When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Frugal Stuff

I forgot the lemons. I was off visiting my BFF and always like to bring a few prepared food items to thank her and her husband for their lovely hospitality. The new pool too. I sawm all three days I was there. Anyway, I brought some sweet and yeasty Greek bread, baked fragrant with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg that makes great French toast although you have to soak the bread overnight to get the right texture. I brought my newly created beet humus which is now my favorite dip. I bought carrot top pesto, bright and grassy with a hint of lemon.

But I forgot the lemons.

They are still busy growing in my backyard, mocking and calling out to me with their casual overabundance and citrusy smugness. I harvested lemons for a good 15 minutes a week ago, my baby behemoth pit bull Annabelle providing much needed security detail as she is forever convinced of an imminent terrorist squirrel attack. I then foisted as many lemons as I could off on my unsuspecting daughter with a straight face but there are still plenty more for the picking.

According to 2016 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, potatoes, beets, radishes and carrots represent 46.2% of the most wasted type of food. In fact, the same study reports that annually, an astonishing 3 billion pounds of potatoes are thrown out, enough potatoes for 6 billion people. This is not only a crime against frugality but a terrible waste to humanity given just how many children alone go to bed hungry every night.

I have to use up my vegetables because doing so is at the heart of my frugal mentality and my way to refusing to waste while others go without. I strive to waste nothing. I like beets but they do not always agree with my digestive system, something I tend to forget when I buy them. Curiously, the ancient grain Quiona and beets are vaguely related. Beets belong to the chenopod family, which also includes chard, spinach and, surprisingly, quinoa. So, it follows that if beets are a bit rough on my digestive system so is Quiona although I love them both. I always roast beets while the oven is hot and something else is baking or cooking. I simply toss them in a small cast iron skillet, drizzle with a little olive oil and let them roast away. Once roasted, I let them cool, so the skins pucker away from the meat of the beet and then I use a paper towel to easily remove the skins. I roast my carrots very much the same way.

I save the beet greens for another use. Same goes for carrot greens. They both make amazing pesto. Just grab handfuls of either or a mix of both greens and tear them with your hands while placing them in a food processor. Toss in a couple of garlic cloves, a couple of handfuls of roasted (always roasted) walnuts, some good parmesan cheese (say 2/3s of a cup or so grated), big pinch of salt, bigger pinch of pepper and the zest and juice of two lemons. Frugal cooks, start your motors. While the mix is whirling away, drizzle in enough good quality olive oil until you get a thick but manageable paste. Delicious with its grassy and herby notes. It makes a great stuffing for roasted baked potatoes and mushrooms, sauced into pasta of course and as a topping for any protein from chicken to fish, steak to pork. It also freezes well making it a truly frugal food.

For the beet humus, I also free style this. I take a couple of roasted beets and roughly chop them to give them a head start in the food processor which is about to blend up the most vibrant shade of magenta. I add in the zest and juice of two lemons, salt, pepper and a generous dollop of tahini; say, about 1/3 of a cup. This is what gives humus its distinctive flavor. If too thick, add a splash of icy cold water which also makes the humus fluffy and provides a great texture. I learned that trick from Food Network Girl Meets Farm Chef Molly Yeh by the way. I like to give credit where credit is due and Yeh is one of my favorite culinary inspirations ever. You can add a clove or two of garlic if you like but I prefer to let the lemon zest really shine on this one. I’ve added a hot pepper or two into the mix with good results when I was craving something spicier but even without, it is an excellent dip and the color, oh the color. So vibrant and inviting. I like to dip seeded crackers into the bright humus, but any chip or cracker will do. It’s that good.

As for the roasted carrots, I’ve used them for the very same humus but also in a roasted carrot salad which is an elegant and delicious way to use up all those carrots going limp in your crisper. Cut the roasted carrots on the bias (this can also be done prior to roasting), lay them on beds of romaine lettuce and sprinkle with daubs of goat cheese, roasted nuts (any kind will do but I like pistachios for this application), a few slices of raw radish and a dusting of big salt crystals. I don’t even use dressing, just a spritz of lemon juice and this one is fit for company.

So, use up everything you buy otherwise you might as well be burning money. Inf act, pull out everything in your vegetable crisper at least once a week and make sure you use it all up. The results will be delicious. And as part of the frugal movement, we all owe it to this world to conserve and save and use up everything we can.

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