Ways to join the pantry reduction plan

Quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and parsley on a bed of arugula is surprisingly simple to make. BY JACK CLEMONS
March 26, 2012

Inspiration for this article came from a demonstration I was invited to present at the East Coast Garden Center; it has been rescheduled from earlier this week to later this summer. Check the Cordrey Center ads in the Cape Gazette for the new date.

Earlier this week we marked the official start of spring and embarked on a cleaning project that begins in the kitchen. My friend Marie named it the pantry reduction act, a self-imposed restriction against buying groceries until what’s on hand has been depleted. There are a few different ways to interpret the rules.

The more lenient approach allows the occasional supermarket run to collect key perishables like milk and eggs while you eat your way through overstocked cabinets. Another version sets a target number of pantry items (something between 15 and 20) that must be eaten each week before anything fresh may be brought into the house.

Our version is almost draconian in comparison - we don’t buy anything canned, dried, bottled, frozen or freezer-bound until the current supplies have left the shelves. (There is also the unplanned variation, when you just don’t make it to the grocery and have to rely on what’s still around). As you may imagine, meal planning becomes a bit of a challenge.

The first few days are fairly straightforward because there are plenty of choices, especially when there’s produce still hidden in the crisper. But, after a while, we lose our enthusiasm for some of the less-familiar ingredients we’re forced to add to the menu. Once, I was ready to grind adzuki beans into face powder, rather than find another recipe for them.

Although I couldn’t remember why I’d originally bought them, they seemed well suited to star in a soup or simmer to serve over rice. Reddish brown in color, adzuki beans have a white ridge along one side; they become completely red and almost round in shape when cooked. I enjoyed their slightly nutty flavor in the soup, but don’t know if eating them reduced the dark circles under my eyes as one website claimed they would.

Quinoa benefited from its use early in the pantry reduction process, since we still had fresh tomatoes, a slightly soft cucumber and a handful of green onion. You can make this pretty salad (see photo) taste even more like tabbouleh with the addition of mint, garlic and lots more parsley. For lunch the following day, I tossed the leftovers with tofu sautéed in sesame oil, a nice contrast of crunchy and soft textures; another tasty mix-in would be chunks of feta cheese.

The method of preparing this salad can be adapted for almost any pantry-lurkers such as barley, rice, orzo or couscous. To start, cook the main ingredient until tender and drain off any excess water. Whisk the oil, lemon juice and vinegar together until emulsified, then toss in the vegetables and herbs. This allows you to minimize the amount of oil by using the vegetable juices to stretch the liquid in the dressing before adding the grains.

Some of our more interesting meals involved unexpected combinations like smoked sausage sautéed with sliced potatoes in a mustard sauce, pork chops simmered on a bed of seasoned lentils and beef stew made with V8 instead of chopped tomatoes. The process of clearing the pantry not only helped us make room for fresh provisions, but also pushed the boundaries of some of our habitual food choices.

The only challenge I couldn’t overcome was missing fresh fruit. The idea of canned peaches as a replacement for sliced bananas on a bowl of cereal was just not appealing first thing in the morning. However, the peaches vanished into a cobbler without complaint.

Adzuki Bean Soup
2 C dried adzuki beans
2 T cumin
1 t pepper
1 T olive oil
2 carrots
1 diced onion
2 T minced ginger
3 minced garlic cloves
juice of 1 lime
3 T chopped cilantro
salt, to taste

Soak the beans overnight in a large pot of cold water. Drain the soaking water and add enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and remove from heat; drain the water. Add 2 quarts of fresh water, along with the cumin and pepper; simmer for 30 minutes. Sauté the onion, carrots, ginger and garlic in the olive oil for about 10 minutes over low heat. Stir the onion mixture into the soup and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Before serving, add lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste.

Quinoa Salad
2 1/2 C cooked quinoa
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 T minced parsley
1 diced cucumber
1 pt halved cherry tomatoes
3 sliced green onions
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar in a serving bowl. Stir in the parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and green onions. Add the cooked quinoa and toss until combined. Season to taste; serve warm or chilled.

Easy Peach Cobbler
8 T butter
1 C sugar
1 C milk
1 C self-rising flour
12-oz can sliced peaches

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place butter in a soufflé pan and melt in the oven. Meanwhile, combine sugar, milk and flour in a mixing bowl. When butter has melted completely, remove pan from the oven and pour batter over butter. DO NOT STIR. Drain peaches, discarding liquid. Scatter peaches onto the batter. DO NOT STIR. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

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