Cooking can get complicated. I’m not talking about “million-step recipe that takes 48 hours with super exotic ingredients” complicated, but rather a moral-philosophical complicated. I try to cook seasonally as much as possible. I do this because I think ingredients taste so much better when they are in season. This can get difficult during the many months of a snowy Rochester winter, when even I start to grow weary of root vegetables.
Besides trying to cook seasonally, I also try to buy goods that are created in an environmentally and ethically responsible way. This means that I prefer grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, and wild caught salmon (among other things). I don’t just prefer them because they are better for the environment, they taste better too.
And then there is the issue of cost. Food prices have been on the rise lately, mostly due to the increase in the price of fuel. Add to this conundrum that better quality food almost always costs more than lower quality food. (David Lebovitz brought up this issue on his post about wild strawberries–definitely check it out when you get a chance.)
So, is there a way to feed a family on a budget while still using seasonal, high quality, environmentally-ethical ingredients? I guess my take on it is to splurge on the ingredients that really matter, and have some recipes you can rely on (like the one below) that use budget-friendly ingredients without compromising on your standards. Do you have any recipes or philosophies that help you stay true to your morals without emptying your bank account? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.
Black Bean Cakes (adapted from Wegmans Menu magazine)
- 2 cans (15.5 oz each) black beans, drained & rinsed
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 small onion, minced
- salt & pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- vegetable oil
- Chipotle Mayonnaise (see below)
- Use a potato masher to smash the beans in a large mixing bowl. Don’t worry about getting it smooth–you want it to be a little chunky.
- Saute the onion & pepper in the olive oil over medium heat. Season with salt & pepper. Remove from heat when the onion & pepper are softened–about 8 minutes.
- Fold the sauteed onion and pepper into the smashed beans. Season with salt & pepper. Shape mixture into patties. (Each patty should be approximately 1/2-inch thick and 2-inches in diameter.) Place the patties on a parchment or wax paper-lined plate and put in the freezer for 5 minutes.
- While the patties are firming up in the freezer, set up your coatings. Place 3 pie plates side-by-side. Put the flour in the first one, beat together the milk & eggs in the second, and put the panko in the last pie plate.
- Once the patties are done with their stint in the freezer, start coating them. Dip a patty into the flour and dust off the excess. Then dip it into the egg mixture, and finally into the panko. Make sure that you have a generous coating of panko on the patty because some falls off when you fry them. Repeat with the remaining patties.
- Pour enough vegetable oil into a nonstick pan so that it is about 1/4-inch deep. Heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add some of the patties to the pan (I could fit 3 patties at a time in my pan). Fry for 2-3 minutes and then carefully flip to the other side. Fry for another 2-3 minutes and then remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining patties.
- Serve with Chipotle Mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.
Chipotle Mayonnaise (my own creation)
- 1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- salt to taste
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
- Adjust the seasoning to your liking (if it is too spicy add more mayo and lime juice; not hot enough? add another chile).
Mexican-Inspired Side Salad (another one of my own creations)
- 1 medium-size head of romaine lettuce, ribs removed and chopped
- 1/2 cup cooked corn kernels
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or quarters
- 1/4 cup cotija cheese, cut into small cubes
- 3 teaspoons lime juice
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- Whisk together the lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with the lime vinaigrette.
Serves 4, generously
Time: 45 minutes for the Black Bean Cakes, 5 minutes for the Chipotle Mayonnaise, 15 minutes for the Mexican-Inspired Side Salad
Notes: Use a fish spatula (if you have one) to turn the Black Bean Cakes when you are frying them. The Mexican-Inspired Side Salad is even better if you use leftover grilled corn.