Eating What We Grow: Turkey Curry, Green Bean Casserole
The garden in my mind in February sometimes bears little resemblance to the garden in reality come August. When that happens, I need recipes for using up the results. Since the holidays are upon us, it’s a big bonus if those recipes fit the theme, or use up that whole extra turkey someone’s definitely going to bring. Here I’m offering one of the former and one of the latter.
My family started down our food production path in earnest three springs ago with a dozen hastily-planted tomatoes. We had a half-built house already months behind schedule, two muddy toddlers and a lofty goal of producing 80% of our vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy within five years. Tell me this isn’t crazy. Go on. Tell me. What kind of silly woman plants a garden when there isn’t a roof yet?
I guess I do. I planted a garden at a house in Alaska where I was… let’s just say living rent-free. I shoveled in truckloads of reindeer manure that turned out to be so hot with nitrogen that the nasturtiums grew to resemble those lily pads people lay on. The vines ran out of the yard and into the street.
This year, drought ruined my dreams of dehydrated tomatoes and cantaloupes. Bad start after bad start quashed my hopes of pickles and pumpkins. However, I got an entire freezer full of asparagus beans. I should have quit freezing them after the first couple gallons and fed the rest to the goats. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
Belatedly I realized this variety, also called a yard-long bean, is actually a cowpea like black eyed peas! Left to maturity, dried in my solar dehydrator and shelled, this little black legume is almost indistinguishable from a regular black bean. It’s more flavorful and faster cooking. It’s much more bean beetle resistant and drought-tolerant, which will make it even more valuable in a warmer, less predictable future. I put a couple cups in the crock pot on low with some bone broth, a little cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper, maybe some tomatoes and chilies and a diced onion. Half an hour before we eat I add a little rice. Delicious.
Still, there’s those many bags of asparagus beans I froze at the tender green stage, now accusing me of negligence from the freezer. I suppose it’s traditional to smother green beans in cream of mushroom soup, but aiming to grow most of what I eat means not reaching for processed cans of white gloop. I never liked that one very much anyway.
Here’s a variation on green bean casserole that requires no gloop. Obviously there are ingredients listed that I don’t grow, which is fine with me. We’re on a food journey here, a sort of epic adventure, and therefore not too concerned with purity. I’m mainly concerned with learning what we can grow, and emptying the freezer in the most delicious way possible.
Also, you may notice my directions are a little slap-dash. Don’t worry, that’s only because my cooking is slap-dash.
Green Bean Casserole (sans soup)
One onion, roughly chopped (not diced), and a couple cloves of minced garlic
Two frozen quarts of green beans
A couple tablespoons of healthy fat (for savory dishes I use pastured lard, which has a much better nutrient profile than grain-fed. My local farmer sells fatback for a dollar a pound. I cut it up, put it in the crock pot with half a cup of water, and render on low overnight. In the morning I strain out the bits of tissue, which are the dog’s absolute favorite. You could use bacon grease, tallow, chicken fat or butter. If you’ve done a vegetarian gravy that worked well you can use that fat, because this is essentially a white gravy.)
Several tablespoons of flour (you could use corn starch if you’re gluten-free)
8 oz mushrooms and/or some crispy bacon
Cheese for the top if you want
Milk, or bone broth if you’re dairy free
Salt and pepper to taste
- Use an oven-safe pan, or use a regular stovetop pan and then pour into a casserole dish for the oven finish. Put your fat in the pan and melt. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until clear.
- Add green beans, preferably thawed and drained (honestly, I frequently throw half-frozen stuff into pans and it’s usually fine). Add mushrooms, salt and pepper.
- My asparagus beans take longer than regular pole beans to cook, and they have a little stronger flavor, too. I stir them around and nibble one occasionally until they’re getting soft. With regular pole beans that stage arrives real quick, at which point add the flour and stir continuously on low or medium-low for about two minutes.
- Pour in your liquid, either milk or broth, a bit at a time while stirring. The gravy will take a moment to thicken up, and you want to add just enough liquid for a nice creamy texture, no more. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper. Then put some cheese or bacon on top if you want and pop it in the oven briefly to melt and meld.
It’s not quite the same as the mushroom soup version, but I personally like it better. I served this at Thanksgiving not realizing that both my Dad and my cousin are green bean critics. Did I say critics? I meant enthusiasts. They both pronounced it “good,” and not with the tone that means “NOT good.”
If you’re thinking of eating less meat for the sake of the planet but also want to keep your carbohydrate intake low for the sake of your health, you might try subbing in broths and healthy pastured fats. Pastured farmers have a hard time selling all the fat and bones their animals produce, which means that stuff is usually cheap, and eating it helps prevent waste which is an ecological good.
