Hi! I’m Paula’s mom, Glenda. Don’t you love it when she rants about food on her YouTube videos? It may come as no surprise that I have a few food rants in my back pocket as well. Here is one of them, all about convenience foods.
Fresh vs. convenience foods. Fresh food is lovely. Fresh food is glorious. And fresh food is delicious. BUT – unless you live in a mythical wonderland, you cannot possibly traipse around your backyard and pick out all the ingredients for a meal at any time of the year, fresh off the vine or tree. And face it, having tomatoes, avocados and cucumber flown into the Great White North in February, is not exactly fresh, nowhere near as delicious as something from your garden, and certainly not environmentally friendly.
Why are convenience foods bad? Food preservation helped humans survive the ice ages. It makes grains like rice, wheat and corn stable and edible for months and even years after harvest and allows us to store fruits and vegetables easily, especially in modern homes. There are many healthy convenience foods! Here are my top 10 favourite preserved foods (give or take) and how I use them.
Dried or canned, beans are one of the best convenience foods. Dried, of course, are already preserved and if you have a pot (regular, crock or instant), you can absolutely cook your own. But really, canned beans of all sorts (garbanzo beans, kidney beans, pinto beans etc.) are one of the best processed foods in the grocery store. Use them rinsed or not, in casseroles, beans salads, stews and dips, use the liquid in your chili or go nuts and learn about aquafaba to make egg free meringue. Really, you have to do it at least once to see how cool it is. And if you cook your own beans, go ahead and toss them in the freezer to re-preserve them.
I still think about the hot, sweaty summer hours I spent blanching, peeling and canning tomatoes with my mom. There was nothing like them to bring sunshine to the depth of winter. If I ever can anything, it will be tomatoes, but I’m sure they won’t be as good as they were back then.
Canned whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce. The supermarket shelves are loaded with them because they are, like beans, something that can be done really well in industrial quantities. The quality is excellent and the time and energy saving (see sweaty comment above…) compared to fresh, is massive.
3. Canned Fish
Salmon, tuna, sardines, all of these are great sources of protein and flavour and pretty much not available fresh to most people most of the year. A quick way to add some satisfying protein and fat to a salad, pasta, or sandwich.
4. Dried Herbs And Spices
Sure you can keep a few fresh herbs growing on the windowsill, but if you want cinnamon, paprika or cardamom, it has to be dried.
And while I love fresh herbs, keeping a bunch of parsley in water on my countertop is the best I can manage these days. I also always have a big jar of dried parsley is always on hand in the cupboard.
5. Frozen Vegetables
I think I will always be a little grateful to Nigella for bringing back frozen peas. They are the next best thing to fresh, and even veggie-hesitant kids will eat them by the bucketful if you let them. Frozen corn, spinach and edamame are also awesome.
The nutritional beauty of frozen vegetables is that they are often frozen much “fresher” than the stuff you buy in the produce aisle.
6. Frozen Fruit.
Berries! I mean, really. Compare a local, fresh-frozen raspberry to a “fresh” flown in from Peru raspberry in the middle of winter. Game over, mic drop, end of story.
7. Canned Fruit and Veg
Okay so I’m a baby-boomer. We grew up with a lot of canned food and sure, some of it was gross, but quite a few of those foods stood the test of time.
Canned pumpkin is one that is in my cupboard right now. It is awesome for muffins and oatmeal and pancakes and pie.
Canned corn is delicious and another one of those kid-friendly veggies. Apple sauce is another brilliant ingredient and works really well right out of the can.
Check the nutritional information to make sure you buy a no added sugar applesauce.
8. Bottled Citrus Juice
A little lemon juice adds brightness and zing to so many recipes. Whether you prefer the squeezy plastic version or the organic, non-preservative one, it is fantastic to have on hand.
9. Pickles, Olives and Condiments
All processed and preserved using some of the oldest methods in the world. Salty and briny and some of the best ways to add a punch to your food. Add capers or olives to a slow braise to wake things up, like in Paula’s braised chicken thighs, or throw some homemade chutney into your next grilled cheese sandwich. Game changer! And if you’ve never made quick pickles, they’re a great way to clean out your fridge and extend the life of pretty much any vegetable.
10. Cheese, Wine, Coffee, Chocolate, Nuts, Olive oil, Seeds, Dried Fruit, Dried Pasta
The list goes on. While I can’t imagine a life without fresh food, I acknowledge that preserved foods have been a key part of our diet for millennia. I think they deserve some respect!
So I said I would tell you how I use these convenience foods and here is one of my current favourites. When we are in a time crunch for dinner and there is “nothing” in the fridge, I throw a few of these ingredients in a pan and we have a great dish in minutes. The ingredients lists are almost completely preserved food, with no added sugar or salt and make for wonderful eating. These are great little general guidelines that you can use to improv and improve on!
For each of these, If you have time, dice and sauté some red onions, celery and garlic. If not, add dried onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt. Other leftover veggies or meat can be tossed in. We really enjoy these over a bowl of steamed broccoli or green beans, usually topped with cheese.
A can of diced tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, sliced dried apricots and/or raisins. Add cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, mace, thyme or zataar to taste. Serve over brown rice, pasta or alone and top with toasted sesame, sunflower seeds or crushed cashews.
A can of diced tomatoes, can of kidney beans, can of corn (or frozen). Add chili powder, a squeeze of ketchup and any spicy stuff your family likes. Serve over rice or pasta or sloppy joe style on buns or even tortillas if you have them. Add cheese, sour cream, avocado, etc.
A can of diced tomatoes, a can of white beans, frozen spinach and/or peas. Add garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, capers, olives etc and use as a pasta sauce or serve over rice or with garlic bread.
Hot Tip – Did you know you can toast seeds in a small bowl in the microwave? Put them in for 30 seconds or so, whisk and repeat until you get the level of toastiness you prefer. Careful – the bowl gets super hot!
Got your own great recipe for using preserved foods? We’d love to hear about them! Leave your best tips in the comments. Happy cooking!