The Ingredient-First Mindset

“What’s for dinner?” I text my spouse coyly, knowing full well that there would not be a reasonable or realistic response. My wife doesn’t cook. Which I have made peace with since it means that my kitchen doesn’t get burned down from a forgotten burner that was left on. 

“What do we have?” she asked, referring to ingredients.

“Broccoli, chard, peas, garlic, cauliflower, tatsoi, radish seed pods, the chèvre I made over the weekend and some ancient grains (farro and quinoa) that I cooked up.”  I text back with a giggle knowing the concoction she came up with (if she could think of one at all!) would be quite interesting!

Silence followed. As I expected. I giggled and continued on with my day, knowing full well that I would be creating some sort of concoction for dinner!

When my spouse got home, she sheepishly asked “…so what’s for dinner?” while peering over my shoulder. I continued dicing and mixing while replying “you know, I’m not exactly sure. But I think I’ll figure it out along the way!”

This is a common response. My spouse is used to mystery meals with no name being sat in front of her! I don’t take the time to come up with names for the majority of things I cook. But tonight’s dinner was so good that it was dubbed a name: “springtime lasagna”.

Assigning a name means that the meal will be made again. Not exactly the same – it’s impossible to make it the same when you cook without a recipe! But this meal, the “springtime lasagna” was certainly delicious enough to attempt it again!

As we munched happily on the so-called “lasagna”, my wife revealed that she had plugged the ingredients list I gave her into one of those recipe index websites. She was shocked when it returned not a single recipe with any combination of those ingredients that didn’t also require something else… something out of season. I, on the other hand, wasn’t shocked at all!

Seasonal eating isn’t something that comes easily to our society. We actually seem to be living in a world that wants us to forget how to eat in rhythm with our environment and the food it’s providing us. We are accustomed to a never-ending barrage of out of season veggies and treats. 

Cucumbers in November? Apples in March? And year-round tomatoes? It’s pretty easy to forget the production that goes into delivering these items into our hands at any time of the year! But, the toll of constantly eating this way is undoubtedly weighing heavily on our health and our environment’s health. More seasonal eating is a simple solution!

Barbara Kingsolver states in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life that “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels.”

When we first started learning how to eat in the seasons and to eat what we grew or raised ourselves, it took some practice! The first thing I had to scrap were most recipes! Instead of looking at the recipe first and the ingredients second, I learned how to look at the ingredients on hand first and create or adapt a meal to utilize them.

Approaching meals with an “ingredient-first mindset” is one of the best ways to start eating more season and local foods! Before looking for recipes or thinking of meals, start by thinking of ingredients. Ask yourself: what’s in season right now? Is there something I could substitute for an out-of-season ingredient? How can I buy this locally or grow it myself?

While the decision to eat more seasonally and locally may seem like an insignificant one, it’s a decision that can truly have an incredible impact on your health, your community and your earth.

If you want to dive even deeper into learning how to incorporate seasonal eating into your daily life, I have a full guide to seasonal eating over on my blog. There are even printable cheat sheets for each season to help you get started! I also highly recommend the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which chronicles one family’s journey to eat only local and seasonal food for one whole year.  

Springtime Lasagna

Ingredients
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Peas
• Garlic
• Crushed tomatoes: I used 1 pint of home-canned crushed tomatoes from last year’s garden
• Ancient grains, cooked: I used farro and quinoa
• Cheese: I used homemade goat milk chèvre but you can use any cheese or vegan cheese that you like. You can also omit the cheese altogether.
• Chard, or other greens such as kale, tatsoi, or spinach

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350oF. 
  2. Chop the broccoli, garlic, cauliflower and peas (shell the peas as needed).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped veggies and the crushed tomatoes with the ancient grains. 
  4. Add the cheese and stir to combine. 
  5. Grease a 9”x9” baking dish.
  6. Lay out a single layer of chard leaves to cover the bottom of the baking dish. 
  7. Spoon half of the veggie-grain mixture onto the leaves and smooth it out. 
  8. Lay out another layer of chard leaves, then top with the remaining veggie-grain mixture. 
  9. Top with more cheese, if desired. 
  10. Cover and bake for 25-30 minutes, until heated through. 
This week’s garden tip: Harvesting Basil

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