THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Waste not, want not


columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALEarlier this year, I decided to make that move to the next chapter in life, namely I retired. Though I’m eligible to make withdrawals to my retirement savings accounts, I decided to hold off until Ms. S also retires, as most of our retirement savings are in standard retirement accounts that are fully taxable once they’re withdrawn. Therefore, until then, I’m trying to live the spartan lifestyle, which includes mindful grocery shopping, stretching those dollars as far as possible and limiting our food wastes as much as possible.

Not Just for Cocktail Ice

We both were raised by parents who endured the plantation era where many Nisei left school during their formative years to work to assist the family with the basic needs of food and shelter, so wasting food was literally a mortal sin. We both still try to follow these basic tenets of life, but I’ll admit that I would still find produce or fruit hidden at the back of the produce bin either shriveled beyond any salvageable use or growing various colors of “facial hair.” I’d also find various cheeses wrapped in foil that eventually morphed into variations of blue cheese … even if they started life as cheddar. And sometimes that large pot of chili that we both ate morning, noon and night for the past week and a half but still didn’t seem to be getting any smaller, still went bad. 

So one of the first changes I made was to freeze any leftover green onions in our produce bins. When I make my ginger and green onion sauce, I usually use full bunches of green onions, so waste isn’t an issue. But for other dishes that call for just one-fourth cup or so of sliced or chopped green onions, the leftovers can go one of two ways. If the bunch is fresh, it’ll continue to grow in your produce drawer, though the emerging shoots resemble a woman with hair in a humid environment, growing every which way, and it definitely isn’t easy to slice or chop. Or if they aren’t as fresh, the green onions quickly brown and start decomposing right in your produce bin. Therefore, I now slice the leftovers for both sukiyaki and chop them for fried rice and immediately freeze them for future use. I also do the same for celery and round onions, either freezing a large chop for stews and curries or smaller dice for the standard mirepoix.

Apples also often found their way to the garbage bin, as I often took an apple for my workday, brown-bagged lunches and Ms. S consumes them on a regular basis. But sometimes I’d purchase apples over the weekend for the upcoming workweek and Ms. S would do the same so we would end up with an abundance of the fruit. And invariably, an apple would roll out of the produce bag to the back of the produce bin, to eventually be found weeks later, just slightly moister than a dried apple. And because I’d normally check the produce bin just the day before our weekly garbage pick-up, we often missed produce on the decline. But now that every day is a weekend, I check the produce bin often and will peel those older apples to grate for applesauce that I use in oatmeal muffins (using the same recipe on the Quaker Oats label) or for use in Japanese style curries – if you’ve wondered why Japanese-style curries are sweeter than India-style, they often use fruits like apples, bananas and even mangoes in their curry sauces. I then freeze the grated apples as one-half cup portions in zip-top bags.

Not Just for Sandwiches

Because of the humid environment in the 50th, bread tends to turn south rather quickly. We would normally play Russian roulette with our fresh loaves, leaving them out as long as possible before refrigerating them, to keep them fresh for as long as possible. The downside is that they may appear soft and fresh one night, but sprout “beards” in various colors overnight. So for starters, we never reach into the bread bag, but rather push the slices out of the bag. This way, any mold spores on our hands aren’t introduced into the bread bag. We’ve also determined just how long each type of bread can last at room temperature before it needs to be refrigerated. The supermarket-baked ciabatta and sandwich rolls usually just last three to four days before they need to be refrigerated, whereas the commercial breads can easily last up to 10 days before they sprout colorful “beards.” It makes me wonder what type of preservatives are baked into each loaf to keep them fresh and mold free for so long …

Because I routinely make strata or savory bread pudding, once the bread loaf is a candidate for refrigeration where it will invariably stale quicker, I often slice the loaves into cubes to facilitate the drying process, as bread pudding works better with stale versus fresh bread. If the cubes totally lose their moisture, I then pulverize them into breadcrumbs, which I use to thicken soups and stews or as a filler for meatloaf. The totally dried bread also gives the breadcrumbs a longer shelf life as partially dried bread can still develop mold even if stored in the refrigerator.

Goulash Anyone?

Though true goulash is a Hungarian stew made from various meats and vegetables primarily spiced with their indigenous paprika, it now often refers to any stew that often uses leftovers of fresh and pantry items found in the home kitchen. Mom’s favored goulash used cubed Spam, canned corn and other diced vegetables, along with cubed potatoes in a tomato sauce broth. Since the targeted audience of the Nichi Bei Weekly is the Asian American population, I’ll call my creations jjigae after the popular post-war Korean stew, budae-jjigae or Army base stew. What was originally created out of necessity during the post-Korean War impoverishment, it now remains a very popular dish in Korea.


 The sauce for this waste-not, want-not, clean-out-the-leftovers curry is:

4 cups liquid — can be leftover canned stock, wine or simply water

1 small apple or any leftover apple, peeled, cored and grated

1 small banana, mashed

3 tbsp curry powder

3 tbsp
u sauce

3 tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp mirin

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

4 tsp shoyu

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with
to form a slurry

Additions can include any leftover root vegetables — potatoes, carrots or sweet potatoes. You can add almost any refrigerated vegetables — onions, celery or squash, as well as most greens that you might cook — kale, chard, celery leaves and any type of cabbage. Most leftover starches can also be added directly to the curry sauce, including noodles, rice, barley/farro and quinoa. You can also add leftover animal proteins like chicken, pork or seafood.

I would add the cornstarch/sake slurry last after all of the ingredients have simmered for about 30 minutes just to make sure the harder root vegetables have softened.

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 recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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