October 3, 2015
Today, it rains. It rained before I rose this morning, it is raining as I write these words, and it will rain long after I’ve retired for the night. Or so the weather people told me as I sipped my tea this morning, flipping through the channels in hopes that maybe someone would say otherwise. No luck, though. It was rain yesterday, will be rain again tomorrow. So far I have but one primary observation of this new month of October: it rains. With talk of hurricanes and flooding about, we (the denizens of the mid-Atlantic region), are being gently urged to stay in our homes, avoid driving in certain areas unless completely necessary, and to go ahead and stock up on the essentials at the store, just in case. The essentials.
What exactly are my essentials? Do I need to go get more? My impulses were telling me that yes, yes I need to go get more food. I wondered these things, as I watched Easton cram fistfuls of Cheerios into his mouth as fast as his chubby fingers would allow. He gave me a big, proud grin and offered a little pigeon-like giggle. Cheerios would most definitely make his short list of essentials, but what about mine? I wandered into the kitchen and began surveying the contents of both fridge and pantry. Amidst the boxes, bags, and cans I saw a lot of things that I’d been meaning to use for ages as well as several partially-used items that would probably never be finished. My cabinet doors weren’t even closing all the way, they were so crammed with food. This isn’t good … this isn’t good at all. Lucas is always challenging me to just cook with what I have on hand, and I’ve always got the best of intentions to do so, but I grocery shop like I’m a kid in a candy store, ogling the food and fantasizing about the myriad ways in which I can use it. On any given shopping trip you can usually find me throwing things into the cart, my impulsive moves based purely on looks and dreams and recipes that I might be able to make at some point. So alas, there I stood, gawking sheepishly at the overabundance in shame and embarrassment. Why are you going to the store?!? We have TONS of food in this house, Lauren! Treat this like it’s a game. You’re good at this game! Just try to figure out recipes to make with the stuff we’ve got. YOU CAN DO IT. Lucas’ enthusiastic suggestions are not unlike those I offer to Elle when I’m trying to coax her into cleaning her room …
This is the clean-up game! You’re the best cleaner, Elle. Ready, set, clean! This only works about 50% of the time. But for me, as I stood there staring ashamedly at the overflowing larder with which my cabinets and cupboards were stocked, Lucas’ encouraging words began to fire off in my brain like they were caught in a pinball machine. I didn’t need to go shopping for essentials, my kitchen was (and usually is) already filled with them. I just need to get a better handle on things, I thought to myself. I need to do something about this. I need to cook my food.
Like soldiers reporting for duty, I lined up items on my countertop, arranging and sliding them into small groups. “Wow I have a lot of random grains,” I said aloud, causing Easton to pause momentarily in his Cheerio-thon to stare at me quizzically. It’s like he was thinking, of course you have too many grains, Mom! Let’s be honest, we really only need one, and it rhymes with “Meerios.” I can’t even remember why I bought the spelt and amaranth … I’m sure I had the grandest of plans …
Next in line were the canned beans. Who doesn’t have a bunch of canned beans? There were black beans, there were white beans, there were red and green and chili beans. There were beans from the great white north. The bean cans were bookended by multiple cans of pumpkin, because it’s October and I’m a conformist.
On to the fridge I went, where I found drawers filled with produce, most of which is happily consumed by my fruit and vegetable-loving daughter. But I had bags of greens that were doomed to go bad if I didn’t find a fate for them soon. Kale, primarily. A big bag of flaky onions threatened to drown its fellow drawer cohabitants in skin shards if I didn’t come to their aid. So, I extracted the onions from the fridge, giving the drawer a good clean-out as I did. The kale came too, and the bones of a few recipes began to take shape. Outside the rain continued to fall, in case you were wondering.
I stared at my neatly arranged piles of food and realized that I had a lot of the same types of things: grains, canned vegetables, greens, miscellaneous mixed produce. There was rhyme and there was some semblance of reason. Were these my essentials? Maybe so. Maybe I’m not such a pitiful shopper after all … maybe I needn’t be so embarrassed by the state of my shelves? Maybe my problem wasn’t so much that I had too many random things as it was that I didn’t have enough essential, reliable, go-to recipes to help me use them up in a timely fashion. So, upon this realization I went to the drawing board (my little brown recipe/doodling book) and started to sketch out the makings of some simple, easy, and straightforward recipes – essential recipes – that could help put some of my excess pantry fare to use on a more frequent and regular basis.
