Happy New Year! My resolution for 2013 is based on a simple adage - waste not, want not.
I started this blog not because I could cook well, but because I couldn’t. It was something that I wanted to get so good at that it would become second nature to me. I think we only succeed when we challenge ourselves. I do it because it can be a bit hard, and because it’s that much more satisfying when I know I’ve made a good meal. I don’t believe, when it comes to intellectual challenges, that you’re born with any natural ability. It’s all in the way you cultivate your talent, whether it be cooking, writing, art, math, science, music…it’s all about practice and the work you put into it. It’s all about honing your craft and learning as you go.
Which brings me to Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal, which was a gift from a dear friend. It isn’t so much a cookbook as it is a guide to eating well with what you have. She teaches you that a bone or onion peel has as much potential as the onion and the meat. Very little has to go to waste. I’ve learned a lot about ingredients and techniques over the past year, picking up tricks as I went along. But I was lacking in overall philosophy - I was missing the big picture until I read this book.
Armed with inspiration, I went to the farmers market to gather whatever fresh vegetables looked good to me. Per Tamar’s advice, I washed and prepared what I scored as soon as I got home, chopping the leafy tops off carrots, trimming the ends of bok choy and peeling and slicing an onion for future use. The cleaned, peeled vegetables and half the onion were tucked away in the fridge for future munching. The skins, peels and tops I would have normally tossed out were instead plopped in a pot. I also gathered whatever aromatic bits were lying around - the top of a tomato and some garlic skins.
Then I filled the pot with water about an inch above the scraps, threw in half an onion, 2 whole garlic cloves, 2 cardamon pods and 2 cloves. I brought the pot to a boil, covered and reduced the whole lot to a simmer, and let it happily bubble away for 2 hours. During the last five minutes, I threw in a cinnamon stick for good measure, which I fished out before the broth got too bitter.
After straining, what I ended up with was a rich, highly nutritious broth perfect for making soup or cooking rice in. I had a whole other meal possibility from what I normally would have discarded. It’s not just economical - it felt responsible.
To make a vegetable soup, Tamar recommended sautéing some minced garlic and onion in olive oil in a large pot, then adding the broth along with any vegetables of your choosing. I did exactly this, adding bok choy and carrots with a little salt and pepper.
I even made my own croutons by first cubing some stale french bread (another item I would have normally forsaken) and dousing the cubes in olive oil. Then I tossed them with a dash of salt, sprinkled on some dried thyme and rosemary and placed them in a toaster oven until they browned.
It was a cost-conscious, healthy meal that wound up tasting decadent. If you’re looking for guidance in sustainable cooking methods as opposed to one-off meals, Tamar Adler’s book is a must-read. You won’t finish the book with a list of recipes to try, you’ll finish An Everlasting Meal with a list of your own inspired ideas and a new way of thinking about the food you make.
So here’s to healthy, inspired cooking in 2013!