I didn’t get really confident with gravy and broth until I read the cook book Long Way on a Little by Shannon Hayes, which taught me to cut up a whole chicken, make broth from scratch, keep the gravy from separating, and get the Hollandaise just right. If you can’t get it through your local library, that’s an affiliate link up there. My commission doesn’t raise the price of your item, and it supports this site first, then The Cool Effect. I don’t need to have any more impact than I already do, so I don’t need any more money. Women in Honduras and Malawi need more trees and efficient cook stoves; we all need clean air.
The book itself is an interesting story. Hayes explains in the introduction that she was writing a completely different cook book about how to eat more gently on the planet. She had lots of beloved recipes based on grains and legumes with only a little meat for flavoring, even though she devotes her life to raising pastured meat. Then they found out her husband had a rare form of diabetes. As self-employed farmers, they had to pay out of pocket for insulin.
She didn’t have time every day to cook two meals. Grains and legumes were off the table.
Hayes took a look at their own farm’s waste, and created delicious recipes to use up the bones and fat that weren’t being sold. If every morsel of nutrition from every food animal were captured, a lot fewer animals would feed a lot more people. The broth, fat and organs are the most nutrient-dense parts of the animal, not the muscle meat. We’ve done our own experiments and it’s definitely true; the more nutrition in your food (perhaps especially calcium) the less you want to eat, because you're satisfied.
And yet, huge amounts of turkey get thrown out at the holidays, when it could become a completely different delicious meal. I say, be brave and rescue that carcass from oblivion!
Thai Green Curry Turkey Soup
Whatever is left of the Christmas turkey that Grandma was about to pitch in the trash
A can of coconut milk
Green curry seasoning (lots of Walmarts carry a little jar in the Asian section, or you can be brave like I did and pick up a cheaper can at the local Asian market with no English at all on the label. Beware: it may be hotter than the Walmart stuff. If you’re not careful, it may be brine shrimp)
A diced onion
A bunch of diced garden veg out of the freezer (I had green peppers, spring carrots, okra and the ever-present asparagus beans)
Some quartered mushrooms are nice but not strictly necessary
A couple cloves of garlic, minced, and some grated ginger if you like that. Did you know you can keep your ginger in the freezer? It never goes moldy and it’s easier to grate. I’m so lazy I don’t even peel mine first.
Half a cup of rice if you want it, also not really necessary
Soy sauce (or coconut aminos if you’re gluten-free) to taste
- Don’t even stick that turkey carcass in the fridge, just pick off whatever meat looks nice, refrigerate that, and tip the bones, skin, drippings and other bits into the crock pot. Fill with water, add a splash of cider or white vinegar if you have it, and set on low overnight.
- In the morning, strain out the solids and keep back the liquid. A quart will go in curry soup. The rest can go in the freezer for other meals. When I make broth I carefully pick through the strainings. Any tiny sliver of bone goes into the wood stove, where it joins the ash that eventually feeds our garden.
- Everything soft, from cartilage to skin to meat, goes to the dog and cats. I only recommend this if you’re VERY CAREFUL the pets don’t get ANY cooked bones, because they’ll splinter and shred the digestive tract of the poor animal. But if you can be careful they love it, and it reduces our reliance on pet food for our carnivorous partners.
- In the evening when it’s soup time, sauté the aromatics briefly in a little lard or coconut oil, add the veg and cook for a few minutes, then add the broth, coconut milk and curry paste, and bring to a simmer. The rice and turkey meat reserved from the carcass go in last. Easy-peasy.
In the beginning, my family had that goal to produce 80% of our fruit, veg, meat and dairy, and in spite of droughts and accidents and failures of management, that’s still our goal. The five-year due date is a couple years off. We succeeded in year one with veg and eggs, then had a setback this year because of the weather. Meat and dairy have seen more challenges. It’s hard to predict how it’ll all turn out.
Our ideas are evolving on this journey, too. We’re gradually thinking less about how we can grow all the thing we might like to eat, and more about how we can cook, enjoy and thrive upon the things that grow well. This means new favorite recipes, experimentation, creativity, surprises. Excellent.
What do you grow best, and what do you make out of it? How do you rescue “waste” and turn it into nutrition? Tell us in the comments below. I’m especially looking for new slap-dash recipes with no meat but low to moderate carbohydrates, or recipes in which the carbohydrate is pumpkin, sweet potato or a hard corn. Those grow very well here.