Gov. Kulongoski's recent trip to the grocery store to try to feed himself on a food stamp allotment of $3 per day is more than a wake-up call; it is our social and moral obligation to help. If we cannot fix the system, we can work more efficiently within it. What can we cook with his sack of spuds for a buck?
My 'sack of spuds' is actually a five-pound bag of carrots. With six mouths to feed, I opt for root vegetables with slightly better nutritional profiles. Inspiration usually comes from recipes I can adapt. The six years I lived in Asia provided plenty of opportunities to eat cheap, tasty meals. The Indian subcontinent has evolved an entire cuisine born of necessity, poverty and cultural traditions which mitigates the need for meat.
Americans were every bit as inventive with their cuisine during the poverty of the Great Depression and the scarcity of the war rationing years. Within two generations, we've lost the skills because we haven't needed them. Swanson pot pies and frozen TV dinners are now microwavable. It isn't a surprise to see three boxes of macaroni and cheese dinners and instant noodles in the governor's grocery basket. Our grandparents were masters of cooking from scratch and knew how to make entire meals from soup bones. Stone soup anyone?
I cut up 2+ pounds of carrots into 6 cups of chicken broth (one large can) and cooked them until they could be mashed easily with a potato masher. I minced 2 medium red onions and caramelized them in a few tablespoons of butter. I overbought ($.22 total, Winco bin 1668) yellow curry, needing only 1-1/2 teaspoons to slightly flavor this recipe. It was enough to taste interesting but not so much that my youngest eaters objected. Adding the yellow curry to the onions, I scraped the mix into the carrots and broth, blending the flavors with a potato masher. Instead of yogurt (common to the Indian subcontinent cuisines but less so to the American palate), I whisked in about a cup of sour cream (half the container).
My family meal for six costs less than the targeted $6, is scalable for different sized families, and passes some common sense tests for nutrition and prep time. The Lake Oswego Review's Barb Randall and food bloggers probably have tastier ideas for what to do with the governor's $3 per diem. Until we start the discussion by trying it ourselves, we limit our ability to help those for whom this is reality. I cooked a single meal; what about a week's meals or the variability in the contents of the Oregon Food Bank boxes? Foodies from all cultures, your state needs you. Help the governor with his sack of spuds, macaroni and cheese boxes and instant noodles. But first ask your grandparents how their families got by.
Carolyn J. Heymann is a resident of Lake Oswego.