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Kimchi Salad

Sunday is fridge-cleaning day.  I come home from the grocery store, set bags on the floor, and get serious.  My fridge isn't neat and tidy, everything in rows or airtight French canisters.  BUT I know what's in there, and that helps me avoid wasting food. When I was going to an office every day, it was especially important to prepare for the week on Sunday.  I've got more time now, my life is less crazy and structured than it was then, but the ritual of Sunday Preparation is still hardwired into me, and I rather enjoy it.

Cleaning the fridge and putting away the groceries can be quite an ordeal because I feel compelled to use absolutely every last bit that's on the brink.  Today, while Loretta was napping and Wyatt was watching Scooby Doo, this meant the following:

  • Rescuing a head of week-old romaine by pulling off the brown leaves and washing the rest.  I cut it in ribbons for use under rice or in salads.
  • Washing and cutting up a bunch of celery and putting the celery sticks into water so I'll grab them instead of a hunk of cheese when I'm hungry.
  • Using the leaves from the celery, too.  This bunch had lots of them.  I pureed the celery leaves in my food processor with garlic and a few ounces of blue cheese (leftover from catering two weeks ago).  Then, since I had to do something with the bit of leftover spinach parsley pesto, I combined the two.  Yum.  We're putting it (what do it call it?!) on our burgers tomorrow night.
  • Grilling 4 poblano peppers that have been in my vegetable bin a distressingly long time.  We'll put those on our burgers, too.
  • Consolidating 3 packs of tortillas into one and composting the really brittle ones.
  • Making a delicious agua fresca from a tasteless cantaloupe.  In the food processor, I combined cantaloupe chunks with cucumber, lime juice, mint simple syrup leftover from last week,  a serrano pepper, and some water.  I strained it and poured it over ice.  It was more than good, and I added a splash of gin later on.
  • And finally, making this kimchi salad.

Someone asked recently how much I spend on groceries a week.  I spend a lot.  It seems sort of vulnerable to put it out there (I always say that money is a more taboo subject than sex in Western culture), but $150 is my limit, and I often come close. This includes everything I buy at Costco (like diapers--Lord, I can't wait till that's over), but still. It's our biggest expense outside our mortgage.  I go through spates of feeling embarrassed or chiding myself and swear we're going to start eating cabbage soup every night.  I like cabbage soup and don't mind repetition, but cooking is my creative outlet.  I don't spend money on fabric for quilting or on art supplies or going to movies or scrapbooking.  I spend it on food, and I'm a much happier person because of it.  I should say, too, that we rarely eat out and Yancey takes all his food to the station.  Our dining budget used to be much bigger when we were both working outside the home full-time.

I'm justifying all over the place, aren't it?  I'd love to know your thoughts about food budgets.  I think it's something I'll always struggle with.

Here's the salad I made today, and it's delightful.  I've never made it before, didn't use a recipe, but was inspired by this recipe. It's uber good-for-you, holds up well in a packed lunch, and really is cheap.  I got a big jar of kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) at Uwajimaya for $4.99, and it always lasts me quite awhile.  And Bethany brought down a bunch of spring onions from her garden--this was a perfect way to use them.  I didn't put it in the recipe, but I also threw in some leftover stir-fried cabbage from my lunch.  I suppose using up all the bits is one way I justify my exorbitant food budget.  I may have orphan bits in the fridge, but they are noticed and wanted.

Kimchi Salad

2 c. short grain brown rice (or other grain, like barley)
1 c. kimchi, sliced into ribbons
1/4 c. sliced green onions
1/2 c. seasoned seaweed (laver) cut into small strips or torn up (more to taste if you want)
3 Tb. sesame oil
2 Tb. rice vinegar
salt (don't be shy!)
2 ts. sugar
1 Tb. sesame seeds
red chile flakes

Cook rice in a big pot of boiling water for about 35 minutes, until tender but still a little chewy.  Drain and rinse with cold water.

Toss rice with remaining ingredients and mix well with hands.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  If you're not packing this for your lunch, you can also serve it over a bed of greens for dinner.  Some baked tofu would also be delicious over the top.

