Eat Well From What's on Hand | Civil Eats

Eat Well From What’s on Hand


Few things in life give me as much pleasure as clearing out the refrigerator and finding tasty dishes to make using just what I have on hand. I love the challenge of creating a resourceful meal and often stumble upon new flavor combinations because of my fierce determination to use up all of the perishables before they are relegated to the compost bin.  Sometimes, though, the great fridge sweep leads me back to classic dishes that are both simple and delicious. With some leftover chicken, summer’s preserved tomatoes, wilting spinach and a bag of masa (a pantry staple) I conveniently have all the fixings for enchiladas—a dish that is not only easy but feeds hungry friends on the fly as well.

Once you’ve had a homemade tortilla it’s hard, if not impossible, to go back to store bought. What’s more, a bag of masa makes 12 dozen tortillas at a cost of about 5 cents a pop. With my leftover chicken and seasonal produce, I can make a meal for eight for about a dollar a person. Take that, economy!

To me, eating real food means that it is fresh, seasonal and delicious. If it’s affordable, all the better. If it’s local and sustainable, my karma goes up even more. Ultimately, the experience should be fun.  If washing down some homemade Mexican food with a cold beer isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.

Fridge-Clearing Enchiladas (makes 8 servings)

3 cups instant tortillas masa mixed in about 2 1/2 cups water
Vegetable Oil for frying

Red Sauce:
4 oz of canned tomato sauce
8 oz can of Salsa del Pato (or any other spicy tomato sauce)
5 chiles de arbol soaked in water
3 cloves garlic
1/2 yellow onion, plus chopped pieces for stuffing

Mozzarella Cheese (or other soft white cheese)
Cooked Shredded Chicken (optional)
Spinach whole leaves (optional)
Red peppers cut into thin strips (optional)

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** Special Equipment: Tortilla press

Start with the tortillas: mix water and masa according to package directions. Make 20 corn tortillas with tortilla press. Fry tortillas in oil until golden on both sides. For red sauce, puree tomato sauce, Salsa del Pato, Chiles de arbol, garlic and onion in blender. If using red peppers for stuffing, sauté in oil for 5 min until tender. Dip fried tortillas in red sauce to cover. Fill 6 wet tortillas with desired fillings and cheese. Fold tortillas and place, open side down, on bottom of 9 X 13 inch Pyrex dish. Fill 12 more tortillas and layer so that all enchiladas are touching (3 layers of 6 tortillas). Cover with remaining red sauce. Top with cheese. Cover dish with foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes (until heated through and cheese is melted). Uncover for 3-5 min. Serve hot.

Photo: Xepht

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Paige Lansing was the Development Coordinator for Slow Food Nation and is now working on a new event-- Eat Real-- to be held in Oakland, July 2009. Paige's love for Mexico and its food will be fully realized at Eat Real where the main attractions will be sustainably sourced tacos and a beer pavilion to wash them down. Paige is a California native currently living in San Francisco. Read more >

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  1. David Lansing
    I love this! And it's so true. There's an important readjustment of the usual foodie mindset when we cook this way. Instead of looking at a recipe and thinking you need to go to the store to get this and that, cooking from what's on hand makes you more creative--usually without compromising the quality of the meal. Kudos for cooking this way.
  2. Philly

    I'm with you - many of my best creations were developed by happenstance using miscellaneous ingredients hanging around in the fridge (we make "cream of vegetable crisper soup" all the time - it's always good and never the same twice).

    I'm an "opportunitarian" as well. people say they marvel at my ability to make hearty and tasty meals out of bits of this-and-that in the fridge, but isn't that what cooking is all about?

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