The dinners I remember best are the ones I threw together with odds and ends of ingredients.
There was the lentil barley salad made with twelve almonds and one and a half bruised peaches, the pizza whose toppings included roasted cauliflower and eggplant, and the “Great Depression” dinner where some college friends managed to turn a handful of peas, a sweet potato, soy sauce, chickpeas, and leftover lentils (sensing a theme?) into Shepherd’s Pie.
During the summer growing season, my fridge and countertops are usually overflowing with vegetables, some of which I’ve never before seen. Google is my friend, but more often than not I rely on a handful of basic recipes to pull together a new version of a meal.
Besides its standard use as pasta sauce, pesto makes a great topping sauce for pizza, a garnish for soups, and a sandwich ingredient (try it with sliced August tomatoes). You can make it with almost any green, leafy vegetable. Try using beet greens for a surprisingly pink sauce, or mustard greens for one that’s tangy and spicy. The traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but I like variety. My nut of choice – the almond – tends to be slightly sweeter, but walnuts also make a great substitute. Puree together four cups of greens, one or two cloves of minced garlic, a half cup of olive oil, and a quarter cup of nuts. Adjust and add salt and parmesan cheese to taste.
Freeze any extra pesto in an ice cube tray for meal-sized leftovers
Vegan, vegetarian, or meat-lover, it’s surprisingly easy to elevate this simple dish into one worthy of a dinner party. Caramelize your leftover onions, slice up those tomatoes, and toss on some shredded raw kale. Throw caution to the wind and mix together fresh mozzarella, arugula, and sliced cherry tomatoes. Play around with the types of cheese and the sauce.
An egg (or, if vegan, ground flaxseed), a couple tablespoons of flour, and shredded veggies make an easy and delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Mix the ingredients with your hands, separate into golfball sized chunks, then flatten and fry on a skillet. Try shredded sweet potato and chipotle flour or zucchini and Old Bay seasoning, then add to sandwiches or eat alone.
My Mom makes spinach pie for special occasions, and when I went away to college I learned to make it with my own twist. I’ve used collards, kale, and beet greens in addition to – and instead of – spinach. To make the pie, I start with Tamar Adler’s olive oil tart dough.* Next, I mix together handfuls of cooked greens, about a sixth as much cheese, and (if there’s one laying around), an egg. As always, salt to taste.
Another twist: try mixing together pureed roasted veggies instead of greens. My favorite version includes roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, and asiago cheese.
The best salads make full, hearty meals. Starting with a base of raw greens (spinach, kale, mesclun), try mixing together a grain (bulgur, barley, quinoa, brown rice), a protein (lentils! chickpeas, crumbled feta), something sweet (raisins, chopped apples, strawberries), and something salty (roasted almonds or sunflower seeds, croutons, crumbled pretzels). Experiment with texture: try chopped kohlrabi and blueberries, or roasted beets and goat cheese. Try cooked greens instead of raw, or omit them entirely and throw in a roasted vegetable instead. Anything bitter (turnips, I’m looking at you) will be sweeter when roasted and even tastier when drizzled in vinegar or oil. Serve with a slice of toast rubbed with raw garlic and herbs. Need to kick it up a notch? Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over your bowl.
*An Everlasting Meal is my favorite cookbook of all time, and that’s saying something. About a quarter of the books I own revolve around food.
Written by Caroline Selle, the Zero-Waste Girl