Cooking Together While Keeping Social Distance
By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
A couple of years ago, I wrote a cookbook called “Cooking Together: A Vegetarian Co-op Cookbook” (2017, Nimbarka Press — available at Other Avenues and Rainbow Grocery) with an assay on virtues of sharing food preparation with your family and friends as well as benefits of sharing meals with them.
Along with useful information on spices and ingredients, the book includes many world-fusion recipes with local ingredients. The emphasis is on how to engage with your community by cooking together. During this stressful time of the COVID-19 epidemic , I am offering some solutions and tips that may help the conscious consumers when shopping for wholesome food to keep themselves healthy. And, I will end the essay with two recipes.
Advice from health care agencies (such as the CDC) about the importance of personal sanitation and keeping social distance from others to protect ourselves may have helped us in minimizing the infected cases of the coronavirus. Social isolation is a difficult task. We need to be indoors as much as possible and keep distance from others when outdoors.
This situation impacts our ability for grocery shopping and cooking. Many work places and schools are closed, so families are focused on feeding themselves with healthy food. People also have more time to prepare real food from scratch. Cooked food delivery and pick up options are available but they are more expensive and not necessarily healthy. Take-out foods may have gone through more hands than when you cook them yourselves. They also may have compromised in selecting the quality ingredients. So, here are some tips for shopping and cooking together, while keeping distance:
(1) Avoid ordering and picking up cooked food as much as possible. Although cooked foods are generally considered safe, they can be handled by possible infected hands. Besides, most take-outs are too oily and over salted. Most of them do not use the best and/or organic ingredients.
I know, sometimes it is boring to eat your own food day after day, but try to be creative. Encourage your non-cooking partner to join in the kitchen. Let your children create their own dishes. You will be surprised what creations they will come up with. Remember, troubled times can keep and bring the families together!;
(2) Shop at local small markets for food essentials. Supermarkets can be more crowded. You may not find help from workers there, so you won’t be able to exit quickly. And your once “one stop” grocery destination currently may be out of many staples. Better to shop at small markets where crowds may be better controlled and they stock the basics. Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods are blessed with small markets on Irving, Judah, Noriega, Taraval, Geary and Clement Streets to name just a few. Some neighborhood markets such as Other Avenues food cooperative, located on 3930 Judah at 44thAvenue, have set aside special hours – 9-10 a.m. — for senior shoppers. Workers at Other Avenues food store also monitor the numbers of customers that can stay in the store at the same time;
(3) Make a plan with a friend or a neighbor that would join you in shopping together. You buy their groceries on Monday and drop them off at their door steps. They can do the same for you on Thursday. Of course, you both have to agree on your shopping destination. This scheme can save you both on gas or on pedal power. You can also cook a meal for this friend or neighbor. Make a casserole or a pot of hearty soup. Carry the pot using a pair of gloves and drop it off on her/his door steps. S/he can do the same for you on another planned day;
(4) Try to shop at hours when the stores are likely to be less crowded. Pay with credit cards to avoid handling bills. Bring gloves and your shopping list to ensure you have essential food items for a few days. Wash your hands with soap when you return home;
(5) Shop for nutrient-dense but not perishable foods. Your refrigerator has limited space, so get more dry goods such as pasta, beans, lentils, rice, oats, quinoa and other whole grains and flours instead of the more perishable items like cheese and yogurt. Stock up on some frozen food items;
(6) Get fruits and vegetables that can be rinsed, peeled and/or cooked to sanitize them properly;
(7) Stock up on important items such as spices, herbs and teas that can keep for a long time;
(8) Invest in basic cooking tools such as a few good knives, may be a food processor, a few good pots and mixing bowls. Having these items will make your cooking more fun!! Get some good cookbooks. Currently the libraries are closed. But, you can swap cookbooks with your friends.
(9) Do not over- shop!! Most markets get daily deliveries or at least few times a week. Right now, California does have a lot of food, so do not panic;
(10) Be nice to each other and especially to your grocery workers. They are the best! I have noticed that most folks are kind to each other during this difficult period. And we do show our appreciation for the food workers who risk their heath to help us keep food on the table!!
With cooperation and empathy we will get through these troubled times!
Here are two easy and complimentary colorful recipes to prepare and to keep your mind off COVID -19. You can work in a team with a partner if you wish. I find cooking to be a therapeutic and creative act — whether I do it with people or alone.
CUBAN BLACK BEAN SOUP
This soup is the soul of Cuban cuisine. Cubans eat this soup every day, as well as on special occasions. Served with rice or corn bread (recipe to follow), this would be a complete meal.
1 cup black beans
5 cups of water (add more as needed)
1 tablespoon salt
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ green bell pepper, chopped
2–3 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (optional)
Rinse the beans thoroughly and place them in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak them overnight at room temperature. Do not refrigerate. If you forget to soak the beans at night, start soaking them several hours before you plan to cook them. You will need to cook them longer if they are not soaked for this period. Drain and rinse the beans.
In a large soup pot, boil 5 cups of water and add the beans. Simmer the beans uncovered for an hour. Next, add salt and bay leaves and cover the pot. Simmer the beans at moderate heat for 30 minutes or until they are very soft.
While the beans are cooking, heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and bell pepper for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Stir-fry for a few more minutes. To thicken the soup (as the watery version is not considered a success), take out a cup of cooked beans from the soup pot, and place them on a platter or in a wide bowl. Mash them using the back of a wooden spoon and put them back into the soup pot. Take out another cup of beans and repeat the mashing step and return the mashed beans to the soup pot. Add the stir-fried vegetables to the soup pot.
Add the freshly ground pepper to taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if necessary. Stir in the optional vinegar and serve hot over a bowl of rice or a wedge of corn bread (recipe below).
Makes six to eight servings
Baking bread with yeast is an art and a time-consuming process. I do not make yeasted bread for this reason. However, quick breads are easier and more fun to prepare. With quick breads, you do not have to wait for the yeast to rise, and you do not have to fuss with pounding and punching Here is one of my favorite quick bread recipes, cornbread; it can easily be made gluten-free.
½ cup wheat flour (or garbanzo flour for a gluten-free option)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk or 1 cup yogurt (or soy yogurt) blended with ¼ cup cool water
6 tablespoons of light cooking oil such as safflower or sunflower oil
¼ cup maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly oil a nine-inch iron skillet or a glass pie plate and set it aside.
Sift the dry ingredients, wheat flour (or garbanzo flour) and baking powder together into a mixing bowl. Add the cornmeal and salt and mix together well.
In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk them briefly but thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the oiled skillet or pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cornbread is crusty and golden. For an extra top crust, you may wish to broil the cornbread for a few minutes, watching it very carefully so it doesn’t burn. Allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve with beans, soup, or a saucy vegetable entrée.
Makes eight servings
Recipes from “Cooking Together; A Vegetarian Co-op Cookbook,” Nimbarka Press, copyrights 2017 ©
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together”
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