My family has declared war on “snacky stuff.”
Because I spend a lot of my day cooking for others, full-fledged dinners at home can suffer. I find (true confessions, now) that I don’t always bring the same energy and thought to my family’s dinners as I do to my clients.’ To compensate, I sometimes serve whatever is easy and in the cabinet or refrigerator: Grilled cheese or cereal for the big boy; canned soup for the youngest; leftovers for the husband. If the husband is traveling, I’ll make popcorn for myself once the kids are in bed.
Like I said. “Snacky stuff.”
But wouldn’t you know it? Tonight the husband and kids were on to me, clamoring for a “proper” dinner. Which was fine … except it was 6 p.m. and all I had were dribs and drabs from my day’s work.
What’s a mom to do?
Once again, the pantry saves me.
I agree it’s foolhardy to go out and spend oodles of money on specialty items that get used once, then molder in the back of the fridge. But you will never, ever regret purchasing some basic Asian condiments. Every pantry should be stocked with soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce and soba noodles. Every refrigerator should have a ready supply of limes and fresh ginger.
Here’s how those few staples saved dinner tonight:
After listening to a chorus of “we don’t want snacks,” I took stock of what was in my kitchen. I had a few green onions and some garden carrots, squash and green beans lolling in the vegetable bin. A small slab of leftover roast beef. A carton of beef broth in the cabinet. And — of course — a couple of heads of garlic on my counter.
Asian staples, work your magic!
First, I cut the green onions and carrots into small dices. Then I minced up lots of ginger and garlic. All of that got a quick saute in dark sesame oil.
Next, I stirred in chopped yellow squash and green beans, along with some soy sauce, rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce and a glug of dry sherry. Dumped in the beef broth and let everything hang out for about 15 minutes.
Then I tasted.
Never cook without tasting — especially if you’re working with Asian flavors. Asian-inspired dishes should have a mix of sweet, salty, sour and spicy working together. I guarantee that anytime you try one of these entrees, you’re going to have to adjust your seasonings to get the flavor combination that tastes best to you.
In my case, the soup wasn’t tangy enough. So I squeezed in the juice of 2 limes. It also needed a bit more heat (red pepper flakes did the trick) and sweetness (a teaspoon of brown sugar).
After I was happy with the taste, I broke in half a package of soba noodles and let everything boil for 5 minutes. Then I sliced the beef, put it in bowls, ladled the soup on top and garnished with lime slices and some smashed peanuts. Voila! A “proper” dinner, with no “snacky stuff” in sight.
The beauty of Asian condiments is that you can mix things up however you choose. I could have used leftover chicken and chicken broth for my soup. I could have cracked in an egg at the last minute for a relaxed take on egg drop soup. Or poured in a can of coconut milk for a creamy soup.
I could have used any vegetable in my refrigerator, too — regular onions, shallots, cabbage, radishes, fennel. Truly, there are no rules. Just saute your veggies, splash in your seasonings, stir in your liquid, then taste and adjust.
Asian-inspired soup is going to be a staple as the garden winds down. I’m already snapping up new ingredients like fish sauce and lemongrass to see what other kinds of variations I can come up with.
Who knows? My kids may never have to endure “snacky stuff” again.