Make Something Great Out of….Not Much

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The above featured photo is what I affectionately refer to as “The Africa Dish.” Africa, you say? Yes, Africa, not because it’s African, but because the idea of it was born in Africa – South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal, to be specific. And the reason I’m sharing this particular dish’s story is because it has shown me 1) how to make something damn delicious with pretty simple and limited ingredients, and 2) how to fancify (like my made up words?) that same dish when ingredients are not limited.

It was about a year ago – July 2016 – that I was in LIV Village along with 6 others from my church and 5 matriculated students from Lily of the Valley Children’s Village that this dish came to be. Each member on our missions team was on a rotating schedule responsible for meals, so when it was my turn and my husband’s, we made this wonderful satiating pot of cozy heartwarming carbs and meat which we never expected to be anything all that amazing but was quickly devoured by the 11 of us.

All we had to work with was:

white rice
onions
ground meat (we think it was beef but we didn’t question what we were given)
potatoes
carrots

The point of sharing these ingredients with you is not so that you can go write them down on a post-it and then buy the same exact things. Rather, the point is to show you that a great dish can be made with very little. How? I shall tell you right now – without a recipe, but with steps that will hopefully make you think and be able to apply this thinking to all meals going forward.

First of all – the order of things matters.

In this case, I decided to start with the rice, because I knew I could leave it cooking in the background while the other things I was going to cook would take more attention. Once the rice was started, I opted to cook the meat. Why? Because ground meat cooks way faster than potatoes and carrots, and also because I wanted the flavor, juice, and fat of the beef to be absorbed into the dish overall.

To saute the meat, I had pre-heated my skillet with some olive oil, and threw in the onions first because I was thinking about how good they’d make the beef taste. Once the onions were sizzling, it was time to throw in the beef with a sprinkling of seasoned salt (nothing was labeled in the home we were staying in, but it smelled like seasoned salt to me) and pepper. To prevent overcooking, I set aside the meat with all its juice in a bowl when it was done.

I cooked the carrots and potatoes with some of the oils left in the pot, and added more seasonings – this is where you get to choose for yourself what flavors you want. I chose salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried herbs. But the options are limitless – you can easily vary a dish with spices; maybe next time I’ll make this dish with curry powder, turmeric, and cumin – who knows? The world is your oyster in the kitchen!

The very last step after the taters and carrots were cooked was to add the cooked beef and juices back into the pot, and stir them all up together. We served this over the finished white rice, and it was truly one of the yummiest homey meals I’ve had and made.

Which is why when I got back to New York, I pondered how to make it even better…

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