To my mind, the prime directive of nextover cooking is this: save yourself time and hassle in the kitchen. To accomplish this, you’re probably going to need to cook something in enough bulk to last you family for three meals. The second directive is: don’t be bored at dinnertime. To meet that goal, you need to choose an ingredient that plays well with others, or better yet, can be a master of disguise.
Meal prep cooking can get very focused on protein. That’s fine. It’s where a lot of the calories come from. Finding three to five interesting things to do with chicken breast just isn’t that much of a challenge. If you’re a meal prepper, you probably have a couple of proteins prepped in your freezer to toss in with any old dish. So, yeah, you want to think about proteins in choosing your nutritional balance. And yes, you should prep proteins. Proteins, however, are not the most interesting hook for creative nextovering.
Grains are not the senior staff on the bridge: they’re your red shirts. I say this not to diminish them, because handled well, they’re fantastic. You want excellently cooked whole grains in your day, and they can support anything. We’ll talk more next week about building your sidekick strategy, but for today, note that you want them, but probably don’t want to build your nextover plan around them.
Vegetables are the sneaky antihero. They’re easy to hate, and we all have our preferences. Sometimes those preferences are strong. We like variety, and too much of the same can get boring. Unfortunately, sales and seasonal eating being what they are, they’re also often something we end up dealing with in inconvenient batches. Instead of fighting the glut, we can lean into it and use our challenging vegetables to build a nextover plan around.
The Case of the Beet
I like beets…to a point. We’ve currently got a CSA share coming in, though, and we’ve got beets coming out our ears. Beets are at their best when roasted, and they can take an hour or more. I dislike heat, so if I have to turn the oven on in summer, it’s going to be earning its kelvins. Fortunately, if you make a foil packet and chuck beets on the bottom rack when you’re baking pretty much anything, they work. They’re a super smart partner for a pan full of chicken breast or roasted tofu.
Most root vegetables can be cooked similarly. Potatoes or sweet potatoes can just be washed and pricked and roasted as is. Radishes, turnips, carrots, and parsnips can be chopped to even pieces and roasted on a baking sheet.
I never want to eat more than one serving of roasted beets in a week, personally, so what do you do with the leftovers? Pretty much anything you want. Spaghetti, green salads, salad dressing, sandwiches, grain salads, burgers, bisque, and even cupcakes. (Maybe not smoothies, though. My experiments with those have gone poorly.)
Last week, I made Citrus Bliss Buddha Bowls (thawing chickpeas I had bulk-cooked and frozen, but any canned option that earns Guiding Stars is fine). They were delicious, but I ran out of quinoa and dressing and avocado before I ran out of beets and chickpeas. I mashed the leftover beets and chickpeas together to make beet burger patties, swapping in the chickpeas for black beans. I had more salad greens, so I served the patties as a salad instead of on buns. It was great, and used up the last of that batch of beets. Another success for Mission: Nextover.