Monday, March 15, 2010

Mystery Stew with improvements requested

Today I received a question about adding flavor to a catch all stew of dumpstered veggies. I will relay a sampling of our correspondence about it below.

For those unfamiliar with dumpster diving, it refers to seeking out the trash behind restaurants and grocery stores for their expired or unwanted items, and putting them to use. There is a large population of people that subsist on dumpstered food, and it uses up perfectly good food that otherwise would contribute to landfills. What could be better than that? Of course, those who practice this "freeganism" must use their own judgment about whether a rotten tomato is safe to eat or not, but there are many ways to put almost anything to use - even a half rotten tomato!

Here is an example of some stew, not made with dumpstered items, but made with everything bu the kitchen sink...
sweet potato black bean stew
mmm, stew...

Hi Jennie!

Hope you're well. Aside from being busy, I''m doing alright.

I have a mystery for you. Yesterday, my roommates and I made our weekly trip to the Food Lion dumpster, where we came out with some barely-okay vegetables. We're veterans enough to know that nothing is better for stew than mushy veggies, so now we find ourselves with a slow cooker, a pot full of peas, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, and black beans. It's filling and warm-- two very important factors. But something's off, which brings me to you.

It doesn't taste like anything! I've thrown in salt, pepper, basil, and chili powder, but it's still bland as could be. What will make this hearty stew taste like... something?



Hi Hannah!

Well, there are a few possibilities.

One simple trick might be to add a small can of tomato paste. There is a bit of salt in there and in general, tomato paste is a good base to rely on for veg to play off of. You could also add a bit of soy sauce, cumin and teriyaki, or a dash of balsamic vinegar, some roasted garlic and some parmesan, or PEANUT BUTTER and mustard and nuts and a bit of brown sugar to make it like a west african nut stew! Also, maple syrup is a sweetener that add depth and subtlety without overwhelming a dish.

In the future, one good way to give automatic richness of flavor to not-so-great veggies that you want to stew with is to roast them first in olive oil, salt and pepper. That way, the salt and oil soak into the veg, and the sugars of the veg are activated (like how onions caramelize and get sweet). Some people brush the veg with an olive oil and tomato paste mixture for added flavor, yum!

Sometimes with kitchen sink stews like this, I like to eat it on crackers to make it last longer, or pile it on a bed of greens and toast like a sammich, and thin it out toward the end with water or stock to make a soup...and continually add more ingredients as I find them, like pasta, tomato, any other veg that comes along, or chili leftovers! I love meals that can extend into new ones.


PS you will love the blog below, as I do.


Jennie to the rescue!

That was amazing. I read your response aloud to my housemates, who were in jaw-dropped awe. None of this comes naturally to us, so it's incredible to have your emergency services at hand.

The dumpster-diving living is great. I have been munching on perfect grapes for three days. What college kid can afford fresh fruit? Perfectly ripe fruit that's been sitting atop partly moldy bread and dented cans is fine by me.

That blog is by a woman after your own heart. I need to know where she finds all that! I've forwarded the link on to friends in Sarasota, who feed a house of 9 solely on dumpstered food. I think that means 9 new readers.

Hope LA is treating you so, so well. Happy St. Patrick's day! Here's to finding corn beef and hash behind a Trader Joe's.

Love, Hannah


While I don't know for sure what Hannah and her pals decided upon to improve their stew, it sounds like some ideas began moving around in there. I can only imagine what that many young brains could concoct when given so many free foodstuffs!

Also, the blog I mentioned above is terrific and I highly recommend reading it. I think we have a similar view on frugality and a waste-not-want-not attitude, but she is far more active in seeking out wasted foods than I am. It is quite inspiring! For now, I will continue my focus on problem solving.

I hope everyone has a lovely St. Patrick's Day. I will be baking and eating Irish Soda Bread in just a few hours. Here is a picture of the St. Pat's day party I co-hosted last year (with soda bread remains):


1 comment:

owo said...

these tips are EXTREMELY helpful. thanks emergency food hotline!