Over the last two years or so I’ve devoted more time and heart to cooking. One of the most helpful and coolest things I’ve learned is how to make satisfying whole meals using a seemingly disordered mishmash of ingredients into some kind of nameless stew situation.
Don’t get me wrong, planned recipes and a set shopping list is cool, too, but there’s plenty of reasons why that method of eating doesn’t work for everyone. The well-intended plan fell through and you’re left with perishable odds and ends, you shopped whatever the sales were that day, you’re trying to buy as seasonally and as locally as possible, etc. Whatever the reason, stepping outside of the idea of a traditional recipe, or “freestyle cooking,” reduces food costs, food waste, and opens your food experiences to global dishes and flavors.
Revolutionary? Probably not. But this method of cooking is my EVERYTHING right now. Simple cooking techniques to make a rich, flavorful, hearty meal with minimal and healthful ingredients that blend together and taste of comfort.
I’ve got a couple of different examples of my free-styling meals below to show how what you have on-hand already can come together in a delicious, nutritious meal! These aren’t meant to be “recipes” for you to follow, but encouragement to mix it up in your kitchen.
Recently, I made a freestyle stew, based these ingredients I already had on hand:
- ½ medium-large zucchini
- 1 beefsteak tomato
- 2 large peeled carrots,
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 cans 15 oz pinto beans (½ drained)
To make my stew, I roughly chopped the onion and carrots and threw them in a food processor to mince. Then added the zucchini to the processor, and finally the tomato (but didn’t over mince it). I transferred this concoction to a skillet on medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Added beans, then simmered between medium low and low for 30-ish minutes. Salted to taste. I ate the mixture on its own, but figured it would go well with with rice or bread or on a baked potato.
Mix and Match Veggie Prep (for the whole week!)
When I surveyed the fridge, I found I had:
- Recently rescued cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spaghetti squash, sweet potato
- Purchased almost a week ago: cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce
Surveyed the pantry to find:
- Jasmine rice, farro, whole wheat pasta
- I also always try to have on hand some kind of plant butter or olive oil and various vinegars like apple cider, white wine, balsamic, rice, etc.
Since the cabbage and cauliflower were more firm and last longer than the wilting-becoming -soft broccoli, I left those for another day. The squash could have lasted for many weeks longer but I wanted to go ahead and eat it, I’ve been all about that spaghetti squash life as of late. I definitely needed to use last week’s lettuce and tomatoes.
To prep the veggies, I washed and spun the lettuce. I’ve been eating heavily plant based for the last 17 years and only just now got a salad spinner and let me tell you it’s worth every 30 dollars.
I divided the cleaned, dry lettuce into a few tupperwares for easy to grab salad bases.
I cut the spaghetti squash around its waist for longer ‘spaghetti’ strands, not end to end (surprising, I know). If you’ve never had spaghetti squash it’s all noodly shaped like spaghetti and a delightful as a pasta substitute or gobbled down plain with garlic powder. After scooping out the seeds and coating the inside with a thin layer of olive oil, I placed the cut side down in a baking dish with an inch of water.
Then I cut the heads of the broccoli off – and peeled the stems and chopped them into bite sized rounds. I bet broccoli stems are one of the most thrown away edible parts of a veggie. Don’t do it – it’s delicious and good for youuuu!
I placed the broccoli heads down into the inch of water in the baking dish with the squash, threw in the stems, and drizzled a little olive oil on the broccoli bits with a dash of course salt.
I baked the squash and broccoli at 425-ish degrees for 40-ish minutes (again, freestyling). I like my regular pasta and my pasta squash al dente. This 40 minute cooking time guarantees a non-mushy squash!
While that was baking, I scrubbed my sweet potato, stuck it a bunch of times with a fork and rubbed a thin layer of olive oil and salt on it. Since I don’t notice enough difference to use aluminum foil around the spud (theory is it retains moisture) and #reducewaste, I placed the potato on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for 15 minutes longer than the squash and broccoli.
When the 40 minutes for the squash and broccoli were up, I decided the cherry tomatoes skins were a little too wrinkly for raw salad eating so I tossed ’em with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and roasted them in the oven – I also threw in the broccoli stems since they needed more time as well.
I roasted the tomatoes a little too long – probably only needed 10-12 instead of 15 mins – as their skin started completely coming off instead of just kinda like blistering. But I still ate them on top of the squash (and rice) and they were good and juicy. Did you know the longer you cook tomatoes more beneficial lycopene is released? Lycopene is an antioxidant with health benefits, including sun protection, improved heart health and a lower risk of certain types of cancer. So still a win!
I also use a rice cooker on the jasmine rice while everything was roasting. Soo fluffy and fragrant.
Tada! All these things were ready to eat in some kind of way over the week. Adding various fresh veggies and proteins as I make them throughout the week helps keep things interesting—it’s all about the surprise mixing and matching.