California is becoming desert dry in the fourth year of a severe drought that has depleted rivers, lakes and snowpacks. Drop by drop we can make a difference in our culinary methods by cooking with little or no water. Here’s how.
Use your noodle: Buy no-boil lasagna noodles that can be baked dry, without the need to boil first. Just add extra tomato sauce and plenty of cheese so the noodles will soften and become tender. Smaller pasta shapes like gemelli or elbows don’t require much water when boiling, and as long as you stir constantly, risotto-style, this will prevent clumping and sticking.
Thaw out: When thawing frozen turkeys, chickens, lamb shanks or roasts, do so in the refrigerator rather than in a tub of water. Turkeys should be defrosted in its original wrapper, breast side up, one day for every four pounds. So a 12-pound bird will take roughly three days to thaw in the refrigerator.
Magical Moroccan one pot: Tagines are savory slow-cooked Moroccan stews of chicken, lamb, beef or fish blended with vegetables, dried fruits, preserved lemons and exotic herbs and spices, including turmeric, saffron and coriander, simmered in cooking vessels that bear the same name. The conical shape of the traditional ceramic or clay tagine reminiscent of the Tin Man’s hat from “The Wizard of Oz” allows heat to circulate evenly so all ingredients cook uniformly, while trapping the flavorful liquids inside. This method not only requires Spartan amounts of water, but braises the meats and vegetables to a delicate tenderness.
Authentic Moroccan tagine dishes are served on a bed of fluffy couscous, which also uses small amounts of water to prepare.
Give it juice: Squeezing or juicing various fruits and vegetables will give a nutritious liquid base (and H2O substitute) for salad dressings, marinades, soups and stews, sauces and purees.
Beet and carrot juices add a boost of antioxidants and beta carotene, along with eye candy to many dishes; lemons, limes and ginger infuse a tangy Vitamin C zip to stir fries and salads; cucumber gives a refreshing zing to salsas and dips, while watermelon, pomegranate, mangoes, kiwi, plums, grapes and peaches dial up both sweet and savory salads, and supply a confetti of luscious liquid color and flavor to wild caught fish and grilled chicken.
Chardonnay for the cure: Swap out water for wine, stocks and broths when concocting casseroles, risottos, pilafs, pastas, poached fish and assorted seafood dishes, especially cioppinos and bouillabaisses.
Wet and wild: Sauté vegetables that produce a lot of water to keep fish, fowl, meats and grains succulent, soft and tender. Wild mushrooms of most varieties whether crimini, Portobello, oyster and or shiitake create abundant flavorful juices when gently cooked, along with tomatoes, especially heirlooms and vine-ripened ones. While eggplant, on the other hand, tends to be a sponge, absorbing liquids.
Water recycling: When steaming vegetables or boiling pasta, this precious water can be creatively recycled along with adding a nutritional oomph to other foods. Use pasta water to thicken soups, stews and sauces, and vegetable water to thin them out while also adding another layer of flavor.
Water-Conserving Wild Mushroom & Wine Risotto
• 1 cup Arborio rice
• 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 3 1/2 cups hot stock or broth (vegetable or mushroom)
• 1 sweet onion, chopped
• 12 ounces assorted mushrooms, your choice (crimini, oyster, shiitake, button)
• Zest from one lemon
■ Method: Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sauté onions and mushrooms for one minute. Add rice, coating the grains with the oil. Over medium heat, stir in wine until absorbed. Add the remaining liquid one-half cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Garnish with lemon zest. Serves 4