National Hunger Month — eat mindfully

September 8, 2015

Pantry curry, with chicken, chickpeas and sweet potatoes.

Pantry curry, with chicken, chickpeas and sweet potatoes.

Over on Facebook, I’ve been busily promoting the fact that it’s National Hunger Month, and urging my Facebook friends and followers to do one activity each day aimed at reducing hunger. It all has to do with cooking and eating mindfully — with thoughtful consideration not only to what we’re eating (which certainly adds to our enjoyment of it), but to not being wasteful and squandering not just food, but the resources that went into its production.

So, today’s challenge was to cook meals solely out of what’s in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry. Now, granted, this is not a huge challenge for me, because I keep all three of those pretty well stocked (overstocked, my children would tell you). But I wanted to attempt to keep it relatively basic and use some leftovers as well.

The cast of characters. No grocery trip today.

The cast of characters. No grocery trip today.

My first thought was for the leftover chicken from Sunday, which was going to become chicken enchiladas on Monday, but for the fact that Child A mentioned wistfully she was craving Pancho’s. Now, Pancho’s, as any self-respecting East Arkansan knows, is Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, a fixture of the east end of Broadway in West Memphis for better than 50 years, which serves up a brand of cuisine that can in no fashion be called “Mexican” but is certainly of that genre we in the state have come to know and love as “ArkMex.” And it can get addictive.

So we did, and that total gets added to my eating-out total that’ll be donated at the end of this month to the NEA Food Bank, because that’s my big thing I’m doing for Hunger Action Month — every buck I spend eating out gets matched by one to the food pantry. But that also did for my plan for chicken enchiladas, because after pigging out at Pancho’s, I certainly was in no mood to eat at all again yesterday, and I won’t want anything with a Latino flavor profile for several days or weeks.

Still starting with chicken, I began to rummage. I had sweet potatoes, from the first crop I’ve seen at the Farmers’ Market. I had coconut milk and tomato paste in the pantry. I had Thai jasmine rice in the pantry. I have onions and garlic and ginger and all the spices you could wish to name (but for the fact I’m out of thyme and can’t remember to buy it when I’m at the store). I had chicken broth in the freezer.

I felt a curry coming on.

As I do with so many meals, I started out dicing and sauteeing an onion in some oil. To that I added some grated ginger — and here’s a food-saver tip for you. When you get a chunk of ginger root at the grocery, put it in a freezer bag and keep it in the freezer. It’ll be usable for ages, if you grate it, and it’ll grate just fine frozen. Plus, if you grate it, you don’t have to peel it. Two pluses.

On top of that went half a can of tomato paste.  The other half went in a little plastic thingy and into the freezer against the next time I need a half a can of tomato paste. I had one such little thingy IN the freezer, but a smell test indicated it was chipotles in adobo. Not a good sub for tomato paste. Then I added some curry powder, some cumin, and a cinnamon stick, and let that sizzle along for a bit before I dumped in a cup of chicken broth and a can of coconut milk.

While that was coming to a simmer, I peeled a couple of small sweet potatoes and diced them, and tossed that in. Opened a can of chickpeas I found in the pantry that were old enough to vote — thank God canned goods don’t really ever expire — and drained, rinsed and added them.

I then commenced to pull the meat off the two breast quarters of chicken I had left, and diced that into sizeable chunks. I’d guess it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 ounces of meat. That left me two leg quarters to do something else with.

I added about a tablespoon of honey for a sweet note, and let it go on medium low heat for about 40 minutes, until the sweet potatoes were soft. Meanwhile, I fired up the rice cooker and cooked some jasmine rice.

Verdict: Good stuff. I am going to have to give this curry powder to my Memphis Guinea Pig, who appreciates heat more than I do, and get me some generic curry powder. I cut back on the curry powder since this stuff is hotter than the hinges of Hell, and as a result, the other curry-ish flavors (cardamom, coriander, turmeric) were not enough in evidence. I’ll add some of those to the leftovers, of which there were enough for another meal, in the hopes of bringing it up to where it ought to be.

This made what would have been a gracious plenty for four people. And not only did it use leftovers and what I had in the pantry and fridge, but it wound up being pretty cheap, too. Eating cheap does not have to mean not eating well, as anyone who ever cooked a pot of rice and beans can testify. I would estimate the entire meal cost less than eight bucks, if you were to take the cost of half a chicken, add the coconut milk, sweet potatoes, chickpeas,  and rice, and assume the spices, onion, garlic and ginger as pantry staples.

I call it "what's in the house" salad.

I call it “what’s in the house” salad.

In keeping with the in-house theme, breakfast was Cheerios and almost the last of the milk (the last went in my iced coffee). Lunch was an interesting salad I’d read about in the newspaper recently — diced tomatoes, diced figs, diced mozz, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Essentially, a caprese with figs. Would have benefitted from a stronger cheese; the newspaper recipe called for blue, but I didn’t have any blue. Would probably be good with feta. Still hungry after that, so I had a granola bar.

I feel pretty good about my pantry challenge. Why don’t you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em try it for a day?




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