Living the Frugal Life
Experienced gardeners are accustomed to dealing with gluts from time to time. The glorious avalanche of food coming in all at once - whether it be tomatoes, green beans, zucchini/courgettes, potatoes, or something else - can be met with a variety of strategies ranging from sharing it among friends, family and neighbors, to food preservation. There are even cookbooks devoted to single ingredients which come in very useful when those gluts happen.
But there's another, less discussed, phenomenon with which gardeners also contend. It's the trickle - that slow but steady production of a few cherry tomatoes per day early in the season, or a scant handful of snow peas (mangetout) from just a few plants. When you have a trickle of any particular crop, it's hard to build a meal around that one vegetable alone. Nor does it make much sense to spend the time to preserve such tiny amounts of food. If the trickle is really small, it's not usually an issue in my garden, because a couple of cherry tomatoes will just get popped straight into my mouth. Sometimes though, I like to cobble a meal out of several trickles gathered together.
Of course, there's always salad. Most garden vegetables can go into a green salad to add new colors and textures. But I figured you already knew that, and wanted to offer you some other ideas. Both of the following dishes are easy to prepare, full of healthy fresh vegetables, quite frugal, and consistently delicious.
Bi Bim Bap
This dish hails from Korea. Although it has many of the same basic ingredients as stir-fried rice, the finished meal is quite different. I prefer it over stir-fried rice by quite a large margin. Since I've only started making this dish fairly recently, I'm going to have an expert introduce it to you. In this charming video Maangchi demonstrates every step in making a batch of bi bim bap large enough to feed a small army.
There are a few things I do differently. I'm usually preparing bi bim bap for only two people. So I don't take the trouble to pan-fry each and every type of vegetable in separate batches. I simply cook them all together, which also makes sense when dealing with the small quantities of garden trickle. I've never added the ground beef or all the sugar she uses, and honestly haven't missed either of them. Also, this is probably entirely inauthentic, but I've found I most enjoy bi bim bap prepared with sushi rice. The chewiness of this rice and the fried egg (I leave the yolk slightly soft) gave our vegetarian version of the dish plenty of ballast without heaviness. I liked the sesame seeds Maangchi put in the scallion sauce, so I usually sprinkle some on top of my serving when everything's all mixed up.
Good garden crops to use for bi bim bap: zucchini, carrots, snow peas, green beans, spinach, any cooking green, and just about any member of the cabbage family, chili peppers, scallions, onions. Small quantities go quite far in this dish if you have a variety of vegetables.
Spicy Peanut Noodles
I'm going to have to explain this one myself. This dish also has clear influences from Asia. I don't know if any country claims it as their own, but it's well adapted for use in many growing regions. I especially like to use a variety of greens in this dish, as well as cherry tomatoes cut in half. For a dish that serves 2-3 people, you will need the following:
8 oz (250 g) rice noodles, soaked in cool water to cover for about 45 minutes, then well drained
3-4 cups (about 1 l) mixed vegetables, chopped
spicy peanut sauce, made from:
- 1/2 cup (~120 ml) peanut butter
- 1/4 cup (~60 ml) soy sauce
- 1/4 cup (~60 ml) rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- ground chili pepper to taste
- water for thinning
When preparing the vegetables, I usually separate them into three bowls. The smallest one contains the seasoning ingredients, such as minced fresh ginger and garlic, plus sliced onions or scallions. In this bowl I add a generous quantity of the cooking oil. The next bowl contains most of the vegetables, cut up appropriately for stir-fry. The last one is for any vegetables I only want to cook for only a very short time, such as cherry tomatoes, which have become an essential ingredient in this dish.
Simply mix all the ingredients for the spicy peanut sauce together in a clean jar with a lid. Give the ingredients a good stir and then shake it vigorously to blend.. The level of spiciness can be suited to your tastes. I like a mild but full flavored chili pepper powder such as ancho or molido. I use a level tablespoon of these chili powders. If you like more heat, or if you only have cayenne on hand, then obviously adjust the quantity appropriately (i.e. probably downward unless you're a capsaicin freak). I add just enough water so that the sauce no longer looks like I could frost a cake with it. It should be thin enough to pour, but no thinner. After preparing the noodles you may have some of this sauce leftover. It'll keep in the fridge (nice and neat in that jar) for about a week.
The dish works best in an extremely hot and large open pan. I use a monster cast iron skillet, preheated for 10 minutes so that it retains enough heat to keep the ingredients sizzling throughout the cooking process. Try to have all your vegetables dry to that water doesn't cool down the pan. In any case, you want a big and very hot pan, something with a long handle to stir the ingredients around with, and tongs to toss the noodles with the other ingredients. You also will need all your ingredients lined up and ready to go before you begin. Mise en place for you pros and former pros out there.
Heat your pan over very high heat, preheating it for up to 10 minutes. If it starts to smoke, it's a sign you're ready to start cooking (seriously), but turn on the vent fan so the fire department doesn't show up. Add the seasoning ingredients mixed with a generous amount of cooking oil to the pan. Stir for only about 15 seconds and immediately add the majority of your other vegetables. Cook these, stirring constantly for a minute or two, until you see them wilt a bit. Then add any other vegetables that require very little cooking time. After another minute of cooking, push all the vegetables to the center of the pan. Add the drained rice noodles around the edges of the pan, leaving the vegetables in the middle. Pour the spicy peanut sauce over the noodles. Wait a moment and then begin to incorporate the vegetables, noodles, and sauce. Work around the edge of the pan, grasping some vegetables and some noodles with your tongs, turning them over to mix them together. All ingredients should be thinly coated by the spicy peanut sauce. Add more if it seems to need it. When the noodles are thoroughly heated through, the dish is ready.
If you can't get rice noodles, you can use half a pound (1/4 kg) of spaghetti, but it'll need to be thoroughly cooked beforehand.
Good garden crops to use for Spicy Peanut Noodles: Swiss chard or other cooking greens, sweet corn cut off the cob, eggplant/aubergine (finely cut), any member of the cabbage family, carrots, cilantro or basil, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, etc.
Both of these vegetarian dishes have become emblematic of late spring through summer in our house. We make them frequently in during this time and find them extremely satisfying. I hope you'll enjoy them if you try them. And if you have any garden trickle strategies or go-to dishes, please mention them in the comments.