Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CHAPTER 10: Side Salads and a Story of Lurking Fruits and Veggies

I almost always have a lot of fruits and veggies sitting in my refrigerator. Green onions, fresh Serrano chiles, Roma tomatoes, part of a red onion, ginger, mango, apple, grapefruit, an orange without the zest, mint, basil, cilantro, arugula, iceberg lettuce, half a red cabbage, a carrot, an avocado, and a cucumber. Most were purchased for use in other dishes. Because I always buy a little bit more than I need, just in case, I always have leftovers.

There are at least four ways of dealing with them and I must say I practice them all.

1. I can let them sit in the fridge until they get soft and mushy and I can, without guilt, consign them to the compost bin, my lifesaver. “Waste not, want not” was a big part of my Ohio heritage. The compost pile allows me to believe that I’m not really throwing the slimy green onions away; I’m turning them into soil that will help my garden.

2. I can use them in a reprise of the dish for which they were originally bought. The reprise can work, but it is a little boring. I’d rather, if given a choice, make something new.

3. I can practice what my friend Anne in Albuquerque calls “cooking from the fridge.” She and her husband George are experts at it. She looks at what she has and decides how she is going to put the things together—a soup, pasta sauce, stew, omelet or frittata. And she does it brilliantly: she has a wealth of cooking experience and can draw on dishes she has made in the past to inform her.

I do “cook from the fridge” occasionally, especially for lunches on the weekend. But for whatever reason, it is not the option I turn to very often. Somehow a drawer-full of produce doesn’t inspire me to create. I feel as tired as they do. But suddenly a fruit salad springs to mind, maybe with a hint of candied ginger and fresh mint. And maybe a cabbage and carrot slaw. Or guacamole. Or an iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing. Anne, are you out there sending me ideas? Maybe there's hope for me after all.

4. Or I can make myself a cup of tea, sit down in a favorite spot with a couple of the cookbooks I’m currently “testing,” check out the indexes, and see what might work. I must admit that this is my favorite. The cup of tea, my store list, cookbooks on my lap. A picture of happiness. Finding recipes I might not have turned to before. The quest for the recipe that uses as many of my lurking ingredients as possible.

And what I find most often are salads and soups. It is amazing how many ingredients can be turned into a delicious side salad, as you will see in the selection of 24 side salads to follow.

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