CSA in Korea

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Two Septembers ago, I went on a Slow Food tour in Namyangju, the largest organic farming district in South Korea. At the time, there weren’t any CSA options available in Korea, but a lot of people on that tour vocalized interest. Though I’d love to say I’ve made valiant effort to seek out food that’s been grown responsibly since moving here, the truth is that I’ve let go. I get fruits and vegetables from the woman who sells them across the street, but for all I know, they could be coming from the same supplier that delivers to the bigger groceries across the city. The demand for organic food in Seoul is still pretty low, but interest is steadily growing. We’re about to have the opportunity to be part of a community that supports responsible farming and aims to foster a relationship between farmers and consumers, where both parties share in the risks and rewards of growing and eating clean food. This is the heart of CSA.

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In late January, WWOOF Korea will launch the country’s first Community Supported Agriculture initiative, making it possible to purchase fair, organic products from affiliated farms. As part of their launch, they sent sample boxes to a group of cooks for review and asked us each to come up with a recipe using its contents. How cool is that?

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With CSA, you get exactly what’s grown locally, which means the stuff in your box is always seasonal, the distance it travels minimal. You order a whole box, but not any specific products. There are opportunities to request specific fruits and vegetables at monthly CSA meetings or by visiting the farm in person, whereby the requests are taken into account for the following season. For me, the surprise of not knowing exactly what’ll arrive, the convenience of doorstep delivery and the assurance that farmers are receiving fair prices and growing food free of chemical pesticides all outweigh the alternative of selecting exactly what I want at the grocery store. My good friend Habiba and I teamed up to cook our way through one of these taster boxes, and had a blast while doing it.

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In our box, there were potatoes, apples, garlic, onions, carrots, oyster mushrooms, and lettuce, all wrapped so that we could stick them straight in the fridge if we wanted to. I liked the variety–all very versatile items, but more seasonal and regional fruits and vegetables would have been even better (like pears, persimmons, different kinds of greens and herbs, even beans–things special to Korea).

There were six eggs, two loaves of bread, petite loaves of yuja poundcake, coleslaw, and tofu chips. Since both of us were getting ready to leave for separate vacations, we had to use everything in our recipes or it would have spoiled. And we did. Everything except the coleslaw, tofu chips, and poundcake, that is, which were well gone before the day was over.

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While I got to work on the apples and onions for chutney, Habiba stuck the oil-slicked mushrooms in the oven to roast, but not before showering them with salt and cracked pepper. Once they’d browned, she blitzed them with some roasted garlic, doenjang and olive oil until the paste was as smooth as a pâté. And then! We stuck in the last heel of walnut potato bread to toast for breadcrumbs that we’d add to the latkes.

We quickly sautéed all the salad greens from the box in a bit of hot oil and finished them with a squirt of lemon. We set those aside and poached two eggs while toasting sliced bread in the broiler. When our bread was nice and warm, we slathered on a layer of mushroom pâté, curled around leaves of sautéed lettuce next, set a poached egg over that, and grated parmesan cheese and cracked pepper over it all.

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Habiba shaved the carrots and potatoes for the latkes and mixed in a couple of eggs, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper. Then she fried them. We stacked trios of warm latkes under mounds of spiced chutney. And we ate.

(Hop over to Habiba’s most inspiring site for the latkes and mushroom pâté recipes!)

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For more information about WWOOF CSA Korea, or to place an order for your own box or weekly/monthly share, contact wwoofcsa@wwoofsca.com or visit www.wwoofcsa.com.

Apple and Onion Chutney
5 apples
1 onion
1 tablespoon pickling spice (or mix of peppercorns, mustard seeds, whole cloves, fennel seeds, and cinnamon stick)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
juice squeezed from one orange or 2-3 tangerines
handful of dried cranberries
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup water or more

Add all ingredients to a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Allow to simmer uncovered for about an hour, while stirring occasionally, until apples have broken apart and gone past the point of soft. Add additional water in small amounts if the liquid evaporates at any point before the chutney is finished. Cool before storing in the fridge, tightly covered, for up to two weeks.

Greens, egg, and mushroom garlic pâté on toast
1 thick slice of bread, toasted
thick spread of garlic mushroom pâté (recipe here)
greens sautéed quickly with lemon and olive oil
1 poached egg

Layer, in the order above, and sprinkle with grated parmesan and cracked black pepper.

*It’s not totally clear to me if a pureed spread of vegetables can rightly be called a pâté, since pâté is defined as a “mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste,” or so says Wikipedia. But if you consider the real thing, and its opposing qualities of minimal aesthetic appeal and total bliss on the tongue, or the unconditionally smooth texture of a pâté made with, I don’t know, duck liver, and if a similar treatment of mushrooms and garlic can yield the same drab gray but silky, pillowy spread, I’m going to go with yes. Yes it can. The addition of doenjang, a fermented soybean paste used widely in Korean cuisine, probably toes the line, but the salty punch of acidity it added was totally worth the risk.