While honoring stay-at-home orders, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, baked goods and more.
Anne Fosterling is the chef de cuisine for The Benevolent King, where she works with chef-owner Ben Poremba to carry out a vibrant menu of non-traditional Moroccan cuisine. The Bengelina Hospitality Group of restaurants has temporarily closed, but patrons can support Bengelina by purchasing gift cards online.
What are some of the most useful ingredients you like to keep stocked in your home kitchen? A lot of frozen vegetables are as good as the original. In our house, we often use frozen spinach, especially for pasta bakes, gratins and dals. Basically any recipe you like that calls for fresh spinach blanched or sautéed can be substituted with a frozen brick of chopped spinach – be sure to drain the water really well. I like to wring it out in a kitchen towel. Frozen peas and broccoli can be made into a pesto or hummus-type spread for pastas and sandwiches.
Can you share a recipe utilizing some of your favorite frozen vegetables? Thaw a one-pound bag of frozen peas and drain. Set aside a handful of peas. Pulse the remaining peas in a food processor with about a one-quarter cup of olive oil, a smashed clove of garlic or two, about half a lemon’s worth of juice, and salt and pepper to your liking. Process until smooth. In a bowl, combine pea puree and remaining whole peas. Eat it alone on toast, as a spread for a sandwich or with cooked pasta. Substitutions are endless: Use frozen edamame instead of peas. Use frozen broccoli! Add some cheese like Pecorino, Parmesan or Feta. Add some cumin, dried mint or chile flakes.
What is a convenient, comforting meal you like to make with some bare essentials? Basic risotto. Don’t tell my staff, but sometimes I make risotto for family meal with just rice and water and frozen peas. Classically, you want a short-grain rice like arborio or carnaroli, but you can make risotto with barley, farro, pearled couscous, oats, wheat berries, white rice, brown rice or black rice. It’s the same process no matter what. Heat some oil or butter and sauté some alliums (onion, garlic, chives, leeks, spring onions – hell, use those wild onions that grow in your yard). Toast whatever grain in the oil and gradually add stock or water and stir often but not constantly until the grain is cooked but toothsome and the liquid has been bound into a creamy, starchy, beautiful thing.
Season it with salt and pepper and/or grated cheese and/or more butter. In the past I’ve added leftover butternut squash soup, a can of chopped tomatoes, the pea/broccoli pesto/”hummus”-type spread from above, random scraps of roasted vegetables, just plain frozen peas, chopped frozen spinach or one of those baby-food-type bags of frozen peas/carrots/green beans. With the leftovers, I often mix it with an egg and pan fry it for breakfast.
Do you have any suggestions for people looking to make something a little more nutritious? Basic Dal. Dal is a stew of dried legumes or beans or peas. Basic green lentils are inexpensive and found at almost all grocery stores, but I prefer to use red split lentils because they take less time to cook and break down into a consistency I like. Dal is one of the most versatile and utilized meals in our house, especially because cold, leftover dal is my favorite thing to eat with corn chips or crackers. You can use any type of lentil, dried pea or bean, although the common ones are usually lentil, split peas or chickpeas.
I always start by heating oil in a Dutch oven or sauté pan and adding my spices and aromatics. This can be all or any combination of onion, garlic, scallions, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cumin seed, dried chilies, curry or garam masala powder and tomatoes. Then I add a cup of whichever legume I have on hand and enough water or stock to cover it by about an inch. Stir occasionally, and add liquid as needed. About 20 minutes later, or whenever the legumes are nearly cooked to your liking, you can add frozen spinach or other greens, cilantro or parsley (or just the stems if that’s all you have), lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper, fresh or dried ground chilies, yogurt or coconut milk.