Earlier this month, I had to have minor hand surgery to remove a tiny cyst from my thumb. Ironically, the pre-op procedures and the post-op protective wrapping made me feel a little ridiculous. It was a tiny cyst. It felt like major surgery and my wrap definitely felt like overkill.
At any rate, the fear I might not be able to use my hand and then the reality I couldn’t use my hand led to a need to use some veggies.
I’m not one of those people who need to hide veggies from myself or others. I love the flavors of all vegetables (except sunchokes) so I’m happy to taste the flavors of my vegetables. That said, I also love a good soup loaded with vegetables where the flavors blend into something delicious.
Two recipes I made – one before surgery and one after – made good use of my abundant vegetables from the farm.
I make a “no recipe” soup that is similar to minestrone except I don’t always include beans and/or pasta. It’s loaded in vegetables, has tomatoes in the broth, and is flavored with thyme, basil and oregano. Sometimes I make a version that is more like tortilla soup flavored with cumin and chili powder. It just kind of depends on my feelings in the moment and what I have on hand.
Here’s the basic No Recipe Soup:
- Onion, chopped
- Carrot, chopped
- Celery, if you have it but ok if you don’t, chopped
- Garlic, minced
- Plus any veggies you have, chopped (I used celery root, delicata squash, and some small sweet peppers)
- When corn is in season, I might take it off the cob and add it to the soup. Sometimes I add it as frozen or canned (drained) corn. Sometimes I skip corn except I love corn. Just depends…
- If you have it and want it, 2-3 slices of chopped bacon or pancetta for flavor.
- Ideally, some kind of greens to put in at the end, chopped (I used chicory since that’s what I had)
- Chicken broth to cover your veggies in the pan (I use box stock often and I usually end up using almost a whole box)
- 2-3 cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce (depending on what you have)
- Seasonings of your choice: thyme/basil/oregano if going for minestrone or cumin/chili powder for tortilla soup
- 1-2 dried bay leaves, depending on size
- Salt and pepper
- Whatever toppings you like: parmesan cheese, sour cream, lime, crushed tortilla chips, crackers, olive oil or nothing at all
The measurements aren’t really exact. Before my surgery, I had onion, carrot, part of both a delicate squash and a celery root so that’s what I used along with some pancetta I had in the freezer. I chopped them all up to be about the same size. I crushed several cloves of garlic in my garlic press. In a large pot, I added a bit of olive oil and sautéed the veggies and pancetta and garlic until they got a bit softened. At that point (once the bacon is cooked and vegetables are a bit soft), I add chicken stock until it just comes to the top of the veggies. To that, I add 2-3 cans of tomatoes depending on how many veggies I have or how tomato-y I want it to be. I can my own tomatoes in the summer, but one jar of my tomatoes is about the size of a standard 14 ounce can from the store.
To this I add my seasonings. I decided to go toward minestrone with this batch so I used dried thyme, basil and oregano. I don’t measure it, but I’d guess it’s about 1 teaspoon of each with maybe a bit more thyme and oregano than basil. To this I added 2 bay leaves because mine were pretty small. I had it so I added a can of drained corn. I bring the whole thing to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and then cook about 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are soft. In the last 5 minutes, I would add in any greens I have (kale, chard, spinach or whatever I have). If I have fresh parsley or cilantro, I might add that in just before serving. It’s pretty flexible. Because I had it, I added colorful chicory which simply needed to wilt in the soup just before serving.
If I wanted to make a more traditional minestrone, I would add in drained cooked beans and pasta in the last 10 minutes of cooking. If I was leaning toward tortilla soup, I might add chopped corn tortillas into the soup with the broth so they have time to break down and thicken the soup while the veggies are cooking.
It makes a very delicious soup with lots of flavor and it’s easy to cook. Most of the time is chopping the veggies at the start. After that, it’s pretty passive cooking and it’s ready very quickly.
I ended up eating the soup for several days after my surgery and I was very happy to have it on hand so I didn’t have to think about how to feed myself. I also put three “single serve” jars of it into the freezer so I’d have some options for myself after surgery. I also make a large baked pasta casserole. Between the soup and the pasta, I kept myself going when cooking wasn’t really an option.
But then you get bored. I had to figure out how to finally cook again even though I wasn’t able to use my left hand. I finally decided to try to make tacos since I knew I could use many vegetables as long as I could use my food processor instead of chopping with my hands.
Here’s the No Recipe, One-Handed Tacos:
Still, you’d be surprised how much you need your left hand even if you’re right handed. I ended up having to cover my left hand with a bread bag turned inside out and using it to hold things steady while I did some basic chopping. In this way, I could get onion, carrot, and kohlrabi cut up enough to put it through my food processor. Thank goodness. There’s no way I would have ever been able to chop any vegetables enough by hand. I was barely able to hold things steady for making large chunks to go into the processor.
Here’s the basic “no recipe” recipe:
- Ground meat of your choice (at least one pound)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- Veggies of your choice, finely diced: I always include onion and carrot but you could use zucchini, hard squash, or whatever you like
- If I don’t have fresh lettuce to eat raw on the tacos, I will put in greens like kale into the beef mixture to cook so there’s some green in there somehow
- 1-2 cans of tomatoes, depending on how sauce-y you like it
- taco seasoning packet of your choice (I had trader joe’s) or make your own seasoning with salt, cumin, oregao, and chili powder
If I were a person who needed to “hide” vegetables from kids or anit-vegetable people, this would be a perfect recipe. The vegetables get hidden in the spicy meat mixture of the tacos. For me, a veggie lover, it was a way for me to use my precious vegetables before they went bad. The individual flavors of the vegetables to get lost, but it was a delicious mixture that was extended by the inclusion of the abundant vegetables.
To keep things easy on myself, I put the ground turkey (use whatever you life) into the pan to brown. Once it was partially cooked, I added in my finely chopped vegetables to cook. Once the meat was done, I added in the taco seasoning mix along with a can of tomatoes and a bit of water.
It simmers a bit to get thickened and then you eat it as you’d like. We had raddichio from the farm that formed cute little cups so I ate some of it as if in a lettuce cup. I ate some in flour tortillas. I topped both with cheese and sour cream. My taco seasoning turned out to be pretty spicy so I didn’t need to add any salsa. If it had been summer, I might have added in some raw tomatoes for a contrasting texture, but given the winter, I used the raddichio to provide that raw crunch and feel.
Again, there were plenty of leftovers to have several nights of soft tacos to fill in around the other things I ate (mostly takeout). Until my hand wrap came off — 2 weeks!! – it was enough to keep me ahead of my vegetables spoiling and also satisfied my desire to cook and eat something yummy that I made myself.
I like that these “go to” recipes don’t require a recipe at all and they provide satisfying, simple meals. Even one handed.