasonally.
I asked the folks at Gachi if they could send me one box every two weeks, as opposed to one a week, and they happily obliged. I’ll be receiving a box bi-weekly for the next three months, and I’d like to share my thoughts, recipes and reasons for purchasing with you so that you can decide for yourself whether you’d like to support community agriculture.
Spoiler: It’s totally worth it.
To begin, Gachi is not the only CSA offering delivery in Korea, although it is the only strictly English one doing so. You can read about a couple other options in my previous post: Korean Peasants Sow the Seeds of Nation’s Food Sovereignty
Why did I choose Gachi? Above all, because they offered the easiest English option available. With my limited Korean skills, it was much easier for me to access than the other options out there. However, it is relatively limited in terms of items to choose from: while the selection is fairly good, (they offer add-ons of meat, fruit, juice, snacks and bread) they still lack options for seasonings, sauces, and processed foods (they do offer some, just not as many as other groups). However, if you know where to go for quality sides and seasonings, then Gachi is still, in my opinion, the best option for English speakers.
On to the food.
Note: If you don’t cook at home often (like, every day) this is probably way, way too much food for one person per week. Hence the two-week option.
In my first box, I received: 6 eggs, cherry tomatoes, arugula (rocket), 2 cucumbers, 1 zucchini, 2 heads of iceberg lettuce, about 2 cups of basil, a variety of ssam (lettuce and cabbage leaves), green gochu peppers and bok choy. There was green everywhere and I loved it. (apologies, my pictures are NOT of professional foodie status; but trust the meals tasted yum)
No, I didn’t just eat salad every day, though I definitely could have. Over the two weeks, I managed to use the greens fairly diversely, along with other ingredients I already had to make my meals more balanced. I’m not a vegetarian, but I absolutely whipped up some vegan/vegetarian delights, although some of what I’m going to share with you contains animal protein.
The first thing I made was a large pot of dwenjang soup with the bok choy and green gochu. I added mushrooms that I bought from the market. No pics, but it was enough to feed 6 guests I had for lunch. I could have easily split it up for smaller portions of any soup or stir-fry.
I used some zucchini to make zoodles (zucchini noodles) and whipped up a salmon dish. The zoodles were mixed with carrots and stewed tomatoes, both of which I had lying around. I seared the salmon in lemon butter:
I used the rest of the zucchini to make zucchini chips.
First thing I thought of when I saw the basil: pesto (recipe here. note: you can sub pine nuts with walnuts and pecorino cheese with parm or romano cheese). 2 cups of basil made a load of pesto: I ate pesto pasta for 3 meals this week, and froze the rest. In my first pesto pasta, I sautéed the cherry tomatoes; in my second, I mixed some greens in, and in the final, I seared some Hanu as a nice topper:
I used the remainder of the basil, some ssam leaves, green gochu and some cucumber as an inspiration for vegan rice paper rolls, accompanied by some peanut sauce. I added carrot, mushrooms, and mint that I had in my fridge.
I used my now wilting greens to make a warm salad. First, I sautéed some onion and garlic in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then, I added the greens and let them wilt. I tossed some roasted potatoes in for good measure as well. (Tip for your greens: wash them immediately and then transfer them into an airtight container. They’ll keep for longer in the fridge this way)
The eggs I ate nearly immediately: 6 eggs was not enough. I did make a lovely kyeran jjim (egg stew), though.
All in all, I feel great about supporting Gachi farmers. I’m (partially) engaging in a model of agriculture I believe in, and the food is damn good. The box is not meant as a total substitute for your diet. You need to supplement in order to create well balanced meals, although it is a wonderful foundation that inspired me to be more creative with my cooking. I can’t wait to see what comes next week! I hope this post has made the decision easier for some, and that it has introduced others to a more responsible food system. But to everyone, no matter what you choose, I must say, bon-appetit!
The South Jeolla Province’s Haenam region has become one of the most popular areas in Korea for the growing number of people choosing to leave the cities and returning to the country’s rural areas to farm. Haenam’s Misae village is a community of young farmers living and working together to build a new way of life. Join the ISC’s Monthly Open Lecture Series as we take part in the village’s farming, learn about why people are returning to the land, and speak with Misae’s villagers about their vision for farming and a more sustainable future. To register, please visit http://bit.ly/1KZAqRt