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American stew

For me, soups are to winter what salads are to summer. “Here’s some random food, let’s put it in a bowl and eat it.” Because I prefer raw veggies to cooked ones, I never get as excited about soups and stews as I do about salads. Nonetheless, it’s cheaper to eat local veggies in soups than it is to eat veggies flown in from South American countries (or worse, the other side of the world) just to get a salad. Plus, this year I have stores of dried and frozen veggies that need to be eaten before more start arriving!

So I’ll still buy a cucumber as a treat, but I’ll consider it as such, and in between I’m trying to eat the food that I’ve saved. It’s nutritious and of course it’s cheap.

I crave bright, sour foods this time of winter: Greek salads with lemon and dill and olives. But that’s not what grows around here. Oddly enough, what grows around here – and therefore what’s cheap and available – are American foods.

I have a couple of butternut squash that have survived the winter just fine sitting in my kitchen. I’ve finally broken them down – peeled them (this works well with just a plain peeler, don’t be scared!), scooped out the seeds, chopped them into cubes, frozen them on a cookie sheet and popped them in a bag in the freezer to save. Squash are a lot more nutritious than plain potatoes. But I don’t always like the texture and these have almost no flavor. I’m tired of pureed soup. What to do?

Well, in soups as in salads, it usually works well to pair foods with things that, again, come from their home region.

Where does squash come from? Right here! Native Americans planted squash with corn and beans, the three sisters that formed the backbone of many farming tribes’ diets. Why couldn’t I do the same? They did it because it worked, producing a lot of nutrition from the most efficient use of land, but it also provides a great complete nutrition profile. Why shouldn’t I?

So I put some of my frozen squash cubes in two cups of water on the stove, and added a chopped up (seeded) adobo chile (from my spice buying trip, documented previously!). I added some dried leek and dried red pepper from the dried food stores, and a can each of tomatoes, pinto beans, and corn. All of these things are things that grow, if not in my neighborhood, at least on my continent. A little olive oil gives the soup body and richness, and a fruity aroma that went well with the squash (it is, after all, a fruit – thus all those seeds! And hey, the tomatoes are fruit too!) I added salt, pepper, some garlic powder, and cooked at a brisk simmer for twenty minutes – and hey, I had food! Pretty tasty, too, and quite nutritious. And enough for about five meals. I can add meat on the side if I want, stir it in (ham goes very well with this American mix), or eat it as is – the beans are a source of partial protein.

What’s expensive now? Lemons, olives, oranges, fresh delicate herbs and tomatoes – things that don’t grow around here, at least not now, probably not ever. What’s always cheaper? Things that DO grow around where you are. If you visit a farmer’s market, if nothing else you’ll get a better sense of what grows in your state, and your county. If you’re trying to figure out what to mix with what from your food stores – try to mix like region with like region. You’ll probably like what you get!

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