“There’s nothing to eat in the house,” laments a good friend who struggles to keep her home stocked with appetizing food for everyday eating. No longer cooking and buying for a family, she wants simple ingredients for meals that are fast, delicious, and nutritious.
Stocking our pantries and refrigerators with good food that is readily available and doesn’t take a lot of preparation is easy—once you know how to make simple ingredients come together deliciously.
For health and flavor, fresh foods should be your first choice, but keep these canned and frozen foods on hand to add ease and value to meal preparation (and complement summer’s bounty):
- Canned beans—Beans are nutritious and turn into delicious appetizers, salads, and main dishes within minutes. Keep a stash of garbanzos, navy, black beans, or other favorites on your shelf. Vacuum-packed cooked lentils (available at Trader Joe’s in their refrigerated section) are super healthy and easy to use. Try my Lentil and Walnut Salad and you’ll be hooked.
- Canned fish—Tuna, salmon, sardines, smoked trout, and herring are all high in Omega 3 oils and become wonderful sandwich fillings, salad toppings, or additions to main dishes. Try my Tuna, Marinated Artichoke, and Garbanzo Salad for a fast and tasty main-dish salad.
- Frozen wild-caught Patagonian shrimp—Available at many markets, these large shrimps are easy to peel, defrost in minutes, cook quickly, and make great appetizers and main dishes. My Shrimp in Citrus-Garlic Marinade is so easy you don’t even have to peel the orange.
- Two herbs to love—Summer means you can find abundant herbs at your local grocery store or farmers market or even grow them yourself.
- Tarragon is classically used with eggs, fish, and chicken, and it goes well with citrus. I use it to add brightness and flavor to my lentil salad recipe.
- Cilantro (also known as fresh coriander)—a popular herb found in Latin, Indian, and Asian food—is one that people either love or hate. If you’re a cilantro lover, check out my crowd-pleasing Cilantro Salsa recipe and its multiple uses.
Lentil and Walnut Salad
- 1 package vacuum packed lentils from Trader Joe’s
- ½ C toasted walnuts
- 2-3 T fresh tarragon, chopped fine
- 3 T chopped sundried tomatoes (the moist ones in a package – not with oil)
- 1 red onion—chopped and “tamed.” Put chopped onion in microwave proof glass bowl, add 3T red wine vinegar, and microwave for 2 minutes. Onions get sweet and the remaining vinegar can be used in the dressing.
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 C olive oil or to taste
- Salt & Pepper
- Break up lentils with hands or wooden spoons. Try not to mush them up too much.
- Add other ingredients and mix well. The mixture should be nicely moist, but not too wet.
- Taste for balance—you want a distinct flavor of tarragon and tartness but not overwhelming.
Serves 4-6 as side salad.
Tuna, Marinated Artichoke, and Garbanzo Salad
- 1 can good-quality tuna
- 1 small jar marinated artichokes (with marinade)
- 1 can garbanzos
- 1 bunch green onions
- Vinaigrette of your choice. I use a mixture of Dijon mustard, balsamic and lemon juice, some herbs and oil. Fresh basil and/or dill are always good.
- Sundried tomatoes (Trader Joe’s without oil)
- Chopped green olives or pitted kalamata
- Chopped canned pimentos or other marinated red pepper
- Drain tuna and garbanzos. Chop onions and olives,
- Mix all ingredients and let chill. Taste for balanced flavors.
Serves 4-6 as side salad or 2-4 as main-dish salad. (For a crowd of 10 or more, head to Costco or another outlet store and buy a large jar of marinated artichoke hearts, large jar of pitted olives, and several cans of garbanzos. Follow directions, increasing ingredients for vinaigrette.)
Shrimp in Citrus-Garlic Marinade
- 1 ½ lb. Wild-caught Patagonian shrimp—defrosted and peeled
- 5 cloves garlic—use pre-peeled garlic if available
- 1 whole clementine or other small seedless orange
- Juice of 1-2 lemons
- 3 T. fresh mint, tarragon, dill, or other favorite herb (or mix them)
- 2 T good olive oil
- Using a processor or blender, coarsely chop the marinade ingredients together. Don’t peel the small orange.
- Put the peeled shrimp into a bowl with the marinade for at least a half-hour, or as long as several hours.
- Pre-heat broiler and move the top oven rack to the second rung.
- When ready to use, spread shrimp in single layer on baking sheet. If you use grill-strength aluminum foil, the clean-up is easy.
- Pour marinade over shrimp.
- Broil on one side for 3 minutes, turn over and broil for another 2 minutes until shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Don’t overcook.
- Serve with bread to sop up the juices, or on top of pasta or quinoa or other preferred starch.
Serves 4 as appetizer, 3 as main dish.
This recipe has several lives. It starts out as a fresh topping or dip, transitions to a cooked sauce for fish or pasta, and transforms into the base for several soups. In a way, it represents the approach cooks have always taken, often at the last minute, to use what’s left in the refrigerator.
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed
- 1 bunch green onions or 1/2 red or sweet white onion
- 6-8 small or 3-4 medium tomatoes – or large handful of grape tomatoes
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne, a few drops tabasco or other hot sauce, 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or ½ to 1 jalapeno or other fresh hot pepper – whatever you like that gives a peppery bite to things
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt and pepper
- In processor, pulse onion and cilantro until coarsely chopped.
- Add tomatoes (first quarter or cut in chunks), pepper, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
- Pulse until chopped and blended.
- Check for flavor. It should have a dominant cilantro taste with a good sour tang and slight hot kick at the end.
Phase 1 – Freshly made
- Nachos– Serve with chips or over other nacho ingredients.
- Quesadillas – Spread on a flour tortilla, protein of your choice – taco meat, cooked chicken, fresh crab, etc., sprinkle with grated cheddar and jack, put another tortilla on top, heat it in the microwave or hot oven for one minute, until cheese melts, cut in wedges and serve as an appetizer.
- Baked potatoes – Bake potatoes in oven or microwave. Cut open and fluff. Sprinkle some mixture of cheeses (cheddar and feta or jack) over it, heat in oven or microwave until the cheeses melt. Top generously with salsa.
- Garlic Potatoes and Cheese – Cut yellow Finn or other waxy potatoes into chunks, toss with whole garlic cloves and olive oil. Bake, tightly covered in microwave, until soft. Top with mixed grated cheeses. Heat until cheese melts. Serve with the salsa.
Phase 2 – One or two days later
- Huevos Rancheros – Heat the salsa in a non-stick frying pan. Gently drop several eggs into the pan, making slight depression for each one. Cook gently until they are “poached”, sprinkle with cheese, let the cheese melt, serve over corn tortilla.
- Baked fish – Pour salsa over fresh red snapper and cook in the microwave or broil.
- Potato or pasta salad – mix with cooked cubed potatoes or cooked pasta for picnics or quick cold side dish.
Phase 3 – Up to four days later
- Tortilla Soup
Use the salsa as the base for tortilla soup. Heat defrosted frozen or canned chicken broth with the salsa, fresh crushed garlic, and fresh lime juice. After it has heated, top with chopped fresh cilantro and shredded fried tortillas or crumbled leftover tortilla chips. Sprinkle with grated cheese before serving.
In the beginning, there was food! Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and she can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.