Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cooking 101 For One

I like to go to the grocery store and feel inspired. Feeling inspired, however, at the junky Key Foods near my apartment remains difficult. It isn't like being in the Union Square greenmarket, where everything feels vibrant and fresh. I'm never blown away by the array of colors, the unbruised produce, the diversity of food. I take what I can get.

The one thing about my neighborhood, though, is that it's ethnically diverse. This means that the local grocery stores house products--both grown and packaged--that would probably never appear in the bright and antisepctic aisles of the suburban American supermarket. Key Foods may not be known for their produce, but they sell Queso Fresco, a Mexican cheese. They sell fresh Greek yogurt and all kinds of pickled and preserved fruits that I've never seen before and strange gelatin packets in flavors like chocolate and coconut. They sell the European-style nectars in tall glass bottles in flavors like Italian prune, apricot, and pear. They sell packaged chicken feet, which I would buy if I knew what to do with them.

They also sell tomatillos and slices of cactus and many, many different kinds of peppers. Habaneros, jalapenos, red and green bells, orange Dutch peppers--Key Foods has them all. Therein lay the moment of my inspiration when I found myself in the grocery store yesterday afternoon. I had been craving vegetables as it was and was trying to think of a way to make a dinner for myself that contained a fair amount of protein and very little starch. Right there in the vegetable aisle I decided to make stuffed peppers.

Back home, I gutted three peppers, one yellow, one orange, and one red. At the store, I had purchased two tomatillos, one fresh jalapeno, and one package of ground chicken meat. I browned the chicken, adding salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, chili powder, and dried cilantro. The meat was very lean and started to stick to the pan after a few minutes, at which point I added a teaspoon or so of olive oil.

I put the browned chicken to the side. Using the same frying pan, I sauteed the chopped tops of the three gutted peppers (stems removed, of course), the jalapeno, one half of a Spanish onion, three cloves of garlic, the tomatillos, and half a cup of thawed frozen corn. I added to this mixture the same blend of spices that had seasoned the chicken along with a healthy dose of Frank's Red Hot, some worcestershire sauce, and a few tablespoons of ketchup. I sweated this mixture down until the peppers were soft (but not mushy). Then I added the chicken back in.

I stuffed my three peppers with the meat/veggie mixture and placed them in a Pyrex casserole dish. Over the top, I drizzled some olive oil to help expedite the cooking process. Into a 350 degree oven the peppers went for about 30 minutes (I checked on them in between). They were ready when the peppers felt pliable when stabbed with a knife.

On the side, I steamed a head of broccoli with red pepper flakes, salt, and course pepper. Unfortunately, I was out of chicken stock, or I would have steamed the veggies in stock. Stockless, I went with water instead.

Now, I am not a calorie counter, but it should be noted that this entire meal--I ended up eating half of the broccoli and two peppers--hovered around 400 calories. The chicken I bought came to 180 calories for a quarter pound; I ate about a third of a pound, or roughly 240 calories. I used about two tablespoons of olive oil in the entire meal and ate about 150 calories' worth of that oil last night. Veggies are virtually calorie-free, but are rich in fiber. It turned out to be the perfect meal.

I do wish I could do things like this more often, living off of vegetables and small amounts of lean protein rather than relying on starch or fatty meats to sustain my diet. The American belief that meat and potatoes provides the requisite heartiness for a healthy diet is an invention; humans can survive just fine without a daily intake of red meat or starch. All we need is the inspiration to change what we eat.

1 comment:

ramster said...

my stuffed peppers always have included rice, i like the corn idea. and now i know what to do with those two ears in my fridge, thanks!

its hard to turn that tide from the big piece of meat meal to the more sensible fruit-and-vegetable-centric menu. i have found that bringing in an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables once a week has forced us to design dishes that are vegan, or only contain a small amount of meat. it only took about 4 weeks of this to bring a sea change in the eating in my house.

also, start in the produce aisle, not the meat case!