If you’re like me, you like to do things right and well. You may think you don’t have time to cook for yourself — but you do. The key is strategizing before you start cooking — at least, the first few times.
You also need to learn to use one or more of the following tools: your oven, a slow cooker, and/or a pressure cooker. There’s really no reason you can’t teach yourself, other than your own fears. Hopefully, I can help talk you through any of those that you may be having.
The simple truth is this: real food comes from your heart and soul and hands as you put ingredients together. Ingredients. Not prepared foods. If you make your food yourself, you are the one controlling exactly what goes into your food. If you have dietary restrictions, you already have some idea how important this is.
Don’t view it as a chore. View it as a strength.
Sure, you can make mac n’ cheese from a box; anyone can, especially with that microwaveable stuff. But doing it from scratch tastes a bazillion times better, and you can control exactly what goes into it. Want some veggies in the mix? Add them. Don’t want boring cheese? Don’t put it in. Want to cut down on the fat? Tinker with the fatty ingredients, lessen amounts, omit some altogether, or do whatever you like that tastes good and gets you where you want to go. Gluten-free? Use gluten-free pasta. Want whole wheat or some other grain? Use it! There is absolutely NOTHING stopping you — and that’s just playing off mac n’ cheese.
But I’m not going to walk you through mac n’ cheese today. I merely wanted to start from a familiar example. Today, I’m going to take you through my reworking of one of my favorite snacks, the perennial Japanese bento (that’s a lunchbox, for those who aren’t inclined toward Japanese food) favorite known as kinpira vegetables.
What are they? Well, kinpira veggies are usually made with root vegetables, which makes them perfect for fall and winter. A traditional choice is gobo, also called burdock root — but to be honest, I’m not overly fond of its texture. (If you like it, of course, use it to your heart’s content.) I love parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, and turnip for my kinpira. If I had to pick one favorite, it would probably be parsnips.
You peel and slice the vegetables into planks or batons that are of similar size. Then you toss them with a little soy sauce, sesame oil, a pinch of sugar (which can be omitted), and anything you want to use to jazz it up a little. I like adding sesame seeds and smoked chipotle pepper flakes for a little kick. You can add whatever you like. Just don’t add salt; soy sauce has plenty of that, so you shouldn’t need to add more.
Traditional recipes have you saute them on your stovetop with a little oil. You can, of course, do this. But it’s not very efficient — particularly if you discover that you really, really like munching on kinpira.
Kinpira veggies are good hot, at room temperature, or even cold. Once you try them, you’ll quickly discover your own personal temperature preference for them. And then you’ll wish you had more.
I’m not content to just do a small batch at a time. Cooked kinpira stores well in your fridge for a week or so — so why wouldn’t you make yourself a whole lot of it at once? It also freezes well, so you could even go crazy and make a ton at once. But if you did that on your stovetop, you’d be standing there cooking for hours. I love to cook, but I generally have a bazillion other things I need to do.
If you have an oven and some sheet pans, you’re good to go. Oh, and a timer. Don’t forget the timer. Then you can go off and do something else while you wait for your veggies to roast — as long as you make sure you can hear the timer when it goes off.
Just chop up your veg and put them right on the sheet pan. Then pour a little bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, and olive oil (just enough that the veggies don’t stick to the pan) on top of the veggies. Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of sugar and whatever other seasonings you like on top. Then massage all the ingredients together and mix up your veggies. You’ll coat the veggies with all your seasonings while you spread them out evenly on the pan. How’s that for efficiency? Thought so.
Bake in a 425F oven for about 40 minutes, or longer if you like your veggies softer/browner. Root veggies are great, because they will soften up as you roast them, but they won’t turn mushy unless you really overdo it.
When you’re done, they’ll look like this. You can eat them hot out of the oven, or you can let them cool down. Or you can do some of both. Pack them in an airtight container in your fridge, and they’ll be readily available for snacking whenever you want. Or you can freeze them. In any case, you’ll have kinpira for at least a week — or a few days, if you’re me.
One last note: if you’re gluten-free, look for gluten-free soy sauce. It does exist, although you may have to do some assiduous label-reading to find what you want at the store. If you suffer from diverticulosis or other ailments that preclude eating seeds, don’t add the sesame seeds — and check with your doctor before using sesame oil. You can leave it out and still have tasty kinpira-esque veggies, but the flavor won’t be the same.