Current outrage over plastic pollution – particularly from straws, which are prevalent but not recyclable – is evidence of people’s willingness to make an effort to use plastic-free alternatives. And yet some of the most regularly purchased food items come home from the grocery store in plastic tubs and containers. While many are technically recyclable, that’s no guarantee that they will actually be recycled. So why not circumvent the use of plastic containers in the first place?
So many of the basics – yogurt, vinaigrette, nut butters, mayo – are ridiculously easy to make, and the results taste better and cost less. With a minimal time investment, it’s possible to reduce plastic consumption in a big way just by getting into the habit of making a few kitchen staples on a regular basis.
There are few kitchen staples easier to make from scratch than a basic vinaigrette, and you can free-pour the measurements right into a jar in a rough ratio of one part acid (citrus juice or vinegar) to three or four parts oil.
A mild olive, canola or other neutral vegetable oil is your best bet; if you want to include a stronger-flavoured nut oil, use a small amount and top it up with the neutral oil. The vinegar you choose will have a lot to do with the finished flavour: Red and white wine vinegars are classic, rice and cider vinegars are also mild enough to use, and balsamic adds its own distinct flavour. A bit of lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit juice will add a citrus tang. From there, you can add a spoonful of mustard to help the two emulsify, some sweetener (honey, sugar, maple syrup) or finely crushed garlic, grated ginger, a blob of miso, fresh or dried herbs – any flavours you like, plus salt and pepper. Shake it all up in a jar or reusable squeeze bottle, and keep it in the fridge for up to a month.
Yes, you can make yogurt in your Instant Pot, but it is easy to make a batch using nothing more than a pot, spoon and jar. Really. You can then inoculate your next batch using a bit of the last, and so on.
To start, you’ll need some milk (whole, 2-per-cent or 1-per-cent, or goat milk) and a small container of the best plain yogurt you can find. (I prefer varieties without added preservatives and stabilizers.) Heat three cups of milk to steaming in a saucepan, then turn down the heat and simmer for a minute or two. Pour into a bowl and cool to lukewarm – cool enough to hold your finger in the milk and count to 10. Whisk in a heaping spoonful of the yogurt (a tablespoon or two) and pour the mixture into a large glass jar, ceramic bowl or even a wide-mouthed Thermos. Cover, wrap in a tea towel or small blanket and leave on the countertop for six hours, or overnight. At the end of the day (or the next morning), you should have a batch of thick yogurt. Transfer it to the fridge to keep for up to three weeks.
Homemade mayo is very easy with a hand-held immersion blender. If you don’t have one, whisk the egg, lemon juice, mustard and salt in a wide bowl – preferably one that’s heavy or has a grippy bottom – then add the oil in a very slow stream, whisking constantly until it emulsifies and thickens.
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice or cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup canola or other mild vegetable oil, such as sunflower
Place the ingredients in a glass measuring cup or tall vessel, put a hand-held immersion blender down to the bottom and turn it on. When you see streaks of mayonnaise running through the oil, slowly pull the blender up through the mixture as it thickens and turns into mayonnaise. Makes about 1½ cups. Store in a jar or airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Making nut butter doesn’t require a recipe; all you need to know is what to do to turn nuts into butter. Any variety will work – raw, skinless almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts or macadamias – or a combination. Note: Walnuts make beautiful, soft nut butter, but be careful to buy the freshest ones possible; older walnuts can have a bitter flavour.
Toast your nuts in the oven or a dry skillet until they’re very pale golden and fragrant. If you’re using hazelnuts, rub them in a tea towel after toasting to remove their skins. Put nuts into a food processor with a pinch of salt and process until they’re finely ground. Keep the food processor running, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary, for about 10 minutes, or until the nuts magically transform into creamy butter. (Give your processor a break now and then if it’s getting warm.)
From here, you can customize your nut butter: Add a bit of chocolate, cinnamon, chilies or honey. A spoonful of coconut oil will give it a smoother, more uniform mouthfeel. Store your nut butter in a glass jar or resealable container in the fridge for up to a month, or freeze for longer storage.