What Do You Eat When Your Fridge Is Bare?

By: Jen Shoop
"The sort of thing you can make even when all of your belongings are packed up and you are eating a final meal in an empty apartment on a makeshift cardboard box table. It's the kind of salad that's there when nothing else is."

*Image via Haris Kenjar.

Mr. Magpie and I have a secret “dish” that we probably eat once a week called “Trash Salad.” We would never serve this “dish” to guests, and it feels strange to even share it here. But whenever we’re short a side, or the vegetable dish Mr. Magpie had been planning to prepare alongside our main runs away from him (this happened a few days ago when the cabbage dish he’d been slaving over would not have been ready in time for our BBQ chicken supper), we assemble it. Trash Salad consists of four ingredients we nearly always have on hand: carrot, cucumber, raw white onion, and bottled Garlic Expressions dressing. (The dressing is critical — do not sub.) It is as underwhelming as salads come and scarcely qualifies for the moniker of “dish” (hence the use of quotations) but, curiously, we find it addictive and roundly complimentary to a wide range of cuisines, especially BBQ, where the smoke and crackle of the chicken is deliciously offset by the tang and crunch of our salad. But we eat it with everything — a pasta dish that is meat-heavy and calls for something light alongside, a platter of fried chicken, rice and kofteh. My husband will request it as a mid-afternoon snack when peckish, and I could frankly eat it for breakfast — but then again, I’m a vinegar-head, and can nearly drink the stuff on its own. It occurred to us the other day that “Trash Salad” is, essentially, the most rudimentary of quick/light pickling. Somehow, the onion, bathed in that dressing, softens and mellows a bit, and the carrots and cucumbers still shine brightly through. I know I am making too much of this salad, and some of you will go home and prepare it and then stare quizzically at your bowls, thinking: “And this is…what? Come on, Magpies, I expected better!”

But it is a long-standing part of our at-home dining repertoire. The kind of food you fall into by force of habit. The category of “dish” that comforts by virtue of its familiarity and ease-of-preparation. The sort of thing you can make even when all of your belongings are packed up and you are eating a final meal in an empty apartment on a makeshift cardboard box table. It’s the kind of salad that’s there when nothing else is.

I know you must have these ad hoc dishes secreted away in your own homes, in the annals of your own family history.

What are they? I’m curious — what do you eat when your fridge is bare?


+We made these delicious cocktails over the weekend. Cannot recommend enough.

+Mr. Magpie’s passion for food endears me to him all the time.

+Ranch crackers — another addictive and unfancy dish I love.

+What would your “final meal” be?

+Things I have learned from baking, and my favorite baking gear.

Shopping Break.

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+Teamson play kitchens are 30% off here — order now for the holidays! We have one and the children love it — plus, super cute!

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+I just ordered these fancy-looking French u-shaped hair clips. I have no idea how to use them so will need to spend some time on YT but they look so chic!

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+A turtleneck that sparks joy. I like the idea of it paired with flared high waisted jeans.

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+Fun earrings — perfect for a Thanksgiving palette.

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27 thoughts on “What Do You Eat When Your Fridge Is Bare?

  1. I always have fresh bell peppers (red, orange and yellow, never green) and hummus on hand. I warm the hummus, stir in a generous dash of chipotle Tabasco sauce and dip into it with sliced bell pepper strips. It’s delicious and easy!

  2. First of all: Yes to eating anything lightly/quickly/sub-consciously- pseudo -pickled-and-called-dinner. I’m a fellow vinegar head and I totally understand!

    Secondly: When it’s been a rough day or if it’s date night (read: me, my dog, and the evening to just us), I love me a cauliflower rice salad. I always have a bag in the freezer that I can toss with leftover roasted or steamed veggies and then a spice blend suited to my preferences that evening, whether that’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning (delicious with fresh dill and saurkraut, speaking of vinegar!), zataar, or smashed tomatoes, oregano, and (too much) nutritional yeast.It’s a big, warm bowl made from a mish-mash of goods that I can curl up with next to my mutt, and that whole moment is just one of the most comforting things in the world.

  3. I love this discussion! Always helpful to have those standby dishes for these situations, and I’m getting some new ideas from the comments section too.

    For us, with my husband being Indian, I have really come to love khichdi (I think it’s also spelled kitchari depending on the region) which is basmati rice and yellow lentils cooked together. I add whatever vegetables we have, turmeric, salt and pepper, and ghee, and pressure cook everything until it’s like a risotto consistency. It’s such a comfort on rainy/chilly days, or when we come back from traveling/lots of restaurant meals. My daughter has it plain as described, but for my husband and me I separately bloom whole spices in hot oil (cumin seeds, coarsely ground coriander seeds, dried hot red chilies) and then drizzle that over the top. YUM. There are tons of variations on this theme, again depending on the region.

    Otherwise it’s aglio e olio pasta. I’m the only one who likes tinned fish in our household, but I if I have a tin of olive oil-packed sardines I’ll flake those and add it into the pasta and top it off with freshly microplaned lemon zest. Yes your home might smell funky but it’s so good!

    Also, cacio e pepe pasta. I don’t know if this is proper, but I sometimes keep ground pecorino in the freezer for these situations!

