Veggie Leftovers


A pot of black beans, ready to go in the pressure cooker.

Like most home chefs working on a budget in a small space, I cannot help but roll my eyes when contestants on cooking shows melt down over leftovers of any kind. It’s a freakin’ “Chopped” round in my kitchen every night of the week. Home from work with an hour to walk the dog, make dinner, and set the table. And no PA to do the dishes when it’s all over.

(Do your best to keep the kitchen tidy as you go, kids. No one wants to confront the wreck of the Hesperus in the sink after dinner.)

I may plan my bakes days in advance, but the nightly meal rarely gets such forethought. Luckily, it’s dinner, not a solution to global warming. Stock your fridge, pantry, and condiment shelf with stuff you like, and it’s just a matter of grabbing what strikes your fancy and cooking it. Someday I’ll spend the time to outline what I think are essential pantry staples for any kitchen, but for now Michael Pollan’s axiom “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” sums it up well.

On account of the utter lack of planning, most dinners in my little kitchen at The Treehouse are what I call “limited edition.” Which is to say, having made them up of available ingredients, they’re unlikely to be repeated. They’re not blind stabs in the culinary dark, though. Rather, they draw on simple techniques that allow for infinite variation. This week’s inaugural roundup of the week’s Limited Edition Dinners includes two of foolproof techniques to turn veggies into dinner and my very favorite way to prepare squash and carrots.

Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini are a riff on succotash, which is just a veggie stew at heart. The key is to develop a good base of flavor by sweating and then lightly caramelizing the onions and aromatics when you start. Freshly cooked beans (“feh!” to canned) make it a bit special, tomatoes boost the umami factor, and the aroma of smoke brings everything together in the end. Diehard carnivores will swear they taste bacon, and who are you to tell them otherwise?

I paired the aforementioned veg stew with Soy Glazed Acorn Squash. If there’s a simpler, more delicious way to prepare squash, it involves a deal with the devil. When you get to feeling experimental, try this technique with carrots or parsnips. Throw in a heavy pinch of curry powder, and you’re down a whole new path. Or vary the sweetener and try maple syrup. And five spice. Oh, my. I need to try that right now…

Finally, pilaf! Being Greek, this is my default preparation for all stove-top grains (rice, barley, bulgur, farina).  My Tomato Pilaf Salad with Sautéed Mushrooms, packed with red bell pepper, feta cheese, and olives is an easy intro into the wide, wild world of grain salads.

Now go eat something, you look thin!