bowl of jewels & quinoa + honey tahini sauce

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Now that school’s out, I’ve found myself grappling with the unfamiliar yet wonderful burden of having free time. Lots of it. Quiet mornings for drinking my coffee, as slow as I please. Entire afternoons without a single article to read, lesson to plan, or paper to write. Given this new-found freedom, I thought it’d be harmless to walk down to the library and check out Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Sure, I’m a couple years late to the KonMari craze, but I figured I might as well page through it and see what all the fuss has been about.

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Warning: this book is not to be undertaken lightly. One hundred pages in and several days later, I’ve filled four trash bags with clothes to donate and three with just trash. I’m constantly scanning shelves and drawers, repeating, trance-like, Kondo’s question for deciding if something is to be saved: “Does this spark joy?” If no, into the garbage it goes. The whole experience is as liberating as she claims, but it’s a slippery slope, too. Given enough free time and trash bags, I could very well end up with just a swimming girl poster, a bananagrams set, and a fondue pot left in my apartment: three things that spark joy, surely, but hardly enough to live on.

I bring all this up in order to introduce an idea Kondo mentions early on in the book. She says before you begin tidying up, it’s essential to visualize your ideal lifestyle, and in great detail. This, she insists, will serve as your guide as you assess what to keep and what to discard. Maybe it’s mumbo jumbo, but it’s the kind of thought experiment I like. So here goes.

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To start, my ideal lifestyle would rely heavily on component cooking. Component cooking is a concept I first learned about from one of the food blogging greats, Naturally Ella. It’s the idea of having a fridge full of meal parts — some cooked up grains here, some roasted veggies there, a protein prepared and ready to go — so that your week of “cooking” is actually a week of mixing and matching, assembling the parts as you please, adding sauces and embellishments however suits your fancy. While I’m very far from mastering the art of component cooking, it’s a goal to aspire to: a lifestyle that feels clever and creative and in control.

So here’s a “recipe” — or rather, a suggestion — of what component cooking could look like. Might it be a part of your ideal lifestyle, too?

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bowl of jewels & quinoa

2 beets, roasted and diced
1 large sweet potato, cubed
8-10 asparagus stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 red onion, sliced thickly
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
1 can black beans
some warm spices (e.g. cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder)
1/2 bunch kale, destemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked

honey tahini sauce*

1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup water (plus more, if needed)
1-2 tablespoons honey
juice of 1/2 a lemon

*Note: these measurements are very approximate and may need to be adjusted based on taste

Like I said, this post is not so much a recipe as a collection of components intended to inspire your creativity. Follow directions loosely. Add and subtract and modify.

Let’s begin with component #1: the sauce. Thicken it. Thin it. Up the sweetness. Downplay the tang. Try some garlic or a squirt of sriracha to give it a kick. As my mother would say: “Liberty hall.”

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Component #2: the jewels. I roasted the beets separately, following the foolproof “wrap in tin foil, roast for 45-60 minutes at 375 F” method. Once they’re easily punctured with a fork, let them cool for ten or so minutes, then simply rub with a paper towel and the skins will fall right off. Slice and set aside.

As for the other jewels: I first tossed the diced sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them in a slightly hotter oven (425 F) for about 20 minutes. Next I tossed the red onion onto the same pan and placed it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Finally, I added the asparagus pieces, plus a little more oil, and returned the pan to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes. Stirring the veggies occasionally as they roast is always a good idea.

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Component #3: jazzed up black beans. I used Naturally Ella’s basic recipe for black beans, and recommend you do the same. Don’t bother to drain the beans before adding them to your pan (I did drain my beans and they turned out a little drier than desired — learn from my mistakes, dear reader!).

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Component #4: kale. No photo needed. Place roughly chopped kale in a pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes. then drain and rinse with cold water.

Finally, component #5: quinoa. You know the drill here. Half-cup of quinoa, one cup of water (or broth). Bring to a boil, let simmer for 10-12 minutes, then transfer to a bowl and fluff with a fork to prevent stickiness.

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With all your components ready to go, all that’s left is to pile it up in a giant bowl, douse the works in honey tahini sauce, and congratulate yourself for totally nailing this whole dinner thing. It’s nearly vegan (just sub agave for honey and you’re there), it’s gluten-free, it’s crazy healthy, yada yada. Most importantly, it’s tasty, and completely versatile to incorporate your own creative twists.

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Just make sure all those components get properly stored in the fridge so that when tomorrow night rolls around, you can do it all over again.

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