A salad with greens, cheese and olives is an easy first course pairing for a hearty vegetable stew. Different kinds of greens, cheese and olives can be substituted to suit tastes.

Leftover bits of cooked vegetables, grains and proteins don't have to head for the trash.

Set aside a quart-sized freezer-safe container with a lid. Freeze and store spoonfuls of this and forkfuls of that. Whatever is stored in the container can be thawed and added to boxed broths or stocks for quick soups, or be the basis of hearty stews.

The hodge-podge of ingredients can be used in a variety of soups that promise to be full of flavor because they are already seasoned and cooked.

The last time we used up a container of leftovers, it was full of carrots, celery, onions, green beans, potatoes and dark leafy greens. Not in a vegetable soup mood, we used the vegetables to create a fragrant vegetable stew with a North African feel.

Because vegetables were already cooked and diced when frozen, it cut down on a lot of the prep and cook time that would have been required from scratch.

Once thawed, to the vegetables we added a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of drained chickpeas a handful of dried fruit and fragrant spices.

After simmering all ingredients, the stew was served over quick-cooking bulgur wheat, a grain often used in a Middle Eastern salad called tabbouleh.

This fast, filling vegetable stew also could be served over cooked rice, pasta or couscous, as it is traditionally. Or, it could be paired with crusty bread for sopping up broth.

For added protein, you could add to the stew cooked chicken, beef or even lamb, if you don't want to go meatless. Round out the meal with a salad of greens of your choice, orange sections, cheese and olives.

Confession: We did not have all of the exact ingredients listed below and the recipe turned out wonderfully anyway. We were missing saffron. We had no zucchini and we had a white potato instead of a sweet one.

VEGETABLE TAGINE, recipe from Jeanne Lemlin's 2001 cookbook, "Vegetarian Classics: 300 Essentially and Easy Recipes for Every Meal"

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 and 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon tumeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 and 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes or tomato puree

2 cups water

1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced

2 cups diced green beans

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 zucchini, cut lengthwise into sixths and diced

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute about 5 minutes. Add remaining spices, except saffron, and saute for 2 minutes, stirring often. Mix in tomatoes, water, saffron, carrot, sweet potato, beans, raisins and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot, lower heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally. Add chickpeas and zucchini. Cover and cook 10 minutes. If sauce is too watery, cook uncovered for a few minutes to thicken. Serve over cooked grains.