The Art of Re-purposing (Part One)

Re-purposing is the act of transforming food, whether a raw ingredient or a completed dish, into a completely different meal. An example of this could be turning a pasta dish into a soup. Another idea is to use tortillas when making lasagna. Re-purposing is an important and incredibly helpful skill for any cook to have in their culinary toolbox. This skill is particularly important when dealing with leftovers. It’s also one of my favorites.

Recently I was able to use this skill during the aftermath of unfortunate circumstances. Last weekend I was signed up to be a food vendor at an outdoor event. Despite the amazing summer weather which had been present throughout the week, the weekend brought a lot of rain. At this point the menu had been chosen and all of the food prepared. There wasn’t much choice except to go to the event and hope the rain would let up long enough to make some sales. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

After following through with the event and enduring the miserable conditions, my team and I packed up all of the food which had been prepared. There was enough food to feed 100 people. We took stock of the inventory, froze as much as we could, and divided up the perishable leftovers. Even after giving away most of the food to friends and neighbors, the fridge was still full enough to be busting at the seams. Time to get creative!!

Luckily, the perishable foods that were left over all had a reasonable shelf life. There was fruit (easy to eat), sliced bell peppers and onions (lots of uses), four cucumbers which had been julienned, pasta salad with chicken & asparagus (lunch & dinner for DAYS), shredded carrots, 15 pounds of coleslaw mix (OMG!), and about 10 pounds of quinoa tabouli salad (*sigh*).

The fruit, onions, and peppers were easy to use. After a few days of my roommate eating fruit for breakfast, snacks, and dessert, it’s about gone except for the grapes. (There were a lot of grapes). Some of the peppers & onions were used for chicken fajitas. The rest can be added to the pasta salad for a quick dinner. Some of the onions & quinoa inspired a dish that was so good I made it twice. And, the second batch got eaten so quick that I’m considering making it a third time.

Quinoa is a great grain which is quite nutritious & versatile. However, it tends not to be very popular if it is the lead actor in a dish due to its gritty texture. In my Quinoa Tabouli dish I use a 50/50 blend of white quinoa with a blend of fresh herbs and grape tomatoes. The combination brings compromise to ingredients which are better when playing second fiddle. Each flavor and texture is able to stand out a little more because they work together as a group in harmony. All that being said, I like the salad even more when it’s mixed with something else. The recent burst of cold & rainy weather got me craving soup.

One of the things that I like best about this soup is that it comes together really fast (especially since I had cooked & diced chicken in the freezer). I started with the red onions and got them sweating in a little canola oil. (BTW, I don’t use measurements when I cook. it’s all by taste & estimation, so hopefully you’re not looking for an exact recipe.) While they were cooking down I mixed up some chicken bouillon (only because I didn’t have broth or stock on hand), got out tomato paste & curry paste. As the onions were sizzling I added a little of each paste to the pot to wake up the flavors & added a little broth to provide moisture. I covered the pot for a few minutes to let the flavors blend while I collected the other ingredients. In the freezer I grabbed the stash of chicken and also some corn (for color, texture, sweetness, and nutrition). In the fridge I found the carrots & dug out the giant container of quinoa salad. Before I added anything else to the soup pot I checked the flavor of the base. The salt level was about right, yet the acidity level was off. It needed sweetness so I added a little sugar (maybe a tablespoon?) Then I noticed a little cup of chunky peanut butter that was leftover from lunch. In the pot it went, followed by the remaining broth & the other ingredients. **I should note that I didn’t use ALL of the quantity for every ingredient that I listed. This was small, 2 quart batch of soup & measurements were done by estimation & taste. Use good sense to achieve balance** The chicken & corn were added first since they were frozen. Once they were heated through I added the carrots since they were cut thin & I didn’t want them to lose their firm texture. At the very end I added a few spoonfuls of the quinoa salad. I turned off the heat & cover the soup for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. Upon tasting the finished product I realized that it was good & tasted oddly familiar. It was as if I had eaten this soup before even though I had never cooked it. Then it dawned on me where this familiar blend had come from; African Peanut Soup! Wow, just by playing with available ingredients, I had used my re-purposing skills to turn Quinoa Tabouli Salad into African Peanut Soup. BOOM!

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