Ataulfo mangoes. They popped up this week in the supermarket, drawing my hand like bears to honey. Their flesh was supple, their scent sweet. Need I tell you that some of them ended up in my kitchen?
Those of you who have been following me for awhile will know of my irrational weakness for ataulfo mangos. The fragrant golden fruits with their parrot-beak tops have become symbolic to me of all those impulsive purchases I’ve made at the grocery store or the farmers’ market with no plan as to how I’m going to use them. They’re one of those things at high risk to shrivel away before I figure something out. (Bet you know what yours are!)
But no worries. This week the mangoes disappeared quickly. One made it into a refreshing Mango Cucumber salad taught to me by Josefina Gonzalez Luigi of Cocina con Alma cooking school in Cozumel. The others morphed into a creamy mango pudding from a Dairy Farmers of Canada ad lifted from a long-forgotten magazine.
They reminded me, though, of the importance of knowing my weaknesses and preparing a line of defence for them. ( See #4 of my Food Lover’s Real Life Guide to Reducing Food Waste – City Palate, Nov/Dec 2017). I’ve learned to keep a stash of recipes for the things I know I’ll buy on impulse – and also for the things I throw out most often.
But how to build this arsenal?
I’m a big reader of food magazines (no surprise there), so I routinely rip out recipes. Those that address my particular nemeses get filed away where I can find them when crisis calls.
Of course, an online search will also offer up a legion of solutions to the ingredient conundrum – with the bonus that they might take me to new culinary frontiers. Unfortunately, exploring those frontiers for new treasure can be a rabbit hole from which there’s no definite return, neither of time nor reward. Poorly-construed recipes abound on the web, so unless I’ve got the experimentation time to discover a new favourite food blogger who speaks to my heart, I stick to reputable sources that multi-test their recipes. Any “keepers” get filed on my laptop where I can find them, or printed off to join the rest of my stash.
These days a trip to the virtual or brick-and-mortar bookstore will reveal a cornucopia of titles focused on a single ingredient or a single food category (the public library catalogue is a great resource, too). My favourites include Sharon Hanna’s and Carol Pope’s The Book of Kale & Friends – great for dispatching an abundance of kale (obviously) as well as garden herbs – and Julie Van Rosendaal’s Out of the Orchard – indispensable for tackling those flats of Okanagan fruit that sing so loudly from farmers’ market stalls.
Market-based cookbooks can also be a great reference for addressing food waste vulnerabilities. Two valuable new titles that made it to my shelf in 2017 include Chef Lynn Crawford’s Farm to Chef: Cooking through the Seasons and David Tanis’ hefty tome, Market Cooking.
But, no, the mangos were not a problem this week. Leftover spinach was my Achilles’ heel instead. And based on the responses I’ve received from many of you, tired greens are your frequent problem-child as well.
Fortunately, my leafy-greens armoury is a stout one. And I’ve learned to view every dish as a possible repository for foliage. Greens thrown on sandwiches. Tucked into tacos. Stirred into soup. Or curry. Or eggs. Or stirfries.
Let’s not forget that, sautéed with a few spices or a handful of favourite garnishes, they can make a tasty side dish on their own. My first sampling of the Sautéed Kale Salad at the former Ox & Angela’s restaurant in Calgary (now Ox Bar de Tapas) made me a firm believer in that. Consider combinations like these with whatever greens you have on hand (and a little garlic to amp up the flavour):
- half a jar of roasted peppers or sundried tomatoes; garnished with goat cheese;
- shallots or red onions fried with bacon or pancetta;
- yellow onions sizzled with cayenne; topped with sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil.
My favourite go-to is perhaps the easiest: swiss chard fried up with garlic, salt, and hot pepper flakes and served with a squeeze of lemon.
The biggest trick is to leave the container of greens front-row-centre in my fridge where I won’t forget it. I almost lost track of mine this week after a couple of lacklustre side salads. But I scavenged it in time, and the remainder anchored a nutrient-dense frittata served up for my supper with some good bread.
Here’s the frittata recipe that saved the day (with a basic egg-and-cheese base into which you can dump pretty much anything). Feel free to add it to your personal leafy-green recipe arsenal.
And if you’ve got some great strategies of your own, please do share (at the bottom of this post). Or write to me with your biggest leftovers millstones and I’ll address them in future posts if I can.
In the meantime, keep a steady eye on your Black Box – and watch for me next week.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter or vegetable oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
6-8 handfuls of baby spinach (if you have less, that’s fine)
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup (50 ml) milk
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt (use less if your cheese is salty)
Black pepper to taste
1-2 cups (250-500 ml) of your choice of cheese(s)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) glass pie plate and place on a baking sheet (to catch any drips).
Heat oil or butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until soft.
Stir in cloves, spinach, and nutmeg and cook until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine egg mixture ingredients. Stir spinach mixture into bowl.
Pour into prepared pie plate; stir to distribute ingredients evenly.
Bake in centre of oven until top is golden and centre is set.
Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot