We don’t plan it all/ ‘Cause making it up is so natural”
— “Buy Nothing Day,” by the Go! Team, from 2011’s Rolling Blackouts
In the past couple weeks, I’ve been making more of an effort to use up what I already have around my apartment instead of picking up a few extra groceries: I begrudgingly opened a box of cereal instead of buying missing ingredients to make more granola, I dug out a can of black beans that had been hiding on my shelf; finished up a box of quinoa; and used up random chunks of cheese scattered in my fridge. It’s definitely saved me a few bucks this month, not to mention I’m not letting anything go to waste. Below is a quick guide to using up some common foods you probably have sitting on your shelves and in your fridges — veggies, beans, herbs, nuts, and grains.
Of course there’s the literalness of a song called “Buy Nothing Day” — the goal is to not have to purchase any extra ingredients for these dishes — but the lyric about not planning is relevant, too (even if that’s a little creative interpretation on my part…). When you’re left with just a few things in the pantry, making dinner is not a matter of following rigid instructions or recipes — it’s about making do with what you have. Also, the peppy, cheerleader-esque qualities of the Go! Team’s music is sorta how I feel when I pull together a full meal from what seemed like nothing on my shelf in the fridge.
The Go! Team on MySpace
This is a perfect way to use up scraps of fresh veggies, leftover cooked veggies, or even frozen (but thaw them first) — and it can also be totally flexible. Usually when I make it, I’ll eat half for dinner and take the rest to work the next day. To make the one above, I used yellow onion, finished off a carton of button mushrooms, bag of spinach, quarter of a tomato, sliver of jalapeno and a hunk of and Fontina cheese. It’s also great with goat cheese (OK, any cheese really!), olives, bell peppers, tofu…The possibilities are endless.
Ingredients: Veggies, cheese, eggs, milk, spices (like oregano, thyme, dill, basil)
Method: I learned from this fantastic no-fail guide, and now I just do it from memory.
Ingredients: Any veggies, fresh or frozen (onions, scallions, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, peas…).
Method: Toss the veggies in a frying pan with chopped garlic and a little bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.
Pesto doesn’t only have to be basil and pine nuts! Last weekend I had a handful of basil that was on its last legs, plus a fresh bag of spinach, half-eaten bag of almonds, and chunk of Parmesan-like cheese a friend brought over a couple weeks ago. I turned it into pesto that I’ve been eating with quinoa at lunch all week.
Ingredients: Greens (some combination of basil, spinach, etc.), nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, etc.), Parmesan or similar cheese, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper
Method: I used this recipe as a rough guide, but made a smaller batch using 2 cups spinach and 1 cup basil. It’d be easy to replace the spinach with kale (or more basil), and the almonds with walnuts or another type of nut. Then! It can be used with pretty much anything: pasta, quinoa, Israeli couscous, veggies, on a sandwich, with pita or crackers…
I’m not talking microwaveable Garden Burgers. Veggie burgers are easy to make — usually with some combination of beans, eggs, breadcrumbs and veggies. Here are a few I’ve had success with; all easy to make and easily adaptable.
Sweet potato/black bean patties
Pinto bean “falafel”
Chickpea and corn patties
You definitely don’t have to stick to just chickpeas on this one; I’ve made hummus with black beans, cannelini beans and it can even be done with edamame. I don’t have a strict hummus recipe…you really just have to keep adding until you’re happy with the taste and texture.
Ingredients: 1 can of beans, a couple tablespoons or so of tahini, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, salt, paprika and lemon juice to taste, a dollop of plain or Greek yogurt (optional). Other suggestions: add roasted red pepper, kalamata olives, more garlic, different spices.
Method: Puree in a food processor.
LENTILS (OR MORE BEANS, VEGGIES, TOFU)
Another one that’s perfect for veggie scraps, as well as chickpeas, lentils, tofu or seitan for protein. My go-to veggies for curry are onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and spinach, but lots can be used here.
Method: Finely chop the veggies; toss in a pan with minced garlic, oil, and spices (I use lots of curry powder, cumin, turmeric, paprika and cayenne). Thicken with either tomato paste and water or coconut milk, and optionally plain or Greek yogurt, too. Serve with rice or pita.