Friday, June 15, 2012

Stretching Ingredients and My Creativity

beet feta and walnut quesadillas
Beet, feta and walnut quesadillas
Right now I’m reading, Why the Chinese Don’t Count Calories, by Lorraine Clissold. It summarizes Chinese food culture into 15 secrets. The secrets help the Chinese eat in a healthy way and still enjoy their food. Secret 2 is Think of Vegetables as Dishes. She says the Chinese give vegetables the same attention as meat. Instead of a dinner of meat with a small side of vegetables, the meal is mostly vegetables and many different kinds at that.

Secret Number 4: Eat Until You’re Full is accomplished through something called multi-dish eating. Instead of eating a few things in great quantities, they eat a lot of different things in small quantities. Instead of a plate with chicken, vegetables and a potato, Chinese diners sit down to many different plates of different types of vegetable dishes that they all share and end up taking small bites of a lot of different things.

Beet, feta and walnut spinach salad
Beet, feta and walnut spinach salad
Clissold says Western diners can do the same by putting individual ingredients on the table and letting those at the table choose to create their plate and how the items go together. Instead of creating a meal of chili and a salad, she suggests making a bowl of chili, stir frying some mushrooms, slicing up some vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers, and roasting some chopped butternut squash, and putting it all on the table. Each person gets a bowl of rice and then digs in to a little bit of each.

In a way, I’ve been putting these two rules to work this week, first with beets and then with garlic scapes, green onions and spinach. Earlier in the week I roasted some beets in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. First I made a beet and spinach salad topped with walnuts and feta cheese. When I was still hungry after that I put the same ingredients, minus the spinach, inside two tortillas and grilled it. Both dishes highlighted the beets, which were caramelized and a bit crispy, and left me satisfied, but not stuffed.

Baked spinach with roasted garlic scapes and green onions
Baked spinach with roasted garlic scapes and green onions
Later in the week, after reading a friend’s Facebook comment about her disappointment in the garlic scapes in her own CSA box, I remembered I had some of these strange things to use up. Determined to use them instead of letting them grow into some other form over the summer forgotten at the bottom of my crisper as I’ve done in the past, I decided to try roasting them.

I cut the scapes into two-inch pieces and did the same with my remaining green onions and poured a bit of olive oil on them. I roasted them until they were brown and almost crispy. They tasted amazing, almost like chips, and I was tempted to eat them just like that, but wanted to be a little more creative.

I put them in the chopper until they were broken into small pieces. Then I added them to a pan with about two big handfuls of spinach and sautéed the spinach. Next I added some milk to the pan and scraped up the remaining brown bits. I added a pinch of Parmesan and transferred the spinach mix to a baking dish and baked it until the liquid was almost absorbed. The baked spinach was wonderful with the roasted scapes and onions adding an extra level of flavor to it.  

I spread a little of the extra roasted scapes and onions on some bread and toasted it in the oven and served it with the spinach. With the other half of the portion, I hollowed out a piece of French bread and stuffed the spinach inside. I wrapped it in foil and baked it for about 10 minutes, something I’ll be doing again.

Stuffed French bread
Stuffed French bread
I’ve only started to read about secret 5 so I’m hoping to learn some more rule I can put in practice this CSA season.  The book also has a few recipes, which I want to try, but even if I don’t, I’m looking forward to cooking more creatively this season, thanks to the book.


  1. I was always told to wait 15 minutes after I cleared my plate, before getting seconds or dessert. It works. It takes that long for your stomach to tell you....I'm full ;)

    cool post!!