Tip of the Week: Making something out of nothing

When people ask me what my favorite thing to eat or make is, I never have a straight answer. In a way, that is a good and bad thing. It is bad because I never remember the things that I make, especially if it is memorable for someone else. It is good in the sense that I never get bored with the food that I eat. Unless I am making meals for my business, I don’t shop or plan ahead for the week.

This tip is for anyone who isn’t the planning ahead type. I know I am this person more often than I like to admit. I spent the first five years of being vegan, without creativity or motivation to create anything different. I didn’t really know how to cook and it was a struggle. I ate the same thing a lot and it got incredibly boring. As a result of that, I would eat out a lot more or eat microwave dinners. Within the last few years, I have had to make a change. I have learned to keep only the necessities in my pantry and refrigerator. This allows me to be creative and make something out of nothing, plus it saves a ton of money on groceries and food waste!

On any given day I am guaranteed to have a variety of canned and dried beans, lentils, multiple kinds of flours, a few vegetables (I go through so many, I rarely have a plentiful supply), pasta,  various grains, tomato sauce, spices, and a variety of sauces/seasonings. That really isn’t a whole lot looking at the list. I have had to force myself to get creative and use the things that I have. It isn’t the ideal way to cook, but I make it work. It allows me to make something different everyday, and tests my capabilities.

To begin, I usually examine my pantry and refrigerator. A lot of time that leads to despair, but eventually (mostly out of desperation), I will decide what protein, starch (either a grain or potato), and vegetable I will use. If I have multiple vegetables that go together, then I will use them. That is always the base for any meal that I make. There are sometimes when I don’t have a protein already prepared, so I will usually make a quick seitan out of vital wheat gluten or chickpea cutlets from chickpea flour. I figure out what sauces or condiments I have and that usually determines what kind of food I will prepare. There are a lot of times when I don’t have a sauce, so I will throw one together with other ingredients I find. After figuring all of the main elements out, I then am able to piece something together.

In simpler terms,  a protein, starch, vegetable, and sauce are the only four components that are absolutely necessary to make a quality meal anytime. It doesn’t have to be something fancy, but I have been amazed how I have been able to make something satisfying and delicious out of what I thought was nothing. Most of the time that is how I cook. Special ingredients aren’t necessary. The only thing that is required is a little bit of creativity.

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