Saturday, March 7, 2009

What to do with Leftovers and Cuttings!

stew in bowl

Leftovers, Cuttings, Soups

Leftovers are a lot more interesting than people often give them opportunity for. Some dishes really don't come into their own until the second or third day, stews for example, some things are just not worth eating the day after and can be a lesson in letting go. I've read in yogic reflections on food, phrases like, "fresh food, freshly prepared" in connection with longer passages on sacredness of body and importance of the spirit which we invest in the foods we eat through giving grace, chewing well and preparing with presence. At the moment when we find ourselves eating leftover salad with soft mushy lettuce soaked in dressing we likely realize the wisdom and simple truth of that statement. But as an artist there is another interpretation to the statement. And to give up on the day-olds simply because we don't think they'll reheat well robs us of a creative possibility.

Often leftovers can be a wonderful set of ingredients for a new soup or stew or as ingredient in some other combination. This can even be done in a way that preserves the sense of freshness by reclassifying that prepared portion as an important part of the flavor of the new dish. The trick is finding the way in which that previously created dish that has now had a night or two to integrate all its own flavors can really contribute something valuable to what you are making. One of the easiest ways that we can see this at work is in the making of soups and stocks. People are often not sure what to do with leftovers and can be equally unclear about soups. Luckily enough these two conundrums solve each other very well.

Never again do you need to reach for bullion, store-bought soup stock or the like! Just open up the fridge and take a look. What do you have? Some fried potatoes? Greenbeans and garlic? stewed tomatoes? some slightly wilted salad greens, half chopped onion, few broccoli spears, chunk of cabbage.... whatever it is, even a soggy salad soaked in dressing, it very well might be a great set of ingredients to saute, chop, blend and combine into a fantastic and often very easily made soup or stock. Great thing about soups is they keep well, travel well, are satisfying and very forgiving in preparation.

Part of learning how to work this skill is to forget for a second what the taste and texture of something might be at that moment and focus more on a couple of other questions: Is it still good? Ignoring some of the textures and look of the thing, just figure whether it has gone bad. is it old, tasteless or moldy? For instance, that soggy salad that was fresh yesterday at lunch, is certainly not bad it's just ugly and icky which leads us to the second question: What's really in it? This icky salad for instance has Romaine lettuce, red onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. What's a vegetable soup stock have in it? Vegetable matter, salt, fat, sugar... Huh... Great! We've got something that once blended will supply some great ingredients for our soup!

Just for starters, here is a bunch of bits that are commonly thrown out that can be saved to make a stock or juice later. There are a lot of perfectly edible bits that happen to be too tough to chew but can be pureed into an edible state. There are a couple of ways of achieving that. One is the old-fashioned way where you put a stock pot on the stove, bring some water to boil and start tossing everything you've got into it with some salt and then simmer that down, sometimes for a couple of hours. I like my food raw or as little cooked as possible so I like to do it one of the two following ways. Most often I take cut the dirty bits off, wash carefully and then run through a very aggressive blender adding water as necessary, leaving a thick, raw puree which I then use as a base. The other way of going involves breaking out a juicer if you've got one and putting whatever you have through there. This option can give you some wonderfully concentrated raw stock from which you can create all sorts of powerful, energizing soups or juices.

Consider holding on to some of these bits by tossing into a bag in the freezer: Asparagus ends. broccoli stalks, Chard Stalks, Cabbage core and outer leaves, half-cut onion you may not get to, Celery butt, avocado pits, wilted lettuces, ugly looking tomatoes and anything else with some edible matter that won't make it as it is.

This is what went into a soup I just put together. I wanted to clear everything that had been forgotten about or left for dead out of the refrigerator and give it either a second life or a farewell! What I found that made the cut for freshness: Raw Kale salad, Raw Cauliflower salad, cooked buckwheat kasha with berbere seasoning, fresh cranberry sauce, brie cheese wedge, chunk of blue cheese, a beat-up summer squash, slightly wilted fresh dill and some raw carrot ginger soup. I found that all of it was still perfectly good, just not very appetizing in its current condition. As a base, I thought about some stems and cuttings I already had from the past week, but then eyed that cauliflower salad.. It had raisins, red onions and garlic among other things.. I didn't want whole raisins in this soup, but thought they would add a nice fruit sweetness, so I had found my base. I put that and the kale salad in the blender with some water and pureed.

I put that puree into the stock pot, added a can of peeled Roma tomatoes, the buckwheat, carrot soup, dill and heated it all up. I generally like to cook my foods as little as possible so as to retain what I can of their nutrients and let the flavors mingle with time. Even a few hours does incredible things for a soup. Once the soup had heated up to bubbling I went ahead and added everything else but the cheese and cranberry sauce. I let it cool just a bit and stirred the cheese in as I didn't want it to boil which can make it difficult to digest. I gave it a taste, added some parsley and cilantro I had found and then miraculously enough thought it needed something else to bring it up, maybe cut through it a bit and so I eyed that fresh cranberry sauce with its half an orange with zest and blended it in. AHA!

There it was, a pot of soup made of all sorts of leftovers a few new ingredients, spices and herbs. It's been disappearing with great speed.

stew in pot

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