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Monday, January 4, 2016

MAKING A GOOD MEAL OUT OF THE FRIDGE & PANTRY BEFORE A SHOPPING TRIP

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Last night's dinner
This is going to be blog post with no real recipes, but I thought this would be a good topic for the beginning of the year, when I always reassess how I cook and what I want to work on in the new year. First on my mind as I peered into the refrigerator yesterday evening was what I needed to use up and what I could find to make a tasty meal in a hurry. I know I wasn't the only person in this situation, and the meal I came up with turned out to be pretty darn good, so I thought I might share my process for dealing with such a situation, a situation that can be even more difficult for new vegans.

We are going food shopping tomorrow for the first time in two weeks, so we're getting low on fresh stuff. Brian was going to make his spaghetti sauce for tonight, but what the heck did we have left that I could make into a tasty, quick (and low-fat) meal for last night?

Okay, begin with the easiest part of the meal, the "starch".  We had plenty of potatoes over the holidays, and pasta coming the next day, but I have plenty of grains in the pantry, and after a quick peruse of the shelves, I decided that a Middle Eastern-style bulgur and toasted noodle pilaf would be a good place to start. 10 minutes in my new Instant Pot (1 cup medium bulgur wheat, 1/2 cup Persian toasted noodles [reshteh] 2 1/2 cups vegan broth, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, large pinch dried oregano) and the pilaf is ready. (On the stovetop, in a covered pot-- 20 minutes.)


As is my habit, I began to think about a theme for our meal, and the pilaf gave me the idea to run with Middle Eastern flavors.

That brought me to the vegetable part of the meal.  I had some lovely winter squash given to us by some friends, so I cut and seeded them and divided them into manageable pieces, which I placed in a Pyrex casserole and microwaved for about several minutes (some chunks took longer than others), until softened.  I wracked my brain for what I had to dress them with that would have a Middle Eastern touch.  I love the spice mixture za'atar and always have some in my spice drawer, so I sprinkled the cavities of the squash chunks with the lemony sumac, wild thyme and sesame mixture, spooned in some homemade soy yogurt and drizzled that with some sweet/sour pomegranate molasses.  With my fingers crossed that this combo would be a good one, I placed the squash on a baking tray and popped it into my little counter-top oven to keep hot while I figured out the main dish.

I could have taken some beans out of the freezer, but I had some of my Breast of Tofu (B of T-- recipe here) marinating in the fridge which needed to be used.  So, I coated a few slices with my usual flour mixture (in the same recipe file) and crisped them under the broiler on both sides, while my brain was madly working on how to make a tasty sauce for them with some sort of even vaguely Middle Eastern overtones.

In the end, I sliced up half a green and half a red bell pepper, along with a 1/4 of an onion, some garlic and a few mushrooms. I roasted them quickly under the broiler, allowing some pieces to char a little. I dumped the vegetables into a skillet over high heat and stirred in a mixture of vegan broth (Better than Bouillon No-Chicken vegan broth base), lemon juice and a little white vermouth just to up the umami factor (even though wine isn't generally used in Middle eastern dishes)-- about 1 cup in all. I slipped in the crispy B of T slices and kept cooking them over pretty high heat so that the sauce would cook down and the flour on the slices would help to thicken it.  I added a bit of dried mint and oregano. It tasted pretty good, but it was on the sharp side. It needed toning down.  I thought something milky would help, but I was afraid to add my soy yogurt to the bubbling sauce-- I thought it might curdle.  So I grabbed a carton of So Delicious Original Coconut Creamer (which I know is pretty stable in hot mixtures) and stirred in some until the flavors melded into a tart, creamy, rich-tasting melange.


The sauce made a delicious foil for the mild B of T, which I served over the pilaf. And the squash?  Delicious!


Start to finish, this took about 1/2 an hour.  It wasn't the best meal I've ever made, but I wouldn't have complained if I'd been served it in a restaurant!

Happy New Year!




3 comments:

Hannah Powell said...

This was really useful! I always end up throwing away odd bits of this and that I have left at the end of the week (and I hate myself for doing it).
Trying to be less wasteful this year

Cynthia said...

Hi Bryanna
I loved how you focused on your thinking process here rather than a recipe. I have cooked daily for decades and this entry gave me some pause for thought. And some fresh ideas of how to approach my cooking. Thank you.
Cynthia

Mary said...

Hi Bryanna, I'm glad I came across this post today because you had a lot of great ideas in here. I've been on your blog before for your famous 'buttah' recipe, but this is the first time I've been back. I am not a slouch at pulling together a meal out of ingredients on hand, but what you did in half an hour is amazing. I had never heard of a bulgur/toasted noodle pilaf or indeed even of Persian toasted noodles, so that was good to know. The instant pot also sounds great. I haven't had a working pressure cooker for a long time, and I love my rice cooker but have concerns about the non-stick coating on it, so maybe an instant pot will be in my future. I've seasoned squash with za'atar-- it's good!