Good Salads Part 3: Dollar Store Swiss Chard

The promised land

Today, on my mission to find the cheapest possible elements of my Halloween costume (TBA), I hit up the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Jack’s 99 Cent Store. While at Jack’s, where in fact––spoiler alert––not everything is 99 cents, I noticed that along with various hair accessories, chips, and cleaning supplies, they also sell frozen food. Perhaps you’ve read my past two Good Salads posts and have noticed this already, but I truly believe that frozen vegetables are the key to a low-cost, high-nutrient, high-satisfaction diet. At the same time, I felt the stigma of buying produce at a dollar bearing down on me like the store’s fluorescent lights. …Am I poor? I asked myself. Should I tweet about buying groceries at the dollar store so people would maybe think I was poor but also know I was being ironic about it? Is it in poor taste to tweet about that, since I’m pretty sure hundreds of thousands of people buy their groceries at dollar stores around the country and it’s not actually a big deal but I think it is because I’m kind of insecure and kind of a snob? I decided “yes” to the last question and took a closer look at the frozen vegetables.

I had been craving collard greens all day and was searching for those, but in Jack’s limited selection I could only find frozen corn (already have it), spinach (meh), buttered spinach (no), broccoli (have), potatoes (have fresh), and organic swiss chard. I like Swiss chard, and it’s sort of like collard greens, I thought, plus it was ~organic~. I checked the expiration date (26 December 2015, close but who cares) and grabbed one bag for about $1.69. Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients:

  • Swiss chard
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Butter & olive oil
  • Sweat peas (frozen)
  • Lemon
  • Chicken Better than Bouillon or stock
  • Salt, pepper, cayenne
  • Honey
  • Optional: whatever fun seasonings you have in your fridge, sausage
  1. In a medium pot or pan over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon or less of butter with an amount of olive oil that you think is normal and you are comfortable with. Dice the onion and add to the pot, stirring until onion pieces soften and turn a bit translucent. Add minced garlic and about a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon. Once this starts to smell amazing, add the frozen chard. This should make everything a little more watery, which is good.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon over the pot, being careful not to include any of the seeds. Add a dash of cayenne if you like, pepper, and salt which should make the combo even waterier. This is ok. Let go of your apprehensions. Add a little more Better than Bouillon if that will make you feel better.
  3. Add in the frozen sweet peas. I debated whether or not to add these because as I was tasting the chard I thought it was pretty good on its own, but then I thought, what the hell, and I added the sweet peas. I don’t regret it in the slightest. If you have any additional spices you want to add, by all means, go ahead now. For me it was this leftover spicy green chutney I got when I had kathi rolls last week. Upon googling it appears that it’s hari chutney and it’s spicy AF, but my chard needed a little of that. Also add about half a tablespoon of honey to balance out the acidity/spiciness.
  4. If you decide to add sausage, let the chard continue to cook while you prep. I used a pork sausage that my mom made and brought for me last weekend. I have about 10 links of homemade dried sausage in my fridge that I think is going to last me into the new year. I only used about 1/3 of one sausage and cut it into tiny little chunks. You know why? Because the World Health Organization told me that cured meat was going to give me cancer, and after reading that I didn’t want to eat too much of it (I had truffle sausage for lunch yesterday). But you know what I realized? Fuck that. I would rather run the risk of getting cancer than live a life without cured meats. I’m not scared of anyone and we’re all going to die somehow at some point.
  5. So anyways, once you’ve cut the sausage into small chunks and stirred the chard around a bit, just sprinkle the sausage over the chard, cover the pot, and let it all cook over low heat for a few minutes. And that’s about it!

I ate my chard over rice and it was fucking amazing. I saved some for lunch tomorrow––hell yeah. If at any point you were wondering, “that’s not a Good Salad,” actually, I declare that sautéed vegetables are basically salad’s older, wise sister. Sautéed chard is Daria. Salad is Quinn. “Huh?” You say. Google it, you goddamn millennial.

I know you probably came here for some epic post-recipe wisdom, and I won’t disappoint you. On my way home, various thrift store finds in hand and vague fecal odor drifting through the subway car as per usual, I looked up to see this ad:

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Fuck you Seamless

Basically, this ad insults two of the things on this earth that I love the most: home cooked meals and the great state of New Jersey. “Cooking is so JERSEY” says the ad in the played-out nouveau kitsch style of irreverent-yet-personable-yet-still-quirky startup design, the Seamless logo, then their apparent slogan, “HOW NEW YORK EATS.” Don’t try to convince me that my membership in what you’ve deemed the New York City Club is dependent on my ordering delivery food from you by pitting me against my own identity and glorious home state! Who are they trying to target with this ad? Recent transplants who brag about how they’ve never used the kitchen in their apartment and (wo)mansplain NYC geography unsolicited? If you don’t like cooking and simply prefer take-out, that’s fine, it’s your preference. But don’t go trying to start some sort of border/class war about it like Seamless is.

