We have a share in a local farm. This is a lovely thing.
Come summer, we get a huge bin of vegetables every week. While I sometimes know what is coming, often I don’t know what it tastes like until the produce gets to the fridge. Then I have a mass of arugula, mizuna, and summer squash. What to do?
I am amazed at how many people tell me that they are quite afraid to cook from scratch. I always cook from scratch, and I often invent recipes. Although I have an understanding family who will eat just about anything, most of the time the recipes are fairly good. Or at least edible. I strive for edibility at a minimum.
How Can You Cook from the Fridge?
There’s a lot out there about cooking from the pantry. However, in the summer I find that my challenge is cooking from the fridge. There’s a fair amount in the fridge, and I don’t want it to go to waste. We waste very little of our fresh produce, and this is a great money saver, especially when you eat organic. It also saves time. Although I try to plan grocery shopping around what is in the fridge, it’s nice to be able to look in there and make a meal.
Look at the Food in the Fridge
The first step is to take inventory. What’s in the fridge? What must be eaten today or tomorrow? That forms the basis of your meal. Does this food work together?
It’s actually fairly simple to plan, once you know what is there. If I can’t make my food get along, I use the internet for help. Put in arugula, summer squash, and mizuna, and you’re sure to get several delicious recipes.
How to Make Fridge Food Fantastic
The key to fantastic fridge food is to know what you like. There’s no point in making a recipe based on summer squash when the whole family can’t stand squash. But squash can hide chili, be diced fine to be part of a summer salad…you get the idea. If it’s not a favorite in your house, find a way to integrate the fruit or vegetable in a subtle way.
Take a look at creative food pairings. I think that fruit in vegetable salads is a bit weird, but every time someone dices oranges or mangoes and puts them into a fresh salad, I love it. Copy relentlessly from other cooks and from restaurants, and you’ll be able to use foods in new combinations.
Use Spices and Seasonings
Spices and seasonings are absolutely key. I swear by sea salt – it’s much, much yummier than conventional boxed salt. Sage is exceptional for making even vegetarian meals feel meaty. Thyme is excellent with chicken dishes. Rosemary – well, since I love rosemary, I like it with anything. It’s fabulous in light meaty dishes and even in eggs.
Cinnamon and nutmeg are fruit staples. Consider adding cardamom in drinks, fruit, and dessert to add a subtle and exotic sweetness to the recipe. Have these spices on hand. Running out to the store to get a specific spice at dinner time will almost inevitably lead to the frozen pizza aisle.
Balancing the Meal
If you’re cooking with fresh produce, you’ve got your vegetables covered. I try to keep beans, lentils, eggs and meat on hand to add to meals at will. You don’t need an enormous pantry full of staples to make a balanced dinner, but these help you integrate protein into the meal.
While meal planning will save you money, developing good fridge cooking skills will save you money and time as well. You’ll waste less fresh produce, and fresh produce is such a delight – who would want to throw it away? You’ll also astound your family with your ability to whip up a meal from whatever’s in the fridge. Perhaps you’ll alarm them sometimes, but expanding the palate is a good thing.