THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Involuntary sequestration

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It is apparent that it’s not life as usual these days. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t even have had the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 pass from animals to humans, but even in the perfect COVID-19 world, we’d shut down and sequester everyone for two to three weeks so that the virus would run its natural course and no new infections would occur and we’d be back to normal, all the while having every citizen still collecting their paychecks, businesses excused from their insurance and lease payments and all loan payments put on hold.

Of course, the world we live in is far from perfect and even with mandatory shelter-in-place orders, you still see citizens gallivanting outside like its life as usual. But for yours truly, I am in the higher risk population, so sequestration is also essential for personal survival.

Chili and Rice. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Essential Workforce
As a health care worker, I have been deemed essential by both the state of Hawai‘i and the federal government, so I must report to work every day unless I become one of the COVID-19 statistics. And though it does seem unnerving encountering multiple patients with surgical masks throughout the day, I am thankful that I continue to receive a paycheck, as many citizens are forced from “non-essential” vocations and now have to fight the myriad of endless paperwork to collect unemployment checks.

However, whether working or furloughed, everyone still needs to eat.

Far from Fresh
Unless you have prepped well with a large freezer stocking bags of assorted frozen vegetables well before the crisis, you’ll have to make weekly trips to the supermarket exposing yourself to who-knows-what’s-out-there. The same goes for other perishables like eggs and dairy, unless you do not mind converting your milk to buttermilk, then yogurt as the carton sits in your refrigerator for several weeks.

So, it does pay to prepare well in advance with cupboard essentials, such as canned beans and tomatoes and proteins like tuna and chicken, as well as various dried legumes and pasta, plus rice and other whole grains such as farro, quinoa and amaranth. In the 50th, if everyone adequately prepped for the annual hurricane season, which runs from May or June until late November, last-minute stockpiling would not be necessary. And that includes dry goods, such as toilet paper and paper towels. In fact, the only item needed for those last-minute purchases would be hand sanitizer, as that is the one item usually not included for the annual hurricane season.

You Can Also Do Takeout
I’m still a little conflicted on ordering takeout. While it helps restaurants with a little cash flow while sit-down dining is prohibited, it isn’t enough to keep any restaurant going in the long-term. And once this crisis is over and we’re well on the downside of the bell curve, many smaller establishments will fold.

And while takeout minimizes individual exposure to the virus, you still must multiply exposures over the whole food chain, which doesn’t really help to flatten the curve. The produce grower or farmer is exposed to the primary buyer who is exposed to the wholesaler who is exposed to the delivery person who is exposed to the restaurant worker, etc. So even if your own exposure is only to the restaurant worker, there are many other exposures for you to get that takeout meal.

But I still personally try to help keep our local restaurants afloat, especially those that purchase locally so that it helps the bottom line for more than one merchant.

You Have to Cook
So, if you don’t do takeout, you have to cook, and you can only consume so much dried ramen before your body rebels. For starters, on those limited excursions to the supermarket, I purchase lots of fresh basil and cilantro to make pesto, which I use as sandwich spreads, on homemade pizza and even simply as dips for crackers and crostini. We also purchase lots of fresh garlic and onions, as these last longer than other fresh vegetables, along with root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, celery root and parsnips, once again due to their extended shelf lives. And we always have a variety of beans in our cupboard, both canned for immediate use and dried for cooking on the weekend. We always have white, brown and mixed grain rice and usually never have to stockpile at the last minute as we don’t consume as much rice as we did in days gone by.

The only temporary issue we had during the initial phases of the COVID crisis was flour and yeast. You see, I never thought of my local neighborhood as being heavily populated with bakers, so while I assumed rice and pasta would be in short supply, I never envisioned flour and yeast in demand. WRONG! During those initial phases, my local Safeway had only three bags of whole wheat flour and no Fleischman’s or Red Star yeast. I had to visit the neighboring community of Kailua to restock our supply of flour and yeast. The only issue with pasta is that we normally consume the Barilla Protein Plus pasta, which has a shorter shelf life due to the whole grains, so you can’t overstock this variety.

So, what can we cook simply using items in our pantry? How about different takes on jambalaya, chili or curry? A classic dish in the 50th uses ground meat instead of cubed beef like Texas chili and it also features that anathema of Texas chili, beans. Folks in the 50th love their beans, and it is not chili without beans. And chili in the 50th needs to be served with rice, so instead of cooking them separate, how about chili with beans cooked with the rice? A one pot, one bowl meal that also reduces after dinner dishes! And all prepared from your pantry to reduce your chances for COVID-19 exposure!

Chili and Rice
1 1/2 cup Uncle Ben’s Converted rice
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained saving the liquid
1 can tomato sauce
1 can chopped black olives
1 can chopped green chilies (hot or mild depending on your preference)
4 tbsp dried celery flakes
1/4 cup dried diced onions
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried cumin powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried granulated garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cup textured vegetable protein

Pour liquid from chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce in a large measuring cup and add enough water to make four and a half cups. Add all the ingredients except rice and heat on medium high until it comes to a boil. Add the rice and mix well, cover then reduce heat to low to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off and remove from heat, uncover, and mix then cover again and let it sit for another five minutes.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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