Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Better than ramen noodles

When I was a poor college student, I'm pretty sure I survived on ramen noodles for weeks at a time. Now that my son is a poor college student, I'm hoping to get him on a slightly more nutritious (and sustainable) diet. He's just moved into his own place with a friend, so I'm preparing a care package of foods to make 5 easy meals. In case you're looking for some quick and easy meals yourself, here they are, with instructions that I hope even a new cook can understand.

1. Polenta with tomato sauce (vegan, depending on your brand of polenta and sauce). This is SO easy. Buy some pre-cooked polenta, slice it off, brown slightly in a skillet over medium heat, with a little butter or canola oil. Heat some tomato sauce (I've used various types of spaghetti sauce). Serve polenta topped with tomato sauce. To round out the meal, serve with a green salad.

My polenta and sauce are from Abundance Cooperative Market.

2. Barbecue tempeh (vegan). Another super easy one. Cut tempeh into triangles, rectangles, whatever shape you prefer. Brown on both sides in a skillet (I prefer cast iron, but it's not necessary), with just a little canola oil, on medium high heat. Put in enough barbecue sauce to cover, but not smother, the tempeh. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 5-10 minutes, depending on how much liquid you like. (This last step gives the tempeh a nice glaze from the sauce.) Serve with rice, or put it on bread, add some lettuce if you have it, and you've got a great sandwich, hot or cold.

3. Egg sandwich (vegetarian). There's nothing like a homemade egg sandwich. Turn your skillet on high, and put your bagel or bread into the toaster while the skillet is heating. Once the skillet is hot, turn it down to medium-low, add a little butter or oil, and add your egg. (This is my trick for a non-rubbery egg.) Over-easy eggs work well for sandwiches. Cook your egg on the first side until there's no runny part left. Turn it over gently and cook very briefly to finish it off.

Of course you can add any condiment you want to an egg sandwich. My current favorite is a slather of chevre cheese and a spoonful of salsa. Messy but yummy.

4. Orzo with feta and artichoke hearts (vegetarian). Even if it's not ramen noodles, pasta is still relatively inexpensive. My favorite orzo is available from Artistic Eats, which you can only purchase at farmers' markets (their website has a complete list). The flavor is lemon-garlic. A half pound of their pasta serves 2 people.

Boil a big pot of water. Once it's at a rolling boil, add the orzo and a few drops of canola or olive oil. Boil 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Pour the pasta back into the pot, add 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil, quartered artichoke hearts, and crumbled feta, again from Lively Run.

This basic recipe can be altered by adding or substituting chevre for feta, and adding/substituting other veggies, such as steamed asparagus, olives, garlic scapes.

5. Pasta primavera (vegetarian). This is really just a version of number 4. Get some pappardelle, angel hair, or fettucini from Artistic Eats (preferred, but you can use any pasta here, including the basic kind you get at any grocery store). Boil and drain as in #4 (the pappardelle or fettucini will need 12-15 minutes to boil; the angel hair only 5-7 minutes). Pull a packet of chevre from the fridge to warm up slightly, as this makes it easier to work with.

While the pasta is boiling, slice and saute whatever veggies you got from the market in olive oil, canola oil, or butter. Some suggestions: summer squash, asparagus, onions, carrots, peas. They won't take long...don't saute for too long or they'll get mushy.

Pasta primavera usually has a sauce, but in this case we'll just use the softened chevre to add creaminess. Add chevre, sauteed veggies, and a little olive oil to the pasta.

There you have it! Not as cheap as ramen noodles, but better tasting and better for you!

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