Reader Comments (18)

Good for you for rescuing your food orphans! I am terrible about doing that and end up throwing things away (usually parsley). I am pretty good about using most things before they start to turn. We spend more (sometimes much more) on food than you do. It's kind of embarrassing.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana

I don't think $150/wk is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a family's food budget. That sounds about the same as most of my frugal mom friends here. If we ever skimp, we end up ordering out or bringing home take-out or supplementing with expensive snacks and then end up spending more in the long run. Having enough food in the house goes along way toward building the comforts of home. There's my two-cents-worth. I wouldn't feel guilty.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

the fact that you know what's in your fridge makes up for all the money you do (or could) spend on groceries. how many people spend less but throw away more?? plus, how many people get to share the fruit of your loving labor? many more than your immediate family. look, i'm good at justifying for you... :) now i think you've motivated me to get off my computer and make something out of what's in my fridge! maybe something ricey...

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

Hi Sarah-
After my dad's 60th birthday where we had Mexican food and I took the extra tortillas home I ended up broiling a bunch of them and kind of making my own "tortilla" chips. Yum!

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJo

You are full of surprises! Love the idea of the kimchee salad. However, my husband has a keen nose when it comes to garlic (on the kimchee). He loves to eat it, but doesn't like the odor it leaves on my body! It helps when we eat it at the same time!
Anyway, $150/week is awesome! I went to visit a mom's group last week and the "coupon queen" came to talk on groceries. My question was her monthly food budget and she said $500-$600 for a family of four! So according to her you would be doing fantabulous! I used to meet that, but...I really don't have an excuse. I will make effort! By the way, do you have a weekly meal plan? If I knew what you were planning for the week I would be ecstatic and would follow along!

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMidori

Hi Sarah,

Considering how well you eat, $150 a week is not much. I spend about $100 for two of us, and don't eat fabulous meals like you prepare. I do, however, buy organic on at least 50% of the food we eat, so that is why our food bill is high. Can't drink that milk with growth hormones in it!


June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZip

Also jumping on the "$150 isn't a lot" bandwagon.

Hear ye, hear ye, ladies and gentlemen of the jury (aka blog readers), I present these points for consideration:

1. Most adults eat lunch and dinner out several times a week. Let's say both adults eat lunch out twice and dinner twice. Lunch per person at $7 and dinner at $10. That's $68 per week or nearly $275 per month. (I'm not sure where you can get dinner in this town for $10 that isn't pho or fast food, so that's a conservative number. I'm also not including The Starbucks-esque Addiction™ at $4 per person per day.)

2. You eat fresh fruits and veggies. Yes, I know you visit lots of places and have found $.39 parsley, but healthy food costs money. We are all, unfortunately, too well aware of this.

3. As someone else mentioned, you're never just feeding four people. In fact, aren't you making goodies for an entire fire department? And how many people expect that when Sarah MK shows up, she'll have food... Good food?

In summary, to the best blog readers in all the land, I contend that Sarah's food budget is conservative given the quality of food, number of diners, and discipline to not eat at the zillions of fabulous restaurants around the city.

Bangs of gavels, judge dismisses Sarah's case as preposterous, and we all get our own container of kim chee and a pair of chopsticks.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpds

Hello friends! I just got home from work and immediately logged on to see what the jury had decided about my food budget. So wonderful and interesting to read your comments! Thank you. I think what's important for me to remember is that I'm doing the best I can, and so are all of you. Grocery shopping has become a very expensive, complicated affair (and that's not even including doing it without a car or small children in tow!). The more we help each other navigate it (without judgement) the better. And this little forum reminds me how helpful it is to ask for feedback sometimes. Otherwise the only story we know is our own, and things get wacky that way.

Jo, love that you made tortilla chips.
Midori, I'll try posting a menu and shopping list sometime soon.
Dana, you are allowed to toss parsley every once in awhile.
Zip, stay on that organic bandwagon. I need it.
Bethany, what did you make with rice?
Jenn, you are RIGHT about the expensive snacks.
PDS, you are funny.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

i agree with pds...now where is my kim chee and chopsticks???? and i ended up using somen noodles, not rice, for my lunch.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

In this day and age I think $150 is pretty reasonable. I spend about $100 a week and there are just 2 of us. I think the only way to get by for less is shopping strictly at "Grocery Outlet" or spending hours clipping coupons. Don't kick yourself too much over what you spend. I think you're doing great.

