How to clean out your fridge

I never did follow up much on my food troubles. The advice my dear friendly commenters gave me encouraged me, partly because I realized that figuring out what to make for dinner is not some magic potion that I don't know the ingredients to. It's just one part planning, one part your family's taste, one part grocery shopping with a brain and a list, and one part being willing to try new things.

I come up with a bunch of meals that I'm going to make in a week or so, and write them into my planner (my dear, beautiful Moleskine planner that I bought myself for Christmas because I am a book-o-phile, and who am I kidding, I am such a nerd!) and then over the week I cross them out and move them around about twenty-million times because something came up or we ate at someone's house or we were in a rush and I needed to come up with something a bit easier for that evening. You all know that structure enables you to be flexible. But I should probably start writing my menus in pencil.

Anyways. This past week and a half was crazy because we had a lot of guests over around the time of the funeral, and I helped to cook a bit for the family, and we were so busy that I didn't really follow much of a plan. And then a friend came over the other night, and I still hadn't shopped, so I decided to make "Clean out the Fridge" soup. Also known as "Rainbow Stew" because it's similar to what you might be served at a Rainbow Gathering. And then I took pictures of the process. Really I think this post is an excuse to take photos of vegetables, because I think they are so lovely.

Of course, I started with the minimum requirement for a pot of soup. An onion and a few cloves of garlic.


There appears to be no photo of the garlic. Rest assured, I wouldn't skip it. We love garlic around here.

Then, I looked in my fridge. I found some carrots that were pretty much begging to be eaten. They look a little rough.

Carrots whole.jpg

But they chopped up nicely.

Carrots chopped.jpg

Next up. Some limp celery. Not limp enough to be tied into knots, but limp enough that it needed to be cooked! Pronto!


Alright. Carrots. Celery. What else can we find? Here's a lovely zucchini. Also needing a good chopping.


Oh, leeks. Leeks are one of the amazing foods of the earth. However, if you are a wandering tribe in the desert, and God happens to be feeding you with food from the sky that you simply have to gather off the ground every day, don't complain about not having any leeks. It's just plain ungrateful.

But, if not, use leeks at any good opportunity!


Partly because they are so pretty. Tasting good is almost a bonus.

The next vegetable that I found in my fridge would probably win a plant beauty contest, if there was such a thing. I didn't get a photo of the cross section of a purple cabbage, but go ahead and slice one open. So. Lovely.


At this point, this is what my pot of vegetables looked like.


Nice, but missing something. A color? Some red. Thankfully I found half of a red pepper in a little baggie in my fridge. I don't call this clean out your fridge soup for nothing.

Red Pepper.jpg

See? Now it's stunning.

Pot with red.jpg

At this point, I found a couple of sad potatoes. I chopped them up and added them to a big ol' pot of water, salted it, and set it to boil.


Here is a secret that I first learned from an Israeli chef friend of mine, and then had reinforced by the book, "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest," a book totally worth buying. Sauté everything! I sauté almost everything I put into soup, including the spices, which brings the flavor out until you are crying from the deliciousness.

First I sautéed the onions and garlic, until they looked like this. (I cooked this on medium high with a dash of olive oil.)

Onions cooked.jpg

See how they're kind of soft and happy looking? When they got to this point, I added the rest of the veggies. This is the point when I burn the onions and garlic, if I haven't cut everything ahead of time. It's a good technique for me. CUT EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME. Don't chop and fry, chop and fry, you will regret it.

Veggies in pan.jpg

I cooked these veggies until they were soft and happy looking also, and then I started to add handfuls of spices. Well, maybe not handfuls. But I added salt. Lots of salt. And pepper, lots of pepper. And cumin, really, I probably did add a handful of cumin. I also added a generous snowfall of basil, and a little bit of thyme. I stirred this all around, and added the whole pan to the boiling water with the potatoes in it.

Which I then neglected to photograph.

My soup at this point was very colorful, but it needed some stick to it. Some bulk. Some ruumpf. So I went to the cupboard and found some red lentils. This is what my jar of lentils looked like after I added a bunch to the soup. I'd guess that I added a cup and a half, maybe? I wasn't really measuring, just shaking. Rainbow Stew is not a precise art.


Red lentils are not red, they are orange. And when they cook, they turn yellow. So, hey. Liars. They sure are delicious, though. And hard to find. You can find them at natural food stores and at Indian food stores pretty easily, though.

I also added some pasta. I really wanted alphabet letters, but I haven't been able to find any recently, so I used small shell pasta.

Shell pasta.jpg

And I realized, jeez, I had added too much water to the pot. It was going to need some flavor help, so I added a can of veggie broth (with no msg). I don't usually add canned broth to my soup, but like I said-- whoops. And the soup at this point was ready to be turned down to medium and simmered for a while.

I added more salt before serving it. At the point when I had the right amount of salt, all of the flavors in the soup jumped out at me and danced on my tongue. And I knew it was ready to be served.

Bowl of soup.jpg

This is the point when my wise-cracking friend Joy started in. "What," she said, "your mom doesn't take photos of her soup bowl?" I think she was implying that I'm some kind of strange mother. But then, the father of my children juggles fire for fun, so... whatever.

Don't judge me because there is writing on my table. My son is not only a flusher, he is a writer. It's like all of the foibles of toddlerhood that my other two missed are rolled up in this one, which he makes up for with a ridiculously sunny and hilarious personality. The table needs to be painted anyways.

The soup was awesome. We ate it and ate it. And then I ate it for lunch the next day. Three bowls. Also I cleaned out my fridge! (Did I mention that already?)