The COVID Culinary Conundrum

From schools ending abruptly, to workplaces no longer being a thing, the cancelation of summer camps, empty nests becoming full houses again and summer vacations turning into social distancing at the beach…it is a challenge trying to stay calm and healthy, yet sprinkle in rays of sunshine and laughter as much as possible. Cooking can easily be placed on the back burner. And by back burner, I mean not even desiring to turn on the burner or oven amongst the heat and stir crazy feeling in your own kitchen. How can we spark some culinary energy? How do we keep things cool, yet creative?

You do not have to turn your oven on to prepare a tasty, satisfying meal. When working with fresh produce, a fridge, freezer, and blender, you can stimulate your taste buds by trying new foods and new methods of meal prep. You’ll activate pathways in your brain that fight boredom and promote happiness. You’re bound to discover some fun and tasty foods to bring more joy and creativity into your daily life. And hopefully, all of those around you too!

Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Cool down with flavored ice

Take your cocktail, mocktail, or pitcher of water to the next level by making flavored ice cubes. All you need is water, an ice cube tray, and some fruit and fresh herbs. Simple, satisfying, hydrating creativity. Fill your ice cube tray about 1/3 of the way with water. Then add some fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, along with some chopped fresh herbs or fruits. Freeze overnight and get ready to experience the flavor-infusing power of your ice cube efforts in your daily water, or next fresh beverage creation. Here are some tasty combinations:

  • Lemon juice and mint leaves
  • Strawberry and basil
  • Pineapple and thyme
  • Lime juice and chili peppers
  • Blueberries, mint and lime juice (suggest shaking these up with some rum for a blueberry mojito)
  • Cucumber slices
  • Any fresh berry or berry combination
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Let’s NOT turn on the oven. Just don’t do it. Stay cool. Keep it simple. But tasty. Mix and match with one item from two or three, or as I suggest, all of categories. Toss them together. Munch time.

Start with a base of GREENS (at least 1–2 cups per serving):

  • 🥗Arugula, Boston or Bibb, cabbage, curly leaf, kale, mesclun, red leaf, radicchio, romaine, slaw mix, spinach, spring mix, watercress

Add a lean PROTEIN (suggest 3–5 ounces per serving):

  • 🥫 Canned beans (rinse and drain) or frozen or dried— black beans, black-eyed peas, Cannellini beans, edamame, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, lima beans (Grandma was right-they are delicious😋)
  • 🍤Leftover chicken, fish, hard-boiled eggs, meat/meat substitute, shrimp, tofu, tuna, turkey— cut into bite-size pieces

Add a WHOLE GRAIN (suggest 1/3–1 cup per serving):

  • 🍚Whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous, lentil pasta, whole wheat orzo, tortellini
  • 🌽OR starchy veggie (or both!) — corn (sliced off the cob, frozen, or rinsed and drained from a can), peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes

Add some FRESH or FROZEN PRODUCE (unlimited; cut into bite-size pieces):

  • 🥦artichoke hearts, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers (peeled and sliced thin), eggplant, jicama, leeks, mushrooms, onions (red, green purple — sliced thin), peppers (red, yellow, green), radishes, snap peas, sprouts, tomatoes, etc, etc.

Add a DRESSING of sorts (suggest 2 tablespoons per serving):

  • I’ll have the housemade vinaigrette: Combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, generous sprinkles of pepper, chili flakes, and touch of kosher salt. Cover, shake and chill for at least 1–2 hours.
  • I’ll try the Dijon vinaigrette: Combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, 2 garlic cloves, minced, a few twists of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cover, shake and chill for at least 1–2 hours.
  • I am in the mood for creamier dressing: Nonfat greek yogurt mixed with some herbs, spice and flavored vinegar
  • No time for this homemade dressing gig: Any light dressing will do. My fav: https://www.garlic-expressions.com/

Add some FRESH HERBS (umlimited):

  • 🌱basil, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, etc.

Add any additional desires (suggest 1–2 tablespoons total, per serving):

  • 🧀feta cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese
  • 🥑avocado, dried cranberries, sun-dried tomatoes, olives
  • 🥜chopped nuts — walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts, etc (Nutty tip: Toasting nuts helps to bring our their flavor. Chopping them helps a little go a longer way. The combination of the two gives you a bigger bang for your buck, without excess calories. Nuts are quite tasty, but their calories add up quickly)
  • seeds — pumpkin, sesame, sunflower

Need some help with protein & veggie combos?

  • garbanzo beans, curly leaf lettuce, whole wheat orzo, cucumbers, housemade vinaigrette, feta cheese, olives
  • leftover chicken or tofu, frozen or fresh corn, frozen or steamed broccoli, frozen or steamed red bell peppers, fresh cilantro, Garlic Expressions, chopped and toasted peanuts
  • frozen or steamed green beans, chopped red onion, lima beans, corn, dijon vinaigrette
  • cucumber boats stuffed with a mix of chickpeas, red onions, dill, nonfat greek yogurt, herbs, spice and vinegar

I have come to believe that living in a state of gratitude is the gateway to grace. ~ Arianna Huffington

For comments, thoughts, requests or anything else you feel the need to share, please do: amysmargulies@gmail.com

A nutrition expert and middle child, I am writing to promote health and wellbeing, recipes and tips in a relatable, slightly rebellious fashion.