Have you ever come home from a long trip, collapsed into the house with your famished family, opened the refrigerator door, only to find it to be empty with a few wrinkled carrots and onions rattling around in the drawers? Add to this sad picture the piles of dirty laundry to wash, a carload of luggage to unpack, mosquito bites, sleep-deprivation, and you can imagine how an empty fridge can cause me a bit (lot!) of anxiety before a trip.
We recently got back from a long weekend conference where Al was a speaker. As he was sharing with a group about how we save money during the year a friend leaned over and whispered to me, “I wish you’d show us pictures of what you eat!” I grinned, because that’s a question we get a lot on this blog. And it’s not surprising – I’d want to know too!
So here’s a post not necessarily with an exact recipe or with Foodgawker-worthy photos, but just sharing one of our easy, quick, fallback menus that we ate upon our return from a trip. A real-life example of what we eat in a pinch. It’s one of my good-old-faithfuls because it uses ingredients that keep in the house for quite a while and are ones that I usually have on hand even after being gone. You could add whatever variations you like, but we think simple items like onions, carrots, potatoes, and frozen peas go best. These conveniently happen to be some of our home’s staples, so in addition to after a long trip, I also make it when I’ve run out of fresh veggies, there aren’t any good vegetable sales at Aldi, or I’m just a little lazy. And the cherry on top? It costs us less than $1/person.
Yum Yum Jajangmyeon
This come-to-the-rescue dish is called Jajangmyeon. A lot of Koreans say it’s Chinese, and although there is a Chinese version, the most common Jajangmyeon that you will find is the Korean version. You can buy the pre-made black soybean paste at a Korean market, load it up with cooked veggies, and pour it over noodles or rice. Voila! It’s super quick and super easy, a nice Asian twist to mundane spaghetti, and did I mention it is extremely tasty? I like it, Al likes it, and Baby Crumb devours it, so it gets high marks for yumminess in our family! I probably don’t make it exactly the way Koreans make it, and my half Chinese genes add a bit of Chinese flavoring to it. But hey, do whatever tastes good to you!
Thursday morning, in anticipation of our return right before lunch the next Sunday, I diced 4 potatoes, 2 carrots, 1/2 an onion, put it all in a container, filled it with enough water to cover the potatoes, and stored it in the fridge. Then when I got home with a million bags to unpack and needed to have lunch ready in a jiffy, I dumped the container full of veggies (including the soaking water) into my Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) and added about half a bag of frozen peas. I put it on zero minutes manual setting and quick released after about 2 min.
After quick releasing it, I added some soaked TVP (textured vegetable protein, which is a bit like ground beef). Note: Do NOT put TVP in the Instant Pot before releasing pressure or when you release pressure the TVP will shoot all through your pressure valve – believe me, it is a mess! I also added 5 tablespoons or so of Jajangmyeon paste, a big squirt of vegetarian oyster sauce (probably about a tablespoon), salt to taste, sugar (this is essential, probably about a tablespoon), and a sprinkling of mushroom seasoning (since this makes anything taste good). Added about 2 -3 tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in water and enough extra water so that we had a thick gravy. Simmered it until it had thickened a bit.
(Of course, instead of a pressure cooker you can use a regular pot or deep pan which is how I used to do it. Just cook hard veggies in some water until 3/4 cooked, add peas and seasonings, and cook a little more until thick.)
By the Way
The Jajangmyeon sauce is a concentrated paste so make sure you add enough water to make a sauce. Also, there are 2 types – one that needs to be fried in oil first (to remove bitterness) and one that has been pre-fried (the type I have). Since usually the containers have little to no English, you would probably do best to ask a store employee for help or scrutinize the label for these Korean characters which means that it’s pre-fried: 짜장
You can also buy special Jajangmyeon noodles, but in my opinion they’re a bit expensive. Preferably, you want the noodle to have some “chew” to it. I used buckwheat noodles I had on hand, but you can also put it over any other type of noodle or rice.
Although we usually put potatoes, onions, carrots, and peas, another great addition is diced zucchini (just make sure it doesn’t get too overcooked). The great thing about this sauce it that it’s so dark you can hide all sorts of yummy veggies and your kids will never know! Ha! 🙂 Pour it over your carb of choice, stir it up, and top with some Sriricha if you want it REALLY tasty! It’s great as leftovers too, but store the noodles and the sauce separately.
You know what else I really like about this dish? It is super cheap to make. Purchasing my veggies at Aldi and the Jajangmyeon paste and buckwheat noodles at an Asian market, I guesstimate everything easily cost less than $4…..and it lasted us 2 meals! So feeding 2.5 people for 2 meals, that’s less than $1/person/meal. I’d say that’s better than eating out any day!
So in conclusion, I got all the luggage unpacked, a super yummy inexpensive lunch whipped up, and the baby down for a nap in time without pulling my hair out. Now THAT is a successful day for this mother! 🙂
What quick, easy dishes do you cook when you’re in a pinch? Let us know down below in the comments!