Every Saturday morning, while my little people are still sleeping, I make a menu plan for next week. I sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee, a list of the ingredients that are already in my refrigerator or pantry, and a couple of cookbooks. On the computer screen I pull up last week’s menu, last week’s grocery list, and, most importantly, Pinterest.
I plan one main meal for each day, Sunday through Saturday. During the week our breakfasts and lunches are pretty standard because of time constraints and our varying work schedules, but the four of us have dinner together every night. Mondays are reserved for vegetarian fare (it’s a tradition for us) and for the rest of the week, I try to shoot for serving a smallish portion of lean protein with a larger portion of vegetables, along with the occasional small portion of grains. Most of the time my children would rather eat chicken nuggets and hotdogs, but I guess that’s why I’m the mom and the cook around here.
The recipes I choose are often driven by the ingredients we have on hand. I belong to the coolest CSA program ever, which means I get lots of unusual ingredients like baby Hakurei turnips and garlic scapes. It’s both challenging and fun to think of creative ways to use them. I also try to consider what’s already in the freezer – I tend to buy local meats in bulk – and what’s already in the cupboard. That bag of farro and those black lentils aren’t going to eat themselves.
Once I’ve determined what ingredients, I need to use, making a menu is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. The equivalent of my grandmothers’ recipe cards, I find Pinterest to be invaluable for keeping track of the recipes I’d like to try and the ones that are tried and true. I try to save complicated or adventurous recipes for Saturday and Sunday, when I have time to make mistakes and correct them. Quicker, proven recipes take precedence on weeknights.
I also still love to work from cookbooks – the gorgeous, large scale color photography is hard to resist – and once I find an author with a cooking style I like, I like cooking my way through their books, once meal at a time . Last summer I made so many recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Plenty that our house developed the semi-permanent smells of ground sumac and coriander.
The recipe in this post is from Kristine Kidd’s “Weeknight Fresh + Fast,” another book that I’ve really enjoyed. This one focuses on simple, healthy meals that can be prepared relatively quickly. Kidd’s recipe for steak salad with thai flavors is like a bowl of pho without all the noodles and the extra sodium. The flavors are bright and distinct. Kidd sautés the steak on the stovetop, but I prefer to grill mine, as reflected below.
- 1 lb beef top sirloin
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemongrass, minced
- 2 Tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon low sodium soy sauce (use coconut aminos for Paleo)
- 1½ teaspoons honey
- 1 large onion, minced
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (to your taste)
- 3 Tablespoons peanut oil (or for those, following a paleo diet, use coconut oil)
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 Jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 head red leaf lettuce
- 4 mini cucumbers, halved lengthwise and then sliced
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
- ½ cup mint fresh
- Freeze the beef for 10 minutes and then cut it across the grain into ¼ inch slices.
- Preheat the grill to high.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the lemongrass, 1 Tablespoon of the fish sauce, the soy sauce (or coconut aminos), ¾ teaspoon of the honey, ½ of the onion, and the pepper. Add the beef and stir it to coat - let it marinate for 15-30 minutes.
- In the meantime, make the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the oil, the lime juice, jalapeños, 1 Tablespoon of fish sauce, ¾ teaspoon honey, and the remaining onion.
- In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, cucumbers, mint, and onion. Toss with the dressing to coat.
- Grill the sliced beef over high heat, about 2 minutes on each side.
- Arrange the beef over the salad.