Today I bring you the perfect Monday night dinner. It’s quick, easy, cheap, and most importantly – tastes great! I usually give you an exact recipe, but this one is going to be free-style.
I made my first sandwich from the Children’s Encyclopedia when I was 6. I insisted on having the exact number of potato chips on the plate as there was in the photo. Believe me, if you are new to cooking without a recipe I feel your pain. Because of my perfectionism, it took me a long time to go recipe-less. The interesting thing is that once I broke out on my own it’s actually harder to follow any recipe to the letter – including my own!
Rule number one – okay, there are no rules except for the ones you decide on. Pay close attention to what your senses are trying to tell you. Your taste buds and nose can show you what goes well together or if you need more herbs or spices. One thing I always do when I’m cooking is to hold the spice bottle over the pot and smell the two things together. It’s given me the confidence to try some really weird combinations, since I already have a sense of what it will be like together.
If you taste as you go any time you are cooking, you will always end up with the right amount of herbs and spices no matter what a recipe calls for. Your spices could be old and not as flavorful or your taste buds differ from the author’s. Add more when you think it needs more and you can always leave out things that you hate. One of my testers despises rosemary so she always leaves it out.
Use the freshest ingredient you have on hand and feel free to include frozen veggies too. I always have a few bags of veggies in the freezer so I can make a last minute meal. They are already cut up and are often fresher than some of the veggies that are forgotten in the back of my veggie drawer.
For this Mexi stir-fry I chose some summer squash and fresh spinach (I got from the farmers market), corn , some red pepper and onion. Normally I would throw in some garlic too, but I knew I would serve it over garlic quinoa. I used a 14.5 ounce can of kidney beans that I rinsed and drained. You could use any bean and if you have some you cooked up yourself – just measure out 1 1/2 cups which is pretty much the same.
The first thing to do is heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil, broth or water in a skillet. You want to do this over medium heat and cook any onions, garlic or bell peppers until they soften. It’s easy to tell when the onions are ready since they will turn translucent.
Cheryl hates onions – well, she thinks she does. In fact, when I mince them and she doesn’t know they are there she actually loves the flavor. I usually use 1/2 a small onion to a dish I want to serve 4, 2 garlic cloves and/or about 1/2 bell pepper. This changes depending on what I have on hand and the flavors I want to bring to the front.
At this point you can add any whole or ground spices such as the ground cumin and chili powder I used in my version of this dish. You can add a little salt here if you want. Heating the spices (but not herbs) really brings out the oils in them and makes them taste so much better. You can still add more later on if you want. I ended up adding almost a tablespoon of cumin to mine.
Once the fragrant ingredients are ready, add in the longer cooking ingredients. This is where I added the summer squash and the corn. I used the kernels from 1 medium ear of corn and about 2 medium summer squash.
If you wanted to add root veggies like potatoes or turnips I would have added them before the squash. When they started to get tender and could be pierced easily with a fork I would add the summer squash and corn. Why? I hate over-cooked summer squash – like them to have a slight bite to them. If you like yours more cooked down you could cook them together.
This is also when I added some dried marjoram and would be a great time for the dried or fresh herbs.
I went ahead and added in some more cumin and chili powder at this stage because I underestimated how much I would need. Once the squash was tender I added in the bean (to heat them up) and the minced spinach.
I minced all my greens because they don’t get picked out by my picky eater. You can leave yours larger if you want. If you are trying to sneak them in I would start with 1 cup of spinach and work your way up from there. Spinach is the mildest and before you know if you’ll have them eating collards, kale and chard!
Taste your stir-fry to see if you need anymore spices and add your salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed. Serve over the grain of your choice. I used quinoa and we loved it. I found out it’s pretty good cold when I ate my leftover lunch today.
It takes less time to make your own Kidney Bean and Summer Squash Mexi Stir-fry than it did to read this post. What’s your favorite non-traditional stir-fry? What veggies do you have in your fridge right now that you need to use up?