I bring up that subway ad because it basically sums up the thought process behind what was wrong with my first impression of buying groceries at the dollar store. I was driven by my perceptions of one form of consumerism (i.e. Grocery store / Ordering food) to judge another form of consumerism (i.e. Dollar store / Cooking your own food), all while giving a third party (i.e. Seamless) the opportunity to benefit from my insecurity and desire to prove my belonging to a certain group. How many times have you done that without realizing?

LIFE LESSON FROM THIS EDITION OF “GOOD SALADS”: Before you jump to judgment, remember that cheap things aren’t necessarily less valuable just because they’re inexpensive. Eat what you want when you want to.

Good Salads Part 2: Dope as fuck panzanella I made for about $5

I just made a tasty as fuck panzanella (“bread salad” for the uninitiated), and as I was eating it out of a tupperware with my hands at 12:25 AM in my unlit kitchen, I realized that I must share the recipe with you for the following reasons:

  1. As previously mentioned, it’s tasty as fuck
  2. It’s super cheap and easy to make
  3. It also happens to be vegan

My friend at work is being vegan this week, which is why the vegan element came to mind. I thought while I was eating the salad that maybe veganism wouldn’t be too bad with food like this, because the bread in this salad is so savory and gets to be almost a meaty texture. Not saying I am going vegan, but I could totally live a fulfilling life for about a week, tops.

Here’s what you’ll need for this particular recipe, along with respective prices that I paid and some background on each ingredient:

  • Sourdough bread
    • $2 for a loaf (I used two slices, which was about 1/4 of the whole thing). Purchased at Butterfield Market for half price when they were about to close. Some sourdough recipes use milk or butter so you’d have to check, but your basic recipe only uses flour, sourdough starter, and salt.
  • Broccoli
    • $2 for a bigass frozen bag at Fairway. I used about 1/3 of the bag.
  • Corn
    • $1.50 for a mediumass frozen bag at Fairway. I used about 1/4 of the bag.
  • Grape tomatoes (duh)
    • $2 for one pint at Fairway. I used 1/2 the pint.
  • Onion
    • $3 for a bag of 6 at Fairway, I used half an onion.
  • Parsley
    • Free. Grown on my windowsill.
  • Oregano
    • $ unknown, probably around $3.50 for a small jar.
  • Garlic
    • $ unknown, probably around $2 for 3 heads, I used one clove.
  • Olive oil
    • $20 for 3 liters at Fairway
  • Lemon
    • $0.25 each at fruit stand. I used juice of one slice
  • White wine vinegar
    • $6? I don’t know.
  • Salt, pepper, sugar
    • Basic seasonings get in for free.

Obviously if you add up all the prices to acquire all these ingredients, you’d get something around $35, but considering the small proportion of the retail size of each ingredient I used for this particular recipe, I would price the cost of this recipe (which will actually work as two meals, serving-wise) around $5 or less.

Here’s how you make it:

  1. Slice two thick pieces of bread. Cut into squares. Mince garlic. Heat up olive oil in medium pan on medium heat, add garlic. Add oregano. It should smell extremely good. Add bread right away, stir around a bit to coat with oil.
  2. Transfer pan contents to a large bowl. Add more olive oil to coat the bread, plus salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking tray and broil in toaster oven or regular oven until golden brown, flipping the bread squares once.
  3. While the bread is broiling, blanche the broccoli. If you don’t know how to blanche, Google it. You basically just boil it in salted water, strain, then shock it in ice water. After blanching, quickly stir fry the broccoli in some olive oil over high heat until it’s at a texture that you like.
  4. As you wait for the broccoli to cool down, prep your onions, corn, and tomatoes. Dice half the onion, then put it in a small bowl with about 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Add about a half tablespoon of granulated sugar, stir. This both brings out the flavor of the onions and makes them less onion-y. It is character building for the onion. If you are using frozen corn, which I recommend you always keep in your freezer, defrost in hot water and strain. Slice grape tomatoes lengthwise, and if you wish, give about half of them a good squeeze over a sink or garbage can so their juices and seeds don’t make the salad too watery.
  5. By now your bread and broccoli should have cooled down. In the big bowl, give your broccoli a spritz of lemon, then throw in the bread, tomatoes, onions, corn, a few sprigs of parsley if you have it, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well.

Most panzanella recipes recommend serving immediately, but I was making this for lunch the next day. I still wanted to taste it, though, so I put some in a bowl and added some white wine vinaigrette that I keep in the fridge (you can find the recipe in my previous salad post). It was pretty delicious. I put the rest of the undressed salad in a tupperware and planned on tossing a lunch portion with dressing in the morning before leaving for work. But the interesting thing is, when I went back to eat more of the undressed salad at midnight, it tasted so much better than it did right after prep, even without dressing. Obviously, the salad had had more time to soak in and distribute all its flavors, and the bread was this great juicy, chewy, crunchy texture. I’ll have to try it again in the morning to see if it even needs the dressing.

LIFE LESSON FROM THIS EDITION OF “GOOD SALADS”: We can always live with less, and sometimes we can even enjoy it.