Test-Driving (And Cooking) Sun Basket

I made this for dinner from a Sun Basket cooking kit.

I made this for dinner from a Sun Basket cooking kit.

There are enough meal delivery start-ups these days to make your head spin and your stomach growl over just which are worth ordering — if any.

When I was invited to try out a free delivery by San Francisco’s Sun Basket, I was swayed to do so by a couple of factors.

First, the recipes for the cooking kits were developed by Justine Kelly, former executive chef at The Slanted Door in San Francisco. Second, the quality of ingredients is impressive. The kits include organic, seasonal ingredients from highly regarded purveyors such as Dirty Girl, Far West Funghi, Water 2 Table, and Marin Sun.

Sun Basket was founded by Adam Zbar, a serial entrepreneur who found himself 50 pounds overweight from binging on burgers and pizza like so many young techies. That led him to develop meal kits that would make it easier for busy people to cook nutritious dinners at home.

All you do is go on the site a week ahead of time to order your weekly delivery, which consists of three different meals that you choose from Sun Basket’s menu. Each recipe is designed to take about 30 minutes to prepare, and has 500 to 800 calories per serving. There are also gluten-free, paleo and vegetarian options. Each meal is $9.99 per person.

Sun Basket currently delivers to California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona and Utah. The box can be sent to your home or office — free of charge. As of now, the company is delivering only on Wednesdays. It plans to add other days in the future.

I chose: “Seared Pork and Endive with Plum and Caramelized Onion,” “Seared Salmon in Chraimeh Sauce with Cabbage Slaw,” and “Grilled Shrimp and Watermelon-Feta Salad with Corn and Lime Butter.”

While you need to provide simple items such as olive oil, salt and pepper, everything else for the recipes comes in the box with each dish's ingredients divided into three brown bags.

While you need to provide simple items such as olive oil, salt and pepper, everything else for the recipes comes in the box with each dish’s ingredients divided into three brown bags.

The ingredients for the salmon dish, along with the recipe card.

The ingredients for the salmon dish, along with the recipe card.

Everything arrived in an insulated container along with ice packs. Indeed, the plethora of packaging is one of the first things you notice. Everything is packaged separately — from a small piece of fresh ginger to each individual spice to a little plastic baggie holding a few fresh mint leaves. It’s almost a little alarming in scope. But Sun Basket does allow you to return the box and ice packs by affixing a U.S. Postal Service return label and leaving it for your postal delivery person or arranging a pick-up online.

I started with the salmon. I was glad to see it was not farmed, but wild. The recipe directions were clear and the recipe straightforward. The cooking time on the salmon fillets of 2 to 4 minutes on each side in a hot saute pan, then another 5 minutes once you combine the fish with the sauce in the pan, was on the mark. The salmon ended up still a little pink in the center, which is exactly how you want it.

The chraimeh sauce was an easy-to-make mixture of shallot, garlic, serrano chile, tomato paste and Israeli spice mix (Aleppo, sweet paprika, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, and sugar). It’s a lusty sauce that’s complex, full of earthiness, and pretty spicy, even when I opted to use only half of the serrano. While I loved the taste of the sauce, I thought it overwhelmed the lush taste of the salmon. And there was a lot of sauce. Wild salmon has such a wonderful, distinctive flavor that you want to really enjoy it. I think I would have preferred this sauce paired with a different fish, perhaps one like halibut.

The resulting salmon in chraimeh sauce with cabbage slaw.

The resulting salmon in chraimeh sauce with cabbage slaw.

The pork in the next dish was sourced from Niman Ranch and the plums were the first of the season. This was essentially a one-pan dish. The pork sirloin cutlets cooked up nicely juicy in the saute pan. You removed them to a baking pan in a warm oven while you used that same pan to caramelize endive halves. Then, you added the endive to the oven, while you used that same pan again to cook the plums with ginger, onions and Aleppo pepper. When the plums softened and started to release their juices, it made for an easy pan sauce that really complemented the pork. I could definitely see re-using this sauce idea for pork chops or a roast pork loin.

Lastly, there was the shrimp dish. Again, it was nice to see that the shrimp were wild-caught ones. Even though it was late-May, which I thought was a little early for watermelon, the wedge included was plenty sweet.

I admit I deviated from the recipe instructions here. It said to bring 4 cups of water to boil in a saucepan to cook one ear of corn. I thought, “Why bother using a pot and using that water when I don’t need to, especially in a drought?” Instead, I just microwaved the corn  until tender, then proceeded with the rest of the directions to sear it on a saute pan before smearing it with the cilantro-lime butter that came already prepared in a little plastic container.

Watermelon and feta are made for each other, what with the sweetness of the fruit complemented by the salinity of the cheese. The two were tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, mint leaves and pumpkin seeds for a bright and beautiful accompaniment.

This dish was a true taste of summer. It made you think you were on a picnic.

The finished shrimp dish.

The finished shrimp dish.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients and the satisfying taste of the dishes, which were easy to prepare on a weeknight.

Cooking from kits can hem you in, though, in terms of what you eat, allowing for less spontaneity. For instance, what if you wake up one day, craving something Mexican or Japanese, but none of your meals scheduled that week offer those ethnic flavors? You can put off making the meal kit for another day. You can also freeze the protein for later use; but you can’t do that easily with a lot of the accompanying herbs and produce.

Still, I can see how the kits would appeal to plenty of people who want to cook their own food, but don’t want to bother with (or have the time for) the shopping and prepping.

If you want to give it a try, Sun Basket is now offering $20 off your first box ordered. Click here for details.

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