    1. Wow – I am craving that khichdi! Going to try to make this! Thank you!

      Love the pasta dishes mentioned, too. That reminds me that Mr. Magpie has a lemon pasta that he’s been making a lot this year (more of the summer than now) and we nearly always have the ingredients. It’s like a creamy lemon sauce and it is SO satisfying.


    2. Mia- I LOVE seeing khichdi mentioned. It’s my go to as well! I add lots of fresh grated ginger to mine but otherwise it is very similar to yours!

      1. Another vote for khichdi! I also love to make some fluffy basmati rice, throw a pat of butter in there, and sprinkle Z&Z sumac over the top before eating.

  4. Whole wheat penne, gotham greens or homemade pesto (always in my freezer), with parmigiano reggiano, red pepper flakes, salt, and sometimes also black pepper. Warm and comforting on any evening we don’t want to cook an elaborate recipe, have just returned from a trip, etc. The key is to buy the best ingredients possible… highly recommend red pepper flakes from burlap and barrel as they have so many options and I love that the kind I purchased is single origin from CA! I typically grate the parmigiano reggiano with a microplane and it melts beautifully. I also love making an easy tortellini soup recipe- bring chicken broth, salt (critical for this recipe, else it will be bland), black pepper, and italian seasoning to a boil then add frozen broccoli and frozen tortellini and cook however long the tortellinis need to be cooked- the soup comes together so quick and there is no chopping!

    1. Ooo yum – the tortellini en brodo is such a great idea! Lots of freezer staples and no chopping – love!


  5. I’ll make fried rice! I always have Trader Joe’s frozen rice in my freezer, which only takes 3 minutes to heat up in the microwave. I’ll sauté whatever vegetables I have on hand (recently that’s been frozen edamame and carrots), scramble some eggs/egg whites, and then mix the rice, veggies, and eggs together in the skillet. I’ll top it with a drizzle of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. It takes 15 minutes to make and I like to think it’s at least somewhat nutritious with all the vegetables.

    1. YUM. Love this idea. I need to stock my freezer better – I don’t have enough of this kind of stuff on hand!


    2. I’m with you Sarah on fried rice! I make a batch of brown rice at the beginning of the week and clean out the vegetable drawer for fried rice. I did hear about TJ’s frozen rice and I need to have that as a backup! I usually make it similar to the flavor profile you’ve described, but have you tried mixing in Thai curry paste (Mae Ploy is the best store-bought brand in my opinion — spicy!!!) into it? I saute it in the beginning with aromatics and other veggies so it really flavors everything. It’s a nice way to vary the flavor. At other times I take a couple of generous spoonfuls of kimchi since I always have that in the fridge. Oh now I want some spicy fried rice and it’s only 10 am 🙂

  6. Similar salad of cucumbers, onion and tomatoes with vinegar, a little olive oil and sprinkle of Salad Supreme seasoning. Yum! I eat this for lunch with a large scoop of cottage cheese for protein.

    1. OMG Jerri, I love cottage cheese and this sounds divine! Will absolutely try myself…have you tried Good brand cottage cheese? (The brand is named “Good.”). It is UNREAL!


  7. Breakfast tacos! Saute frozen peppers/onions, add scrambled eggs mixed with chiplote lime seasoning from Trader Joes and cheddar cheese. Serve in warmed up corn tortillas — with topped with hot sauce and avocado, if on hand! There’s not a time of day I won’t eat these.

  8. Your comment about being a vinegar-head makes me wonder–have you tried drinking shrubs? I got a book from the library about making them and my husband found them FAR too vinegary made up (I wondered if the instructions were accurate, actually) but there was something a bit addictive about them nonetheless.

    1. Hi Venia! I’ve encountered some shrubs while dining out but have not made them / sought them out! Going to look into this…


  9. I would definitely eat trash salad! You’re onto something about the crunchiness of a salad… And to your point about vinegar, too, I am also a vinegar-head. Don’t you love when you order a side of coleslaw at a restaurant and it’s perfectly vinegary?
    Regardless, mine is pastina with lots of butter and freshly grated parmesan. My mom used to make it whenever we were sick or she was in a pinch and it’s very nostalgic (and easy).

    1. Yes! One reason I love raw oysters so much is because they are a perfect vehicle for mignonette (basically, vinegar and shallot and a lot of pepper — my heaven). I also usually dip my fries in malt vinegar (not ketchup)! I can’t get enough! Love a vinegary coleslaw OR potato salad. My mouth is watering thinking about this. Do I have some kind of deficiency that makes me such a fiend?!

      YUM on pastina. The shape really matters for these simple dishes!


      1. +1 here for being a vinegar-head! I’m Filipino and we put vinegar on just about everything, haha! I probably have at least 5 varieties of vinegar at any given time in my pantry.

        There’s something about the acidity of vinegar that just brightens up a dish. Often when I make a soup (like a simple lentil soup for example), if it seems to be missing a little something, I add a splash of red wine vinegar and it does the trick.

        I make your recipe for vinegary potato salad every summer now!

  10. My husband and I toss together a brussel salad. It maintains its crunch even after being dressed (a salad miracle) so we can pack it for next day lunch. I shred a bundle of brussel sprouts (by mandolin usually, but I’ve been known to toss them in the food processor), 1/2c of grated parm, a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans, and this simple homemade dressing (9T olive oil, 3T Apple cider vinegar, 2t Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, shake it up to emulsify). Dress that bad boy, toss it up, and crunch away.

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