I would rather cook two meals at once than cook every day. The monotony of daily life, combined with the heat of a Charleston summer, has left me with a cooking malaise.
It’s not my usual stance.
Starting with a look at the grocery store ads on Wednesdays to give my palate a jump start, I’ll read a cookbook or food magazine or two, and then read a post or two online. By the time I am starting our grocery list, I’m eagerly anticipating the meals I will cook. With their aromas to whet our appetites, we eat happily and often.
Then COVID came.
I haven’t been in a grocery store in five months. My husband has been once, for a few very necessary things. Otherwise, we are ordering and having groceries delivered. It’s not the same.
Wanting to find motivation again, I turned to two friends, both chefs, both with busy lives. Chef Sarah Adams has a husband, a baby and works full-time. Chef Vinson Petrillo also works full-time and has a wife and two children under 6.
They both like kebabs for a quick meal, which with planning and negligible additional prep can provide a second one.
At the end of 2019, I took a cooking lesson at Zero George, learning new ideas from Vinson and was thrilled. I even learned to skin an eel. But since Zero George doesn’t serve leftovers, I didn’t ask him much about them. Or even about reheating.
But when the ingredients in his Kebabs with Ratatouille Flavors recipe came in season this month, I asked him if it would be possible to make a second meal from it and save a day of cooking. The ratatouille is a combination of the same ingredients he uses in his minestrone soup, with a few easy additions. In fact, with a change of protein, the same ingredients probably could be prepped for several meals.
For example, a couple of Italian sausage links per person would change the soup from a vegan one to a meat eater’s delight.
It got me thinking. I have some tricks up my sleeve to make life easier, too. And, no, they aren’t leftovers if you turn them into a second meal. In fact, they aren’t even leftovers if you freeze them and eat them weeks later.
What else can be made ahead? Look at the prepared foods counter and see what the professionals think. Sarah suggests making more rice, pearl barley, pasta, farro or other grains, and then either freezing or refrigerating, tightly closed, for up to three days. When freezing for quick eating, be sure to spread ingredients out on a flat surface like a sheet pan: The slimmer the package, the faster the defrosting.
Vinson Petrillo’s Back-to-Back Dinners
Dinner #1: Royal Red Prawn Kebabs with Ratatouille Flavors
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 anchovy filets or 1 tablespoon fish oil (optional)
1 shallot, minced
1 pinch chili flakes
1 bunch basil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 squash, small dice
1 zucchini, small dice
1 eggplant, small dice
To a large pan over medium heat add 1\4 cup olive oil; garlic anchovy filets or fish oil, if using; shallot; chili flakes and 10 torn basil leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon until the garlic just starts to color and the basil begins to crisp. Add the tomato paste and caramelize in the pan, continuing to stir and scrape for 3 minutes. Add 1\4 cup water to the pan and immediately add the diced vegetables.
Cook until vegetables are just tender, about 8-10 minutes, depending on size of dice. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt, lemon zest and basil leaves. Reserve lemon for juice.
1 pound royal red or local shrimp, approximately 12-14 per pound, peeled and deveined
4 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 10 minutes
Olive oil or garlic oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Ratatouille (see recipe)
Light a grill or use a grill pan.
Skewer 3-4 shrimp vertically so the shrimp stay straight when cooking. Brush the shrimp with oil and season with salt.
Grill the shrimp just until cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove skewers to a warmed plate. Season shrimp with lemon juice and salt.
Spoon some of the ratatouille over the shrimp and shave some Parmesan over the top along with lots of torn summer herbs. Unused ratatouille can be saved to make minestrone soup; it will last several days, refrigerated and covered.
Dinner #2: Minestrone Soup
6 cups vegetable or other stock
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can white beans, drained
1-2 cups ratatouille (see recipe)
1/4 cup cooked baby pasta, such as orzo or Israeli couscous
2 cups leftover greens, such as spinach or kale
1 lemon, optional
Simmer the vegetable stock, tomatoes and beans. Add the ratatouille and pasta and return to a simmer
Add the leftover ratatouille, small cooked pasta and bring back to a simmer. Add greens.
Spoon soup into warm bowls and season with lemon juice, torn basil and shaved Parmesan. This soup will also freeze and reheat well.
Sarah Adams’ Back-to-Back Dinners
Dinner #1: Marinated Kebabs with Cilantro Rice and Tomato Salad
Chef Sarah Adams has worked in many local restaurants, including Fig, as well as being a private chef and caterer throughout the United States. Adams writes, “My husband and I need to minimize time in the kitchen so we can have more time after work and with our new baby. Our favorite protein is local shrimp, but this marinade can be used for just about any meat.”
1 yellow onion, cut in large pieces
1 sweet onion, roughly cut
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems included
2 medium garlic cloves
1 small jalapeno, halved, seeds included
2 limes, juiced
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4-8 bamboo skewers, soaked
1 ½ pounds shrimp, peeled
12 Shishito peppers or bell pepper wedges
1 yellow onion, cut in large pieces
Combine marinade ingredients, onion through salt, in a blender and puree on high until smooth and sauce-like, about 1 minute. The marinade may be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated, covered. If using bamboo skewers, soak them at this point.
Combine 1 1/2 pounds peeled shrimp with the sauce in a plastic bag or container. Marinate 3-12 hours.
Heat a grill to high heat.
Skewer two shrimp, followed by one pepper, then a few pieces of onion. Continue this pattern until the end of the kebab. Once the shrimp and vegetables are skewered, run a second skewer through them, parallel to the first. This will keep the shrimp and peppers from spinning when flipped.
Grill kebabs until dark brown char marks appear, about 2 minutes. Flip kebabs and repeat. Remove from heat. Serve with cilantro rice and tomato salad.
Uneaten kebabs can be saved to make quesadillas. Cover and refrigerate.
“This is a flavorful switch-up from regular rice, with a little crunch from the sesame seeds and a rich full flavor. It can be doubled, with the extra rice refrigerated several days, covered, or frozen.”
1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped, stems near leaves included
1/2 a lime, juice
In a saucepan, bring water, salt, and dark sesame oil to a simmer over medium high heat. Add rice and stir. Allow to return to a simmer, cover and cook on lowest heat for 17 minutes. Remove from heat.
Using a large fork, fluff rice with butter and sesame seeds, followed by chopped cilantro and lime juice. Serve warm. Refrigerate or freeze any leftover rice for Quesadillas.
Simple Tomato Salad
2 large ripe heirloom or vine ripe tomatoes, cut into 12 wedges
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
Flakey sea salt, Maldon preferred
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
In a medium mixing bowl, toss tomatoes with red onion and vinegar and sea salt to taste. Reserve half for salsa if making quesadillas. Serve at room temperature.
Dinner #2: Quesadillas with Salsa
If there is not enough leftover shrimp, supplement with canned, drained beans or cooked chicken.
2 burrito size flour tortillas
18-ounce bag shredded Mexican cheese
Leftover kebabs, meat and vegetables
Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium low heat. Drizzle lightly with canola oil to cover, using a paper towel to spread the oil. Once pan is heated through, lay tortilla flat in skillet and spread desired amount of cheese evenly from edge to edge. Meanwhile, cut the kebabs into smaller pieces as desired.
Scatter kebab pieces on one half of the tortilla. Once cheese is melted, fold tortilla closed. Cook until both sides of the quesadilla are light golden brown, flipping if necessary. Serve with leftover rice and quick salsa.
Leftover tomato salad
Dice leftover tomato salad. Heat in a small sauté pan, bring to a slow simmer. Cook until the tomatoes are cooked through. Allow to cool to room temperature. Serve with quesadillas.