We’re all busy. We have dozens of competing needs. We all need to eat. Should we even cook?
There is no one or right answer. For me, however, cooking is a creative outlet, it saves money, gives me (some) control, grounds me in the seasons and my place on the planet. And it’s an expression of love. The money saving part is about using up the things I buy. It’s also about imagining a meal in the bits and pieces in my fridge and pantry to tip us towards eating in rather than grabbing pizza at the neighborhood shop (which we certainly do) or running to the store.
I have days where I wish dinner would just materialize. Since it never does, I’ve been thinking about what makes pulling together a meal less irksome on a busy day? For me, it’s the moment when my brain, muddled by too many to-do lists, somehow lands on an idea . . . . The idea might be sparked by a small container of leftover rice I spot. It might come from considering what my now-pickier adolescent son might eat using what I already have in the house (it’s a good thing I stock pasta, rice, couscous and polenta since he’d live on carbs alone). I had one such idea recently–rice patties with lots of herbs, egg to hold them together, a little leftover green sauce and a little cheese. I started grinning like a goof ball as the idea took shape. 10 minutes later we were eating them. They were really good!
I’m not always as gleeful as I was with the rice patties but the actual making of whatever it is, is satisfying. And if an idea does not materialize I go through my mental check list of standbys as I peruse the fridge and pantry: lentil soup, peanut/sesame noodles with whatever veg/herbs I have, frittata, curry, can-it-be-put-in-a-burrito? It’s food after all and I pretty much always love to eat. And getting up from my computer to make that happen is almost always a good thing!
Lots of practice has made this way of cooking so fun and effective and I’ve been thinking about how I want Cook With What You Have to be a resource to short-circuit years and years of practice by guiding and giving permission to be creative, to be scrappy, to have that bunch of wilting cilantro or leftover rice be your inspiration that leads to something delicious and satisfying. Or if you already have all those years of practice, then for it to give you ideas to keep having moments of glee!
P.S. The E-books I’ve been writing are a very good way to be keep the inspiration going when dinner doesn’t just materialize:)!
Rice & Herb Patties
You can make these with nothing but leftover rice, a couple of eggs, and a few herbs or spices but there are so many options! And ratios and quantities are totally up to you and what you’re needing to use up. This batch included about 2 tablespoons of leftover Green Sauce (the simplified version w/out egg). Just be sure to add more eggs and/or cheese if you increase the amount of rice so that the patties stick together.
- Finely chopped leftover cooked vegetables are a nice addition
- Add a little soy sauce and/or fish sauce and toasted sesame oil
- Add chopped capers and/or anchovies and garlic
- Add minced, fresh chilies
- Serve with hot sauce or plain yogurt or spicy mayo
- Substitute other cooked grains for the rice, like quinoa or barley.
Serves 2-4, depending on what else you’re serving
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped, leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, dill and/or mint
1 scallion, white and green parts thinly sliced or 1 tablespoon onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch or two of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar or cheese of your choice
Oil, for pan-frying
Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, making sure to break up the rice well. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add spoonfuls of rice mixture to the pan, flatten slightly and cook for a few minutes until golden brown. Carefully flip and cook until browned and a little crispy. Repeat, adding a little more oil to the pan, with remaining mixture. Serve as is or with your favorite hot sauce, plain yogurt or spicy mayo.