Friday, October 29, 2010

Veggies in the fridge...

...are often made into a joke.  You know, the one about the drawer full of healthy green stuff that rots slowly while the owner eats chips and salsa or crackers and cheese?

I admit to having lost my share of produce to slime, mold, and dessication over the years, and it still happens, but not nearly as often.  What has helped me limit food waste more than anything else is an hour of veggie prep about once weekly.  It's not usually planned, although it could be.  It has become a habit now for days when there's an easy dinner planned - leftovers or a frittata or some other low-labor meal.  In turn, spending this hour prepping vegetables results in quicker dinners for days.

Here's what I did in today's veggie prep time, which took about 90 minutes:
- made parsley-walnut pesto and froze it in small containers.
- cleaned radishes for eating raw.
- steamed bok choy, kale, and tatsoi, separately but serially in the same pot, for freezing. Winter's coming soon and supermarket greens are very disappointing compared to local ones!
- roasted a winter squash (I wash, pierce with a knife, and roast whole, because I value my fingers more than I value cookbook directions to cut and peel first.  It works fabulously!).

On other days I might:
- clean carrots and celery and cut into sticks for lunches.
- lightly steam green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower, also good in lunch.
- wash lettuce or spinach for salads.
- chop other veggies such as onions, bell peppers, jicama, kohlrabi, cabbage for raw eating.
- boil or roast potatoes, or roast other root vegetables.

 What do we do with all those veggies in the fridge?  Prepped veggies are infinitely more useful than those waiting in that crisper drawer.  They're ready for a snack or dinner at any moment.  Yes, some can be purchased that way... but they're simply not as fresh.

Here's a few ways we use those vegetables:
- In salads. From carrot sticks to finely diced carrots in seconds.  Cooked veggies are great on salads, too - steamed kale, boiled potatoes, roasted beets or squash are good whether hot or cold.
- In stir-fries. 
- With dip.  I make a modified version of this ranch dressing - it's far simpler not to drain the yogurt and to use buttermilk powder, and I find that cutting this recipe in half produces an ample quantity.
- On sandwiches.
- In soups, stews, chilis.
- On tacos or burritos (we always use diced cabbage, red if available, for these, instead of lettuce.  Also good: sauteed onions and peppers; finely-chopped raw carrots or summer squash; cooked greens; roasted root vegetables).

If you relax and pay attention to the task at hand, you can even allow the vegetable prep time to double as some daily mindfulness!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Bean - Butternut Squash Chili with Chipotle Squash Seeds

1 lb. dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 t. cumin seed
2 T. dried red bell pepper
3 bay leaves
1 medium or large butternut squash
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large green bell peppers, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
15 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 c. frozen corn or more to taste
2 t. powdered cumin
2 t. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
splash of balsamic vinegar and/or honey to adjust flavors as needed
fresh cilantro, washed and cleaned
powdered chipotle pepper
cheddar cheese if desired

Drain the black beans in the morning and put into a 5-quart crockpot on high.  Cover with water; add cumin seed, dried bell pepper, and bay leaves.  Check after a couple of hours to see if more water is needed.    If you're going to leave them all day, reduce heat to low.

About 2 hours before dinner, or a day ahead of time if you want to have the squash prepped, wash the squash and poke a couple of holes in it.  Roast at 400F on a baking sheet for about an hour.   Remove from oven, slice off the top and bottom, split down the middle lengthwise, and allow to cool enough to handle.

Take the seeds out of the squash and set aside.  Peel the squash and cut into cubes.  Place squash cubes back on the baking sheet, add a little olive oil, and toss.  Return to oven for about 15 minutes.   Put the bell pepper pieces on another baking sheet and roast for about 5-10 minutes - you'll know when they're done.  Don't let them get too blistered.

Add the squash and the bell pepper to the chili.  Add remaining ingredients at this time, except for the vinegar/honey.

While the chili is cooking, clean the squash seeds.  Put on a baking sheet and bake in the oven to drive off the moisture.  If the oven is still at 400, this will only take about 5 minutes and the seeds will burn quickly.  Adjust oven temp as needed for any other cooking that's happening, such as cornbread to go with the chili.  Remove seeds from the oven, stir around, add a little olive oil, chipotle pepper powder, and salt.  Return to oven until lightly toasted, then remove and let cool.

Taste the chili and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve the chili with fresh cilantro, the chipotle squash seeds, and, if desired, grated cheddar cheese.