Cutting Back After the Holidays? Shop from Your Pantry for Healthy, Delicious Food

Start 2017 with cheap, healthy eats you can easily make at home.

I love a time of year when the focus is on food, food, food, drink, and more food. But it can be rough on the waistline, for sure.

So, my solution is winter pantry and bean salads. I make a big one every few days and every time I’m in need of a little something or of an easy lunch to take to work, instead of reaching for the leftovers, like my mom’s delicious – but highly caloric – stuffing, I scoop out some salad. The textures and bright flavors are ever so satisfying and the density of the beans makes it very filling. And they keep for days, so it is very convenient.

One of my favorites when I am on the run is the three-bean salad at Punta Cana Dominican Grill on Post Avenue in Westbury. This takeout joint features Spanish Caribbean food at great prices in ginormous proportions. Owner John Romero won’t give me his secret bean salad recipe – believe me, I have asked – but I can tell you that it has black, white, and red beans, onion, celery and a little green pepper, and certainly cilantro. I suspect the tropical flavor burst is amped up with lime, but I am not sure. It is an obsession of mine and I don’t even bother trying to imitate it; I just buy his by the quart and bring it home.

Three-bean salad from Punta Cana Dominican Grill

The one I make most often at home is decidedly more Mediterranean and has a revolving cast of characters depending on what is in my pantry. I anchor the salad with garbanzos (which you may call chick peas or ceci or Kabuli chana) and either cauliflower florets which I steam in about an inch of seasoned salted water (as soon as the water boils, I switch off the heat and let them steam, stirring in the seasoned water, which I then drain before using) or chopped artichoke hearts. Then, for flavor bursts, I add chopped red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and chopped black olives or a generous scoop of capers. I like a crumble of feta in there; a little bit goes a long way towards being satisfying without adding too heavy a caloric load. I pour in a few tablespoons of good olive oil and a couple of caps full of apple cider vinegar, stir and then sprinkle with oregano and a good finishing salt. Fresh ground pepper is always a good idea.

When I serve, I might top it with some tinned tuna, a couple of anchovies or leftover grilled chicken, or nothing at all. I don’t really get bored of this salad, but occasionally I will switch it up and do chickpeas with optional red and black beans mixed with red onion, lemon, olive oil and a scoop of tahini (sesame paste). That one is wonderful stirred into leftover white rice.

Do you have a pantry salad that works for hectic holidays or hectic regular life? Let us know your ideas!

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Natalia de Cuba Romero writes from her home in Massapequa Park, and chronicles simple seasonal recipes for the produce she gets as a Restoration Farm member at hotcheapeasy.wordpress.com. She is a full-time lecturer at Nassau Commmunity College.