We all know the old adage, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” My question to you is, “When life hands you some luscious tomatoes, what do you do?” My answer is to add them to a salad; create a terrific bacon, onion, tomato sandwich with a little parmesan cheese on sour dough bread; or create a nice little salsa. Since I made a commitment in an earlier blog to be more mindful about my diet, about making healthier choices, I have been paying more attention to the foods I eat and even being more mindful of what is in season. Recently, I have gotten my hands on some great tomatoes!
But the other day, someone assumed that my mindfulness about food meant I was “cooking” more. I cannot quite say that! You see, when I think of “cooks” I think of Julia Child or maybe Chef Ramsey—people who understand food and have a relationship with it. People who can take ingredients and know the artistry of putting the right ones together to create something glorious. People who scald or smother food on purpose, who clarify butter or coddle eggs with confidence, or who think it is not a challenge to braise, flambé or deglaze anything. I do not do those things! Mainly, I chop. I also open cans and boxes and mix things together. Occasionally I fry up some bacon, even though it is not particularly healthy. I bake chicken periodically and some casseroles—but those latter items are mainly chopping and mixing things too.
Don’t get me wrong: Chopping produces some great results! Have a bunch of fruit, chop it up and make fruit salad. Certainly the fruit alone is worthy. There is nothing quite like a fresh juicy peach on a hot summer day or a good orange. The aromas alone are divine. Watermelon stands alone too, except in one great local restaurant that oddly paired it with thinly sliced red onions and some French salad dressing—and it was excellent! But granny smith apples, pineapple, and some strawberries make a nice fruit salad combination. Chopping and mixing!
A COUPLE RECIPES
I do not usually follow recipes. For one thing, once I have saved them, like store coupons, they rarely stay in sight to be found when needed. Then I often do not have in the one or two key ingredients needed to make the recipe work—and I am not going to the store just to buy something I will not use again for months and months. If the recipe needs more than what I have in already, it rarely gets made. I have stumbled upon two great coleslaw recipes online that fit the bill—and those recipes I enjoyed first at favorite restaurants: North Woods Inn Red Cabbage Recipe and Wood Ranch Peanut Coleslaw Recipe. Of course, I tinker with them a bit, usually adding more garlic than called for and onions and crushed red pepper even if not called for at all.
There are two dishes I produce, however, with some expert chopping. One is a spicy vegetable soup, and the other is a pretty good salsa. Both are good in that I usually have the basic ingredients in hand—or buy them in with the recipes in mind. Both make a big batch and keep well—essential for someone who lives alone and must eat the creation day after day after day. I could make smaller batches, but then I have half a pepper to use up, etc. If I am going to chop, I make a full batch. They might freeze okay, especially the soup, but then I need space in the freezer, containers, and a memory that says, “Hey there is something good hiding in the freezer.”
Given the size of the batch I make, it is good these recipes are flexible, meaning they can be used in different ways or modified per serving. The salsa is great with chips, of course, but can be added to salads, burritos, or scrambled eggs or even on top of baked potatoes. I have found that the soup lasts longer if I make it with just vegetables, rather than officially adding chicken or ham or something to the initial preparation. Then with each serving, I toss in something different: some grated cheddar cheese, cut up chicken or sausage, a little parmesan cheese, or even a scrambled egg. Plus these recipes are both very forgiving—add something new or leave something out, and they hold up just fine.
Spicy Vegetable Soup
Step one is to find a big pot. The size of the pot determines the amount of soup you’ll make. My standard size big pot holds roughly 6-8 cups of chopped vegetables and about 8 cups of liquid. Basically, the vegetables fill up roughly half the pot and I add liquid to fill it up the rest of the way. As I eat through the finished product, I usually augment with additional broth as needed.
Step Two is chop, chop, chop. My typical batch includes the following ingredients:
- 1 large sweet onion
- 1 large red pepper—or yellow or orange, such pretty colors!
- 4 medium jalapenos—I like it hot so I use all the seeds
- 3 or 4 stalks of celery
- 2 or 3 gloves of garlic—or lots of garlic powder
- 1 ½ cups of frozen corn
- (Any other chopped veggie you might want to add like carrots, squash or beans, even peas but then I would not eat it!)
- 1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes either with garlic or with jalapenos added–or chop up some fresh tomatoes
- 1 can (14 ½ oz) seasoned black beans
- (And/Or some rice or noodles if you like)
- 2 boxes (32 oz) chicken broth (or veggie or beef as preferred)—great in that the boxes are re-sealable, so can be saved in the refrigerator if not all the liquid is needed; you can add water if more liquid is needed
Step 3 is let it do its thing. Once you have stirred all the ingredients together well, let the pot simmer for at least 45 – 60 minutes on medium heat or lower. Once fully cooled, store in the refrigerator.
That’s it! Easy and good. The total in terms of amount and calories changes every time, but each time I try to calculate, it ends up about 75-100 calories per cup. Figuring a meal-sized serving is maybe 2 cups maximum, and then add something (chicken, cheese, slice of toast), it’s a tasty meal for about 300 calories. I heat up each serving in its own bowl in the microwave, typically about 4-5 minutes for hot, hot, hot soup. Soup is just meant to be served very hot.
Pretty Good Salsa
Step One is to get some great tomatoes. I tend to buy the ones sold on the vine. Romas can be good too, but then you need a few more. The best is to have a friend share some from her garden. (Oh, wait, I guess some people grow their own like my aunt used to do—but not me!)
Step Two is chop, chop, chop. My typical batch includes the following ingredients placed in an appropriately sized bowl:
- 4 good sized tomatoes
- 1 large sweet onion
- 4 medium jalapenos (or 2 large)—adjust as needed for your spicy quotient or substitute with a green pepper
- 1 large red pepper—or use yellow or orange, or 2 medium in some combination
- 1 ½ cup frozen corn
Step Three is to prepare a little marinade in its own little bowl by mixing together the following:
- ¼ cup or less of olive oil—or some other preferred oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 T granulated sugar
- 1 T garlic powder
- 1 T crushed red pepper as needed for an extra kick
Step Four is to add the marinade mixture to the well mixed veggies and refrigerate for at least two hours before eating.
That’s it! Easy and good. The total in terms of amount and calories changes every time, but each time I try to calculate, it ends up about 7-8 cups of salsa, working out to about 135 calories per cup. Of course, it is great straight with tortilla chips. Or you can add it to other items, be creative. Add maybe half of a sliced and diced avocado to about ½ c of salsa and you have a good topping for a grilled chicken breast. The salsa keeps well too—just stir it up each time before serving.
See what I mean about not necessarily being a cook? But I do chop well. And being mindful of my eating habits keeps me on track to meeting my goal from an earlier blog (#4 of 7 by 57). I see this entry as one of my promised updates. In conclusion, I do have a couple questions for my readers:
- Can you share a favorite recipe or two? I would love the chance to expand my repertoire with recipes that would be saved here on my blog where I can always find them.
- When the world gives you great tomatoes, what do you do?