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Yid.Dish: Waste Not, Want This Green Bean-Feta Salad

Fresh, local green beans should be here any day, now – but when they aren’t available, I rely on the frozen ones from Trader Joe’s. I like that TJ’s haricots verts are less waterlogged than many other brands of frozen green bean, and I appreciate the way each bean seems to have been individually frozen (rather than being suspended in a rectangular ice block), so that I can grab and cook just a handful or two at a time, knowing that the rest of the package won’t end up going to waste.

That last part is key, because my family is on a mission to cut down on wasted food — not only for economic reasons, or even just because I hate it that an estimated 25% of the produce purchased in this country ends up in the garbage, but also because, from a religious point of view, it seems absurd for us to bother with separate forks and spoons for meat and dairy, but flout what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch called “the first prohibition of creation” – namely “bal tashchit” (literally, don’t destroy) – the commandment against wasting.

I was glad, therefore, to see that the frozen green beans I found in the back of my freezer last night were indeed still green; no freezer burn. And while they’d probably last a few months more (though not forever, for as Mark Bittman pointed out in a recent New York Times column on freezers, “Freezing is not… suspended animation” ), I was eager to use the frozen veggies up ASAP and say a final goodbye to the winter that seemed to last right through spring of 2009.

But use them in what?

The TJ green beans are better than most frozen, but still not bursting with snappy fresh flavor, so I usually like to use them in a multi-flavored side dish or interesting salad. Rummaging around in the fridge last night I found some feta cheese I figured I’d better use up, so I crumbled it while I steamed the green beans and toasted a handful of the chopped walnuts I always keep Ziploc’ed in the freezer. Tossed all that together and drizzled on some walnut oil and fresh lemon juice. Sprinkled on a little dried oregano (oh, maybe 1/8 of a teaspoon) and just the tiniest little pinch of ground cinnamon.

Yup, cinnamon.

For a journalism assignment back in college (“Write About Someone With an Interesting Job”) I interviewed my friend Seth’s mother, the late food writer Elizabeth Rozin. Rozin’s Flavor Principle Cookbook and her subsequent Ethnic Cuisine show home cooks how to use specific combinations of spices and seasonings to create various ethnic flavors – very valuable knowledge for a cook to have, especially when you’re trying to improvise with whatever raw ingredients happen to be lying around. Looking at my plate of green beans and feta last night, I recalled learning from Rozin, all those years ago, that oregano, lemon and cinnamon are a classic combination in Greek cuisine – which sounded just about perfect with the feta.

And perfect it was – if technically inaccurate; I remembered only this morning that Rozin also included dill as an important component of the Greek flavor combo, and that tomatoes are often in the mix, as well. Okay, so next time I’ll try adding some dill and/or tomatoes. But in the meantime, this dish was a delicious way to use up food that might otherwise have gone to waste.

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