Midweek Staples: Store Cupboard Improvisation
Words & Photography by Grace Poser
Preparing a wholesome weeknight dinner can be a challenge to say the least. I often work long days at the office and after my 45 minute commute home I’m greeted by my crazy pup. We work out the stress of the day with about an hour and half of play in the park. When I finally get into the kitchen it’s after 8pm – I’m hungry and tired and don’t want to follow a recipe.
Here is my basic formula for a quick and satisfying meal that you can customize based on what you have on hand:
Grain + Roasted Vegetable + Fresh or Dried Fruit + Nuts or Seeds + Herbs & Spices
I always keep my pantry stocked with quick cooking grains like: barley, farro, bulgar wheat, brown rice, quinoa and oats.
The vegetables you use will vary based on what’s in season and what’s available at your market.
My current favorites are sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and bok choy.
My go-to dried fruits: cranberries, raisins, figs and blueberries.
My current favorite fresh fruits: pears, pomegranate, apples and oranges.
Nuts: walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds
Seeds: Sunflower, sesame, chia and hemp
My go-to spices: Cinnamon, curry, cumin, garlic powder, pepper flakes
Herbs: During the summer I grow a variety of herbs in pots but parsley is the only one that has made it through the winter.
Here is the “recipe” for this dish:
2 generous handful brussels sprouts
1/2 cup of farro
1 handful walnut pieces
1 handful pomegranate seeds
1 handful pear slices (about 1/4th of a fresh pear)
Oil for roasting the vegetables
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the brussels sprouts and shallot. Toss together with oil, salt and pepper. Roast on baking sheet lined with parchment paper in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes on 400F.
While the veggies are roasting, cook the farro.
Prepare the fruit if using.
Assemble everything in a bowl.
To finish, drizzle with walnut oil and a squeeze of of orange juice if you feel like it.
I coincide my grain cooking and vegetable roasting to finish at the same time. Some vegetables like bok choy will cook quickly so I will start cooking the grain first while I prepare the rest of the ingredients. Sweet potatoes take a little longer to roast so I start peeling and chopping the sweet potato and then begin cooking the grain.
I coat the vegetables in a bit of neutral high heat oil (like rice bran) and toss them with salt and pepper. If I’m using spices I will add them here too.
If using dried fruit I will add them to the pot of grains during the last five minutes of cooking to absorb some moisture and plump up.
Sometimes I’ll add a can of beans like chickpea or black beans.
To finish the dish I top it off with a drizzle of good quality oil. Nut oils add a lot of flavor and enhance the entire dish with very limited effort. Try pistachio oil, hazelnut oil and walnut oil. Store them in the fridge and don’t use them for high heat cooking or roasting.
Lastly, a bit of acid will brighten up the dish. A squeeze of orange or lemon juice is my go-to, sometimes I use red wine vinegar or rice vinegar.
Here are a variety of dishes that follow the formula:
Roasted cauliflower spiced with cinnamon and curry served over barley and topped with raisins, almond slivers and parsley.
Roasted sweet potatoes and shallot spiced with cumin and garlic served over bulgar wheat and chickpeas, topped with cranberries and pine nuts.
Roasted broccoli and bok choy served over brown rice with edamame and pear slivers topped with fresh garlic, ginger and sesame seeds. Drizzled with a bit of tamari, lemon juice and sesame oil.
Roasted cherry tomatoes and leeks served over steel cut oats with a handful of grated gruyere cheese topped with pine nuts and fresh basil.
Roasted sweet peppers and red onion spiced with cumin and coriander served over brown rice and black beans topped with avocado, tomatoes and green onion.