This week's Food Bank rejects included some limp purple kale, several red peppers with small cuts or soft spots, pears and apples (likewise), a couple zucchini, a chayote squash, and a bulk food bag of ground cardamom, smelling like heaven. There was also a mysterious pale yellow "squash" that turned out to be a melon. (The tub at left in the picture has a couple of chards and raddicchios that are waking from their winter's nap. There were more before I used some as a bed for marinated chicken the night before.)
I don't usually buy non-organic sweet peppers, which, given the cost of organically grown ones, means that I rarely eat them unless it's a good year in my garden. (I've learned the sticker code from my fellow volunteers. Organic produce has a 9 at the start of the ID number.) Bell peppers are a regular on the Dirty Dozen list of produce that shows up in the market with the most pesticide residues. But it was just too hard to throw these beauties away, and part of this project is about learning what it's like to plan meals from what's available at the Food Bank. So I decided to roast them and remove the skins to sort of split the difference. (A good resource for pesticide residues on food is www.whatsonmyfood.org)
I roasted the peppers by putting them on the burners of my gas range, turning them as the skins began to blacken. It was an arresting sight--the bright red peppers arrayed across the shiny black stove--and as Ron pointed out, it smelled as though someone in the house was smoking weed. Once they were blackened and blistered over most of the skin, I put them in a plastic bag. The resulting steam loosens up the skin and makes them easier to peel. I stored them with just a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and boy are they good. We had pasta with the peppers, the zucchini (grilled), a little garlic, oil and salt. Grated cheese on the side, home made bread, and some Organic Girl salad greens, also from the Food Bank courtesy of Trader Joe's. Volunteer sorters always hope to get the TJ boxes because they are top quality and tidy--no rooting around through rotten apples and assorted scraps to get at the good stuff.
I made fruit salad from the melon (which provided more bulk than taste, I have to say), pears and apples, and a couple of oranges whose skins were starting to harden up in my fruit basket. We had that at breakfast for the next few days. The saggy kale went into a glass of water and has now revived and looks fresh as can be. I'm having it for lunch today. I ended up composting the chayote, and I am still deciding what uses to make of the cardamom. Clearly some curries are in my future, and cookies. I also got a full box of rolled oats that couldn't be distributed because of a small tear in the security seal, so my granddaughter and I made oatmeal raisin bars and I'll crank out another batch of granola shortly. My friend Gale shared her granola recipe with me; it's simple and quick, and I never get tired of it:
3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
scant 1/4 cup light oil
6 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I prefer walnuts)
spices to taste--I like cinnamon and ginger
raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine everything but the fruit in a large bowl.
Spread out mixture on a lined cookie sheet, bake for 15 minutes. Remove and stir to redistribute the granola and bake another 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, add dried fruit (if used) and cool before storing.
Even with the pricey maple syrup, this is way cheaper than store-bought, and so good.
I have yet to "work the line" at the Food Bank, meaning actually helping with distribution to clients. I'm eager to get to know some clients and see who gravitates to the fresh produce, since canned goods and box food are also a big part of the distribution. When I think about how well we've been eating using Food Bank produce the past few weeks, it's easy to discount the reality that I have a well-stocked kitchen, no picky eaters (aka children) at home, and the time to chop, roast and simmer. Still, I'm guessing that many clients could do more if they knew more, and we are looking for ways to share that kind of knowledge.