I’m not sure what is more essential to the modern American diet than soup, salad and sandwiches. This trifecta of dietary essentialism accounts for much of what most of us seek as go-tos when we’re in a pinch. The salad, soup and bonus sandwich patties that are featured here are three of my favorite results of that brainstorming session to which I referred above, because they work well as they are but are also very easy to bend and mold to whatever you might happen to have on hand. That was the point, after all. Don’t have any kale on hand? Try chard instead, and while you’re at it, go ahead and throw in the half-bag of arugula that’s been staring you in the face for the past three days. You can use almost any type of bean in each of the recipes and if you like, you can use other grains in place of the quinoa. I had two bags of partially used quinoa (how, I don’t know) so it was the right choice for my purposes, but you could use bulgur, barley, rice of various types, farro, millet, amaranth, etc. If you have butternut squash on your hands, you can even puree it and use it as you would the canned pumpkin. These are guideline-type recipes that thrive on interpretation, I think; handy to have in your arsenal when you’re lacking in inspiration and overflowing with foodstuffs. Sometimes it’s nice to have the thinking done for you before the situation hits, and that’s where much of the value in these recipes resides. I know that at almost any given time on any given day, I can walk into my kitchen and make any one of them because I almost always have some combination of their ingredients on hand. These, I concluded, are my essentials. Essential ingredients, essential recipes.
For a rainy day or otherwise.
These recipes (are intended to) show the versatility of simple, everyday, essential pantry and fridge ingredients. Starting with five core things (black beans, pumpkin, kale, quinoa, red onion), these two recipes only require a few other additional ingredients to complete. Whether you’re a soup person, a salad person, or both – these recipes can easily be adapted and tweaked to reflect your favorite flavors and vegetables.
** To take things an extra step, you can even process cooked quinoa, black beans, a bit of diced onion, kale, a bit of salt, and some of the canned pumpkin (to bind) in a food processor to create a mixture that can be formed into flat patties, dredged in flour and sauteed in some olive or coconut oil. These fantastic pumpkin – black bean burgers were made in my kitchen as an afterthought, long after I’d photographed this post. But they were so good that they deserved a mention. I’ve posted my recipe for those as well. **
Kale, Black Bean & Quinoa Salad with Creamy Pumpkin Dressing
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to the package directions
6 cups kale (any variety you like), washed and roughly chopped if needed
1/2 red onion, sliced (or less if you prefer, this isn’t exact here)
1 cup (give or take) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree’
1/2 cup coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
2.5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablepsoons half and half (or mayonnaise if you prefer, have it on hand, etc.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
for the salad: In a large bowl, combine the kale, sliced red onion, black beans, and quinoa. Feel free to add any extra ingredients here as you see fit. I added radishes and some cucumber because I had them and I like them – but you could add whatever you have on hand, or nothing else at all. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
Pour some of the dressing – conservatively at first – over the salad ingredients in the bowl and toss to coat. Use as much or as little dressing as you like. Or, alternatively, you could serve the salad and let everyone dress theirs individually. The leftover dressing will last about a week or two in the fridge in a sealed container.
for the dressing: Combine the pumpkin puree, oil, vinegar, and half and half in a blender or in a lidded jar. Cover and blend or shake until everything is well mixed. Taste and adjust for seasoning; season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like a tangier dressing, by all means add more vinegar! Not the consistency you like? You can add more pumpkin to thicken or more oil to thin as needed. Salad dressings are easy to tweak to your specifications so long as you’ve got the base ingredients down.
Simple Pumpkin & Black Bean Soup with Crumbled Kale Chips and Crispy Quinoa
2, 15-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, plus 3 tablespoons coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated)
15-ounce can pure pumpkin, unsweetened
4 – 5 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock (depending on the consistency you like)
1.5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups kale leaves (stems removed where needed)
1 cup cooked quinoa
Salt and pepper, to taste
Puree the black beans in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a med-large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion, garlic, cumin, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and some pepper to taste. Stir to coat everything evenly and saute’ for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin and pureed black beans and stir to combine and to break everything up. Stir in the stock and the vinegar. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve with crumbled kale chips and crispy quinoa piled on top.
for the kale chips: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toss the kale in about 1 teaspoon of oil and arrange on a baking sheet in an even layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until lightly golden brown and crispy, about 5 – 6 minutes or so.
for the crispy quinoa: Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to a medium skillet over med-high heat. Add the cooked cup of quinoa to the skillet and saute, stirring frequently, for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until browned and crispy.
Black Bean, Kale & Quinoa Patties
These are great served on buns as veggie burgers or just atop some greens with a light dressing.
15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup diced red onion
4 cups kale
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Flour for coating (all purpose, self-rising, gluten free flour, whole wheat, rice flour, chickpea flour – all of these work)
1 – 2 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil for frying
DIRECTIONS: Combine the first seven ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined (this doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, just a homogeneous mixture). Scoop into balls of equal size and form these balls into flattened patties (like croquettes). Toss these patties in a light coating of flour and fry, on both sides, in a non-skillet over med-high heat in a tablespoon or two of oil (fry for about 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown).