My enthusiasm for cooking these days is a moving target. Maybe it’s the exhaustion of sampling from the daily platter of quarantine-inspired emotions.
Maybe it’s the vagaries of my teenagers’ taste buds. Sometimes, cooking for my family feels like a touchstone of normalcy, a way to contribute. Other times, wrangling a meal out of the limited confines of dried lentils, frozen venison sausage and the last wedge of raw cabbage is daunting. But, I do like the challenge.
There’s a misguided homesteader in me who enjoys gathering food from every corner of the property, as long as on Day 14 I can heartily resupply at the grocery store. As I write, I’m currently on Day 12, which is where meals start getting interesting. Last night’s pizza featured a few errant sweet potato chunks, courtesy of the pizza sauce recommissioned from a previous night’s pasta sauce, which absorbed the leftover sweet potatoes from breakfast.
We gaze into the well-mapped depths of our fridges hoping for new discoveries, and what we actually need is a fresh dose of creativity and resourcefulness. The longer we stretch our groceries, the more we contribute to the safety of our community. And, we might learn some new skills. Here are some suggestions for adaptable eating on quarantine.
Order of Operations: In the first few days post shopping, focus on short-shelf-life produce. Devour salads, lavish cucumber slices on everything and eat berries raw for breakfast, letting apocalypse-proof cabbages roll around the crisper. By week two, hearty, enduro-vegetables like winter squash, carrots, celery, beets and sweet potatoes become indispensable players on the field of nutrition. And while bananas and avocados are at peak ripeness for approximately two minutes, seek out apples and citrus, which play the long game.A little something extra: Buy something deeply flavorful, like ginger root, green chiles or sun-dried tomatoes to up the pizazz on meals. Brigid Hunt, Southwest Program Associate of Cooking Matters (a program offering tools for families seeking to prepare healthy, affordable meals), suggests keeping limes or lemons on hand because “a small squeeze of citrus can punch up a dish.” Hunt also recommends fresh herbs to brighten meals. “A big bunch of parsley can be used little by little over the course of many meals; store herbs stems in a jar of water in fridge.” We recently made the Argentinian dip chimichurri, which took a pile of parsley to 11.
Think outside the recipe box: Recipes undoubtedly provide sentimental value, culinary road maps, and new inspiration. They also keep us trapped in the narrative that the potato leek soup must contain leeks, when substituting chives, onions, shallots, or even a heavy dose of garlic works in new and unexpected ways. Crisis calls for adaptability. We recently substituted butternut squash for cauliflower in our cauliflower-crust pizza and it was so loved, we have a new staple, at least until we have to sub out the squash for what’s currently on hand.Get more out of the same: The soft, feathery leaves of celery are edible and delicious. Broccoli stalks, hard outer layer removed, are crisp and flavorful, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Even cilantro stems have flavor that can be appreciated minced in a soup or stir fry. Rebecca McKibben, Culinary Manager at Manna soup kitchen, now making 2,000 meals per week to-go, suggests saving peels, tops and roots for veggie stock. Add these castoffs to chicken bones and simmer for stock. McKibben suggests buying whole chickens rather than breasts for cost savings and versatility. She recently saved the flavorful liquid from a pot of beans to start a split pea soup. “Think like your grandmother,” she said.
Preserve for later: Consider making pestos with various fresh herbs, or mince herbs, add a splash of olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays, popping out a square of flavor when needed. Because leafy greens are Week 1 fare, buy a couple of bunches kale or spinach, steam, chop and freeze for easy, potent nutrition for the leaner days of quarantine. Shop local and care for others: Farmers are ramping up spring production to serve this community. Until Durango Farmers Market opens May 9, check out Southwestproducers.org for information about how to procure local meat and produce. And if you are lucky enough to have ample access to food, consider making donations to support those who don’t through Manna soup kitchen, Durango Food Bank, Mancos Food Share or Pine River Shares.
If it seems like the culinary skills for these times are ones that honor food, reduce waste, enhance resiliency, adaptability and creativity, then surely these are skills for all times. I believe my family’s taste buds are becoming more appreciative. Incidentally, those dusty lentils, venison sausage and lonely hunk of cabbage made an excellent soup. “Can you make that exact same lentil soup, again?” My 12-year-old daughter asked.
“Probably not, but we’ll become more adaptive with each version.”
ChimichurriChimichurri is an Argentinian sauce to ladle on meat, eggs, rice, potatoes, or anywhere you’re looking for a punch of flavor.Ingredients:3/4 to 1 cup parsley (or part cilantro)1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (or any mild, good tasting vegetable oil)3 teaspoons red wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, lime)3 cloves minced fresh garlic (or 2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 cup minced onion)2 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 tbsp dried oregano, dill, fennel)1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or 1 tsp cayenne, chile powder, or hot sauce)Salt to tasteMethod:
Mince parsley by hand or in blender with all ingredients except olive oil just enough so parsley is minced, not pureed.
Add olive oil by hand.
Store in fridge. Good for 2 to 4 weeks.
Source: Courtesy of Rachel Turiel.