Photos by Rohan Rastogi, Words by Nandini Ahuja
Same mundane Monday, same tofu pasta toss. Same chicken parmesan/cacciatore/marsala. Same intimidating line for grapes in the fruit section. Are you sick of the sameness already? For many of us, the dining hall is our main source of food and it can get dull. But with a little creativity, we can all become the sous-chefs of our dining experiences. The next time you scan the salad section at your dining hall, pause at the peas, carrots, and corn. If you’re lucky, you might even spot green beans. All four of these vegetables, though delicious fresh, are even more appealing steamed. Take a small bowl-full of any one of these veggies (or mix them together), add water, and microwave for about a minute. Voila! Steamed vegetables! You can add butter, garlic powder, salt, pepper, or any other spices your dining hall has available for use. If you do not see them at the salad station, don’t be shy and ask the other stations for a quick dash of their spices. You won’t regret it when you have a delicious side dish to accompany your otherwise boring dinner. The main course, could, of course, be much more than average.
As a vegetarian, I’ve learned quite a bit about substitution at the dining hall these past three years. For example, if buffalo chicken wraps are being served, I will bring tofu from the salad station and ask for a buffalo tofu wrap. At the sandwich station, I will often ask servers to make me a healthy caprese sandwich with spinach and balsamic vinaigrette from the salad bar. Although there is rarely mozzarella, I can substitute for swiss and have a perfectly tasty dinner. When the fiesta station is whipping out delicious beef or pork tacos, I’ll grab some black beans from the salad station and ask for mine vegetariano. If you’re not vegetarian and are simply bored with your meals, there are still some tricks to keep your dietary life spicy.
Even for the lucky few who can eat everything served at the dining hall, it is important to give yourself options just in case nothing is to your liking. Taste BUds photographer Rohan Rastogi makes a quick and tasty pasta dish on such nights. He takes penne pasta from the pasta station, oregano and crushed red pepper from the pizza station, and olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette from the salad bar, mixes and heats it. This kind of resourcefulness can make your mouth very happy indeed. Similarly, if you are ever craving a sandwich with heartier meat than the deli meat at the sandwich station, ask for a cut of whatever is at the rotisserie station and put it in your sandwich. There are no rules about mixing dishes and no reasons you shouldn’t enjoy your meals!
Tomorrow when you walk into the dining hall and feel underwhelmed by the food you see, remember these tips and the feast you could be having with a little creativity.