Thursday, February 17, 2011

Veggie Might: Cooking for Survival Eaters

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Survival eaters are the opposite of foodies. They eat because, as humans, our bodies require calories to function. When they are not hungry, food doesn't enter a survival eater's mind.

I've known a few survival eaters in my time, folks who can subsist on bits of fruit and bread and don't get excited about steaming plate of enchiladas or a decadent apple pie a la mode. My friend C will eat five M&Ms, fold the packet-top down, and put the rest away for later. It could take her days to eat a single-serving size.

It's not that survival eaters don't like food; they just don't think about food before they need it. By then it's too late to go to the store and, perhaps obviously, nothing has been prepared in advance. The solution is eating out, convenience food, or repeat appearances of PB&J or cereal for dinner. There's nothing wrong with any of those things on occasion, but these can get expensive and unhealthy over time.

Perhaps its telling that most of the survival eaters I know work in the food service industry and get fed by their jobs. However, my charming boyfriend, CB, is a survival eater and not a waiter. He recently asked me to give him the basics of grocery shopping and cooking. He wants to be able to make healthy and delicious meals without too much advanced preparation, but he's willing to put in some effort.

I think the results of our first few lessons apply to survival eaters and anyone who is planning-challenged. It's easier to plan meals when you're constantly thinking about food, like I am. But what if you only think about food when your stomach tells your brain you're hungry?

The secret is keeping a well-stocked kitchen. Buy these items any time you see them on sale to save money as well as time.

1. Stockpile staple items.
Grains, pasta, and beans are a survival eater's friend. Canned beans are okay if you are time-crunched and really can't get a handle on dried beans. Dried beans will save you money, and if you have a crock pot, can cook while you sleep. Grains like rice, quinoa, and bulgar, cook up quickly and add fiber, protein, and heft to veggie-laden meals. Pasta, especially whole-grain varieties, fill the same void, in your diet and your belly.

Other pantry items that will make your life easier include vegetable oils like canola, safflower, and extra virgin olive oil; kosher salt or sea salt; black pepper; red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar; and low-sodium vegetable bullion cubes.

2. Fill up on frozen vegetables and fruits.
If you're concerned about rotting vegetables and fruit, go frozen! Frozen vegetables and fruit are often fresher than fresh, depending on where you buy your produce, and will keep for months. Keep your favorites on hand and you'll never miss your 5-a-day.

3. Keep a supply of canned tomatoes.
Canned tomatoes can become pasta sauce or salsa, flavor vegetable dishes and soups, and anchor chili and pizza. Canned tomatoes, whether they be crushed, diced, whole or sauce, will keep you cooking all week long.

4. Rock the root vegetables.
Potatoes, yams, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables have a nearly eternal shelf life. Pick up a few tubers at the market, and chances are, they'll be there when you're ready.

5. Have a few fresh items.
Garlic, onions, and lemons will rarely go bad in a well-used kitchen. These items are inexpensive, long-lasting, and essential in nearly every type of cuisine. Keep a few of each on hand.

6. Update your spices every now and then.
Spices are the spice of cooking. If your spices predate moving into your current dwelling and you don't remember when that was, it's time for a change. Experts say spices have a one-year shelf life, but we both know that turmeric has been there for at least six, amirite?! A few staples to have on hand: thyme, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes.

Once you have your ingredients, it's just a matter of putting them together. Think about foods you like to eat and seek out recipes for those foods. Ask your friends and family, look at the Interwebs, or check out cookbooks from the library to get started. Having a few go-to recipes in your arsenal will keep survival eaters, like CB, from eating cereal and PB&J for dinner every night—or their loved ones for bearing the meal-prep burden alone.

Before our first cooking lesson, I gave CB a shopping list for my Easy Tomato Sauce. (Since it's winter, we made it with canned tomatoes.) He did all the work while I coached and we had a delicious meal, complete with a fresh salad, and bread. The next time I came over, the sauce was simmering when I arrived. Within a few minutes, dinner was on the table* and we were eating well before 10 p.m. I cried a little tear of joy and pride. (*laps on the couch)

For the next lesson, I showed CB a few variations by adding white beans to the sauce, tossing in some frozen spinach, and using the sauce on bread to make bruschetta. Everyone was happy; hunger was quickly satiated.

CB requested rice and beans for lesson three. We've made them several ways over the last few weeks, since they're a favorite for both of us. Rice and beans are a vegetarian staple customizable to every taste: spicy, smoky, mild; mashed or whole; over grains, with vegetables, as a dip, in a wrap, or on toast. Whatever your tummy desires.

Below is the simplest of beans and rice recipes. Alone it is a clean and flavorful dish that can easily become a favorite. Add chilies and spices and it becomes a canvas for more creative culinary adventures. You can use any type of bean, and I recommend brown rice as a stick-to-your-ribs base. For a change of pace, try quinoa or millet in place of rice.

With a well-stocked pantry, you need never eat cereal for dinner again. Unless you just want to.


If you dug this article, point your shovel toward:

Simple Black Beans and Rice
Serves 4

1 cup dried black beans, washed and picked over
8 cups water
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
3 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste
black pepper to taste

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

1) Wash and pick rocks from beans and place in a slow cooker with 6 cups of cold water. Set on low and cook for eight hours. Rinse well and place in a large sauce pan with 2 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium.

2) Add to the beans the two onion halves, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until beans are tender, but not mushy. (Cooking times depend on the type of bean you use.) Remove cover, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

3) In the meantime, bring to boil 2 cups of salted water. Stir in rice. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

4) Whether beans are served over the rice, side-by-side, or mixed together is a matter of taste and cultural preference. Eat as your heart guides you, garnished with cilantro or a squeeze of lime juice.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
358.5 calories, 2g fat, 14.5g fiber, 12.75g protein, $.53

1 cup dried black beans: 662 calories, 2g fat, 46g fiber, 39g protein, $0.73
1 medium onion: 40 calories, 0.2g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.44
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
1 cup brown rice: 720 calories, 6g fat, 12g fiber, 12g protein, $0.90
salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02

TOTALS: 1434 calories, 8.2g fat, 58g fiber, 51g protein, $2.15
PER SERVING (TOTALS/4): 358.5 calories, 2g fat, 14.5g fiber, 12.75g protein, $.53

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