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Weighing in at $75 dollar/week grocery budget for a single person. Thankfully I live between Trader Joe's and Madison Market. MM is a little pricey, but I feel like I'm paying for what I receive which is a lot, especially in the proximity to car-less household dept and dairy free selection. I also summoned my inner SMK substitution queen when shopping in their produce section recently. I was going to make Lemony Lickin' Green Beans until I looked at the price $5.99/lb (!!), but they're coming from Mexico so they're priced more accurately for the true cost of those lovely beans. So I literally dumped the beans out of my bag back to their pile and bought (2) 1/2 heads of cabbage for $2.34. And the salad was a hit! Thank you Sarah.

I will start buying my produce at the Sunday Broadway Farmer's Market now that it's "in season". It's also accessible by foot and selling hot pretzels and gorgeous flowers! I'll have to see if that changes my budget this year.

June 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEm

I have been enjoying your blog so much. You are a clever girl, full of life and an amazing cook.

Awhile back you mentioned Bahn Mi. I love these Vietnamese sandwiches but have not yet perfected the taste. I pickled some carrots and daikon radishes but they were not as crisp and sweet/sour as I would have liked. Do you have a recipe you like?

Anyway, I was just reading about Kimchi and how terrific it is for you and here you are with a great recipe to use it in. Can hardly wait to try it. It's the natural fermentation that makes it so healty. So now I know where to get it and your salad sounds wonderful. Thank you. Eating it all by itself as I recall from years ago did not quite agree with me but I think I could learn to like it.

Oh, I am Michele's (Misha) mom. Thank you for sharing.
Margie Waite

June 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermargie waite

I love kimchi, and what a great way to rescue unwanted food. Good inspiration :)

June 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEralda

Funny, I've been thinking alot about food budgets lately too - oh, I guess the whole country is right now, how easily I forget. Anyway, cookforgood.com has an interesting take on food budgets that you may like to check out, just as a point of reference and the "challenge" of eating on a food stamp budget. $150 (including diapers? wow) is completely ok, don't stress about it. My hubby and I eat very well on $100 a week, but that's because all our fish and meats come from stuff he hunts and we don't count that, along w/ garden produce. I don't even want to know how much we spend in sporting equipment and camo, but it's part of our lifestyle, so there ya go. :)

June 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Beth, I just love all the hunting and fishing that goes on in your household. I don't think that will happen for me in the near future (City Girl, big time) so I'll just live vicariously for now. And more than four people will be reading your site very soon--it is a treasure.

June 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

I Love the simplicity of your site! It's the only reason I got hooked, (Well you are my daughter, how could I not). I don't get frustrated, and it is easy, Just what I like...It's part of my routine, and I can't imagine my life without it now! It's a fun way to stay in touch day to day , even if we don't talk on the phone everyday. and................. what about all those cute pictures I get to see of all my grandkids everyweek, can't beat that! I'm one of your local reps, Keep it coming Sarah, your doing an awesome job.

June 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermama

I LOVE this salad. So easy and so good for you. We will be eating this a whole lot!

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermargie waite
Hey Sarah, I know you posted this ages ago but I was trolling your site looking for a good recipe to take to a potluck this weekend and ran across this post. The grocery expenditure really jumped out at me. I guess I was amazed at how frugal everyone is! Impressive! Did you know the IRS national standard food allotment for a family of four is $794 per month? This is a number that would be used in a debt collection situation like a bankruptcy, for example. This includes all food --even eating out. The fact that your readers come in at $150 a week is sort of amazing. Here is the link if you are interested. http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/National-Standards-Food-Clothing-and-Other-Items

Anyway, wanted to share this as a perspective that will hopefully be "guilt-reducing". Even if it's a few years too late.
September 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErika Fox

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