Weeknight Cooking

One Mystery Box of Groceries = 5 Great Weeknight Recipes

Getting these surprise ingredients was the most fun I've had cooking in weeks.

April 15, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

Our friends at Imperfect Foods are reimagining grocery delivery. With just a few clicks, you can have all your must-have ingredients for the week (and beyond) shipped straight to your doorstep. To see just how far one Imperfect Foods order can take you, we sent Senior Editor Jess Kapadia a mystery box of groceries filled with pantry staples, produce, and more. Here are all the delicious dishes she cooked up…

I've been an Imperfect Foods customer for about a year, and have discovered that getting huge boxes of responsibly sourced animal protein, fresh produce, and other items I buy all the time delivered pairs very well with being a food editor—especially here at Food52. Whether I’m testing out a new recipe or cooking one of my weeknight favorites, I can customize my order to fit exactly what I need, while also taking advantage of their ever-changing lineup of seasonal offerings.

There are a few items in particular that have become my go-to snacks: their Hatch Green Chile Chips and 64% dark chocolate discs, for starters. The only thing that can make snacking better is knowing I'm eating high-quality, delicious surplus or perfectly imperfect food (odd-shaped carrots and adorably small citrus for the win) that would otherwise go to waste. It's also easy for me to fill up a cart with ingredients that work for my gluten-free diet, which is a huge plus and a big time-saver when it comes to shopping.

While I normally customize each of my deliveries, I put my colleagues in charge of this week's groceries and received a mystery order inspired by our Instagram video series, "Choose Your Own Recipe Adventure." My goal was to use the surprise contents to create dishes to enjoy all week long—here's what I made:

1. Mango Lemonade

I got a big box of mango cubes in my order that were just a smidge sour and screaming to be made into a beverage for the gorgeous weather that's upon us. Since I can't invite a crew of friends over for mango-ritas, I decided to use the tartness of the fruit to make a tropical lemonade perfect for enjoying on my roof. I modified the recipe slightly, but the formula for this wonderful elixir remains the same: Blend 8 ounces of boiled green or ripe orange mango flesh with a cup of water, and add cold water, lemon juice, and sugar to taste with a pinch of crumbled saffron for floral complexity.

2. Tahini Roasted Broccoli

Roasted cauliflower gets all the hype these days, and rightfully so (as it's a gift to omnivores everywhere). Nevertheless, broccoli remains my favorite of the cruciferous vegetables, and I was thrilled to see a beautiful organic head of it in the Imperfect Foods order. Crisp, nutty, savory, and extremely satisfying, tahini-roasted broccoli makes a fantastic side dish for any protein—what creamy sesame paste does to broccoli is nothing short of wizardry. It's also delicious in a pita with a smear of yogurt sauce, and is a grain-bowl superstar next to a boiled egg and sprinkle of cheese (like the Tillamook shredded cheddar that arrived in my order).

3. Ginger-Soy Glazed Salmon

Sweet, tangy, spicy, and umami, this ginger-soy glazed salmon is exactly what I want on top of a bowl of rice—or Imperfect's private-label quinoa, since I got a bag of it in my mystery order. I like to garnish mine with scallions, but adding Japanese pickles or kimchi to the mix would also be a great idea.

Salmon can be tricky to buy at the supermarket—the selection can be thin, and what is available sometimes looks like it’s been sitting around for a while. I’m a big fan of Imperfect’s responsibly farmed Norwegian salmon. Not only do I not mind that these fillets aren't perfectly uniform, but I actually kind of like it. I'll cook the whole package, eat the biggest portion for dinner, and save the lunch-size portion for, well, lunch!

4. Red Curry Quinoa with Coconut & Greens

Another great thing about Imperfect Foods is that the packaged products they sell are pantry staples—things you'd need to buy anyway at a conventional retailer. I go through a lot of red curry paste, and it was a fun surprise to find a jar in my Imperfect Foods order because I was down to my last few tablespoons. It's potent, flavorful, versatile, and the perfect pantry ingredient to add spice and punch to endless quick dishes.

This one-pot vegan quinoa stew is great for using up the leafy produce in your refrigerator (I tossed in spinach and mustard greens the last time I made it). Salted roasted peanuts make the perfect crunchy garnish, chopped and sprinkled on top, and look at that: I had a bag of them in my order.

5. Apple & Sage Brown Butter Pork Chops

It can be a bit of a pain to shop for meat when you're committed to being conscious about what you're buying. Most of the time, I'll stick with vegetarian fare when high-quality, antibiotic-free meat isn't accessible or budget-friendly. Perhaps my favorite part of shopping with Imperfect Foods is that whatever protein I put in my cart comes pre-vetted to the point that I no longer have to think about it.

The pig this pork came from is certified humane, antibiotic-free, crate-free, vegetarian-fed, and the animal had access to the outdoors. I don't even have to check the label, though, because I know Imperfect doesn't sell animal protein below this standard. Another bonus: It's only ever been far lower than I'd pay for conventional pork chops at the supermarket. And that is a more sustainable model than anything else I have access to. Less label-scrutinizing, more lovely pork for your buck (to pan-fry with the apples and onions I was sent). Heck, I might toss in a pear, too—pork loves fruit!

In partnership with Imperfect Foods, we’re shaking up our cooking routines with a little culinary challenge, and want you to join in: Show us all of the delicious dishes you can make with your own Imperfect Foods order—without wasting a single item. Customize it to your tastes (choosing from your favorite snacks, pantry staples, and more), or let Imperfect Foods do the picking for you—either way you’ll be stocked with delicious ingredients that help prevent food waste and contribute to a kinder, less wasteful world. Sign up here to get started with your own Imperfect Foods grocery plan.

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Jess Kapadia

Written by: Jess Kapadia

Jess is a food and travel writer/editor who grew up in her mom's Indian-Jewish hybrid kitchen. She's written for publications including Edible Los Angeles, Saveur, The Daily Meal, Food Republic, The Spruce Eats, and Food52. Jess lives in Brooklyn with her cats, Frasier and Niles.