Eat for Good with Six-Burner Sue

In the bleak midwinter, there’s something heartening about a warm salad, and it’s not just the root vegetables roasted to a golden brown. It’s about being smart in the kitchen, cutting down on waste, and fighting global hunger. Oxfam’s Eat for Good initiative lays out easy steps you can take that will make a difference in helping to feed our planet. Here are some of them—along with a recipe to get you started.

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As a small farmer and a cookbook author, I’ve become super-aware of food waste. Over the years, I’ve generated a lot more extra food from recipe testing and from farming than I’d care to imagine. But it has forced me to learn how to minimize waste, how to deal with the extra food productively, and how to prevent excess in the first place. When I think about how much food we waste globally—and that millions of people are still going hungry every day—it seems imperative to get efficient. Now.

While I’m lucky to have a big compost pile and some neighboring pigs and chickens to consume a lot of my kitchen scraps, I find I’ve made the most progress on saving food by making some changes in the kitchen—specifically in my cooking.

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A few years ago, I tiptoed over the line into the world of vegetarian eating. I had been eating less and less meat, but I woke up one day feeling like I’d probably be fine eating none at all. In order to be sure I’d have plenty of protein and variety in my meals—and be able to make quick suppers at night—I started planning ahead: cooking batches of grains and beans, making simple sauces and vinaigrettes to keep in the fridge, toasting nuts, and washing and storing my greens properly so they’d last a while. I also stocked my pantry with different kinds of noodles, grains, tortillas, and legumes. By having these things at the ready, I could come home at night and sauté or roast some vegetables and combine them with my make-ahead components to create a variety of delicious dishes. (You can even roast a big batch of vegetables ahead—they reheat well.)

Then I began creating “template” recipes—recipes with a basic set of instructions that could be customized with different ingredients and flavors. Instead of running out to buy 12 new ingredients for every new recipe (guaranteeing waste), I learned to combine what I had on hand creatively. By storing the make-ahead components properly, I could use just a small portion for what I’d need that night, and the rest would keep for the week.

One of my favorite template recipes is a winter salad of hearty greens and roasted vegetables with a zesty vinaigrette. I’ve included it here to give you a sense of how make-aheads and customizable recipes help your cooking be more efficient—and ultimately generate less waste.

This recipe is a great way to get comfortable with substitutions and flavor pairing: No arugula at the market? Spinach or baby kale makes a fine substitute. No carrots? Go with sweet potatoes or beets. Choose almonds or pecans; try blue cheese or feta.

Versatile winter salad of roasted veggies and greens

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Shop seasonally—and other smart tips

I’ve also got a few more tips for you about shopping, prepping, and storing. Whenever possible, buy locally grown vegetables and local farm eggs and meat—not just for cutting down on your carbon footprint (and decreasing dependency on factory-farmed animals), but also because the food is much fresher and will last longer—vegetables especially. A beautiful bunch of greens from your local farmer can last two weeks in a paper-towel-lined zip-top bag in your fridge, while that plastic box of mixed greens you get at the grocery often seems to be rotting by the time you get it home. Try to avoid buying out-of-season produce, which has probably flown 1,000 miles to get to you and will definitely be on its way downhill. If you’ve got a winter farmers’ market in your area, give it a try.

In the kitchen, don’t bother peeling most root vegetables (like beets, turnips, and carrots) if you’re going to roast or even sauté them. The skin will be tender and it’s very good for you. Save the leafy tops on your root vegetables to sauté with garlic for a side dish, to add to soups, or to purée with Parmesan and pine nuts for pesto. If you do have vegetable scraps and no compost opportunity (our community is working on a communal compost), you can freeze them to use later in an easy vegetable broth.

In fact, getting friendly with your freezer is a smart move. A good loaf of bread will only last a day or two on the counter once it is sliced, but it will last, sliced and well-wrapped, for a month in the freezer. (Don’t refrigerate bread; it will toughen.) Tortillas, naan breads, pizza dough, croutons, nuts, leftover tomato paste or canned sauce, some cheeses and cheese rinds, some fruit juices, and of course frozen vegetables and fruits all will last much longer in the freezer than at room temperature or in the fridge. (It helps to take a little bit of extra time and wrap or bag things in small portions before freezing.) And when you think about how most of our home food waste comes from throwing out food that’s “gone bad,” the freezer makes a lot of sense.

Lastly, if you’re cooking at home, take heart—you’re already helping the food waste problem. I think the gigantic portions in restaurants and on take-out menus (and all those plastic to-go containers) generate the most egregious food waste. Home cooking rocks!

Join the movement: Text EAT4GOOD to 97779 for more tips, recipes, and ways you can help fight hunger and save the planet.

Here’s another way to Eat for Good

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Editor’s note: Susie Middleton, pictured at the opening of this piece, lives on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off Massachusetts, where she grows vegetables and flowers for her three-season farm stand. The author of four cookbooks (the latest—Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals—is coming in April from Roost Books), Middleton also writes a blog chock-full of recipes and tales from the farm. You can find her at sixburnersue.com.

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