On March 9th, we had a Fridge Foraging class with instructor Melissa Pasanen, food writer for Seven Days. Participants learned three different recipes designed to use up the bits and pieces of other meals that tend to accumulate in our fridges. We had quinoa grain bowls topped with roasted veggies, chicken/tofu, quick pickled veggies, and a delicious tahini dressing. Next, everyone assembled Mexican-style bean bakes, one with ground beef and one with black beans, designed to use up any rice left over after you finish your Chinese takeout. Finally, we whipped up a big skillet of shakshuka, a wonderful mix of spiced peppers and tomatoes with eggs poached directly in the skillet and served with crusty bread.
In these uncertain, eventful times, sometimes fridge foraging and cooking from the pantry can be a fun way to spend some time in the kitchen, and maybe even create a new favorite dinner recipe. In that vein, here are some of my favorite recipes that rely on pantry staples and leftovers, and my favorite ways to amp these staples up when you don’t even feel like following a real recipe.
Start with the Basics
I love to make a big pot of a grain (rice, farro, quinoa, etc.) at the beginning of the week and then top a bowl of it with whatever other leftovers I produce with my cooking. Extra roasted veggies, cooked proteins, and sauces from other meals all taste great and seem new and exciting over rice, and I love the versatility of being able to eat these creations hot or cold. The recipe below is one of my favorite ways to make something amazing from a few staples:
We’ve all heard about the benefits of soaking and cooking your own dried beans, and it is a fun kitchen project when you have the time and can plan ahead, but there’s no need to totally disregard the convenience and versatility of canned beans. I always have canned chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans in my pantry, and one of my favorite meals is a chickpea curry: a can of chickpeas, some coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and whatever vegetables have been languishing in the crisper drawer and need rescuing. It’s easy, healthy, and amazing. Or, try replacing half of the meat in some of your favorite recipes with beans for a boost of protein with less fat and more fiber—taco/enchilada fillings are great candidates for such swaps.
I love pasta in all forms. Hand me a bowl of plain pasta, and I’d be happy, but sometimes I crave something more flavorful. The best way to make basic pasta exciting is to add something briny/salty, something creamy, and something punchy and flavorful. Some great combinations that I turn to often are:
- capers, butter, and lemon for a Mediterranean flare
- olives, goat cheese, and red pepper flakes when I want something spicy
- a few crumbled strips of bacon, a fried egg with a runny yolk, and parsley for a breakfast combo
- soy sauce, peanut butter, and scallions/cilantro for an Asian twist that goes well with tofu
The combinations are almost endless and are only limited by what you have in your pantry and fridge, and what flavors you like. I also like searching out recipes for one-pot pastas, where the pasta cooks directly in the sauce and you don’t have to boil it separately, or you can use the same pot for multiple steps—hooray for fewer dishes! This one is a great way to get some veggies with your pasta: http://www.citymarket.coop/recipe/broccoli-rabe-over-pasta
(photo from smittenkitchen.com)
Amp It Up
I love adding fresh herbs to pantry staples to make them taste more vibrant. A single bunch of flat-leaf parsley can add grassy freshness to all sorts of dishes—I shower it liberally on the rice and lentil recipe above, blend it with some olive oil into a sauce to mix into plain rice, top my morning scrambled eggs with a sprinkling, mix it into bean salads for color and vibrancy, and so much more. Love the pine-y bite of rosemary? Chop it finely and add it to the Italian staple pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans), or my personal favorite, pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas). Toss with crispy roasted potatoes, or lay sprigs on top of mild fish as you’re roasting or steaming it to infuse the flavor into your meal. If you’ve got extra herbs that you don’t think you’ll be able to use before they wilt, you can roll them tightly in paper towels and freeze in plastic bags, or chop finely and freeze with some water or olive oil in ice cube trays. Pop a few out when you need them to sauté or stir into other dishes—instant flavor boost!
Sauces and Condiments
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to add more flavor to your fridge-foraged dinner is going with a new sauce or condiment. The tahini dressing that we made in our class with Melissa goes well on all sorts of veggies and protein combinations, and even something as simple as some Dijon mustard or a splash of soy sauce can add depth and dimension. Think about what flavor profile you’re looking for in the end result and go from there. Leaning towards Italian? Some tomato paste adds richness, while a bottled garlic oil or tube of garlic paste in the fridge can save you the mess of chopping some fresh cloves. A teriyaki sauce can add a great combo of sweet and savory to rice, steamed veggies, or leftover proteins. Add a bottle of something new to your pantry the next time you go shopping, and you’ll have inspiration for many meals to come.
The fun part about fridge foraging is that there really are no rules—use what you have, make it work in a way that tastes good to you, and save money & fight food waste at the same time. I’d love to hear more about how you get creative in the kitchen with what you have on hand—send me an email at email@example.com and tell me what you’ve been making lately!