It’s been beautiful in Seattle the past week or so. I know there’s been a heat wave in the rest of the US but we haven’t had temperatures over 80 degrees here. It’s a bit warm way too hot for Nick, but I love it.
80+ degree weather (and no central AC!) means I am spending less time in the kitchen and more time outside. (In Seattle, we tend to overdose on sun when it’s —so rarely— available!)
When I do go into the kitchen, you can bet I’m cooking something quick, light and fresh. And simple. That’s the key here. Simple is best. That applies well to dinner in our house, especially during the warmer months.
Zero waste means cooking simple
Since going zero waste, we’ve gotten used to cooking simple meals. Fancy recipes usually call for fancy ingredients. Most fancy ingredients come from far away and/or are wrapped in plastic packaging. No thank you!
I buy simple dry goods (pantry staples) from the bulk section in my store. That’s the part of the grocery store with a selection of spices and grains and other goodies. The best part about the bulk section is that you choose the amount you buy.
Zero waste tip: The bulk section usually offers plastic bags. Bring your own containers (bags or jars) to avoid them. Most stores will let you BYO container. Make sure you weigh the jar (it’s called tare weight) before you put food INTO. Otherwise, you’ll be in for quite a large bill!
Then I buy whatever produce is in season. The majority of that comes from my local farmers market. There it’s easy to avoid plastic and unnecessary packaging. I realize I’m lucky in this category because I live near a farmers market that runs all year, even though the pickin’s get a bit slim during the winter! At the store, I buy whatever’s in season too. These items will usually be on sale. So I’m saving money on something that traveled less distance to get to me and tastes better anyway! Win win.
Zero waste tip: There are also plenty of plastic bags at the farmers market. Bring your own cloth bags instead. Bring them to the grocery store, too!
Note: Simple doesn’t mean bland or boring! When you buy vegetables and fruits in season, they taste better so you have to do less to get that great flavor.
Summer in a bowl
So, now to this summer orzo salad. It’s the epitome of a simple summer meal. It’s light, with unpretentious ingredients and an easy dressing and it comes together quickly (AKA less time in the kitchen and more time in the sun). Plus, it’s even better leftover (if you have any left). It gets better as it sits in the fridge, marinating in its dressing and works great cold for lunch. Or if you want to make it ahead and take it to a picnic, that would work great too.
To be honest, this is not really a recipe but more of a combination of items I had leftover in my fridge. So instead of following this to a “t,” use what you have on hand and you’ll be golden.
Another tactic I’ve adopted since going zero waste in the kitchen? Making use of every bit of food before it goes bad.
And it makes sense, so much food goes wasted in this country, I want to do my part to avoid that. It also means I’m not wasting my hard-earned cash.
Simple Summer Orzo Salad
1 cup dried orzo, cooked al dente
Handful of kalamata olives, sliced in half
½ cucumber, diced
A couple small kohlrabi, peeled and diced
A couple slices of onion, minced
For the dressing:
A pinch of each: dried oregano, harissa (optional but recommended), and ground cumin
Juice of half a lemon
~1 tsp honey
Olive oil (to taste. Use more if you like it less tangy, less if you want it tangier)
Whisk dressing together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, toss salad ingredients with some of the dressing until it’s to your liking. Save any extra dressing for another salad or more orzo salad!
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a full meal. (This is an estimate, you will probably have leftovers.) This can be doubled. You can also make it ahead of time and chill it in the fridge before you eat it.
How I shopped each ingredient (Zero waste style)
When I first read about this zero waste thing, it was hard to understand the shopping process.
Do you mean I should actually bring my own container, something from my home, to shop with? How do I do it? If the jar is heavy, won’t that add an extra charge at checkout? What’s the best way to transport jars to and from the store? What’s the best way to get the food INTO the jar?
I’m the queen of overthinking things. This is just how my brain operates.
So I thought I’d break down how I shopped for each item, line by line, to make it easier to understand. In case you’re also an overthinker.
Dried orzo: bought with a 32 oz mason jar = 4 cups dried orzo. Will last you at least 4 meals if you’re cooking ~1 cup dried each time.
Kalamata olives: 16oz jar from the olive bar. (At my store, you can buy the olives without the brine at checkout and then put the brine in after the fact. In the brine, they will keep in the fridge for at least 30 days.)
Cucumber: look for cukes not wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. Or buy in season at the farmers market. SO GOOD.
Kohlrabi: usually found at the farmers market here during spring and early summer.
Onion: bought at the grocery store without a plastic bag. Use the onion skin scraps to make homemade veggie broth!
Spices (salt, pepper, dried oregano, harissa and ground cumin): bought in small jars of various sizes. I buy larger quantities of salt and black peppercorns because we use them faster.
Lemon: bought at the grocery store without a plastic bag. These are not local, I know, but I rely heavily on fresh lemon juice (it’s amazing) so I make an exception here.
Honey: bought with a glass flip-top bottle because it’s easier to pour from at home. Honey is widely available in bulk at most stores here. So is maple syrup (for vegans).
Olive oil: bought with a large (32oz) glass bottle. At home, I transfer a portion into a smaller glass flip-top bottle and use a pouring spout attachment. So fancy, I know!
A couple notes about shopping with glass jars
If you’ve got a wide mouth jar or a container with a large opening (or a cloth bag), that’s best. If you have a container with a smaller opening, I recommend bringing a funnel shopping with you! Makes the process a lot easier 🙂
Get your jar weighed ahead of time before putting food into it. Most customer service sections of grocery stores will tare the empty jar for you, you just have to ask. Or if you have a kitchen scale at home, you can weigh your jar at home.
Make sure to write the tare (in pounds) somewhere obvious on the container. I use a big red marker and write it on the tops of my jars. This washes off in water so I can reuse the containers for.ev.er.
I have never once broken a glass jar while shopping for or transporting goods home from the store, and I’ve been doing this for 3+ years. And I don’t baby them. They are strong! Nick calls them my “jarmy.” (But now that I’ve put this in writing, I probably WILL break something lolol)