Like everything else, making good food can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. Some grandmothers make it look hard, but they just want you back every weekend – you can’t blame them – and don’t let gourmet layouts, with a constant dash of syrup and spice, intimidate you: garnish must never scare anyone.
So, you can cook. You really can. Think of it this way: no one knows what you like to eat more than you do, so you might as well allow yourself the glory of feeding yourself. It’s somehow between Meditation and Cardio, leaving you quite content, exhausted, and totally ready to eat. Unlike Meditation and Cardio, though, it actually makes food.
Now, if you’re a total beginner, the recipes in this series suit you perfectly as I will be combining simple and basic ingredients to make tasty, budget-friendly meals. You can also edit the recipes according to your whims. If you don’t feel like stuffing a zucchini when a zucchini needs to be stuffed, don’t. Slice it, cook it separately and eat it next to what was supposed to be its stuffing. If you think your creations are awesome, send them in to be featured as guest-chef. You will not win a blender or anything, but hey – you’ll be a published author!
The recipes provided in this post are somehow meant to encourage you to play with your food, as much they are an offering of easy-to-make, price-conscious meals.
But before we get to recipe posts, you need to set up your kitchen with some basic ingredients, and the following will guide you through that.
Set up an herb garden
If you have a garden, that’s awesome, a balcony, great, a window, good. If you don’t have any, for the love of god, find somewhere else to live. When you do, an essential step in making food is growing food. As our urban lifestyles would probably not accommodate for growing vegetables, start with herbs.
Herb shrubs are very cheap, you can get four types of basil, mint, wild thyme, and rosemary all for under 5 dollars. If you take care of them, and they’re pretty low-maintenance, you will have free flavoring for your food everyday.
Populate a Pantry
Your pantry is your safe place. Fill it with things you can use regularly, somehow a plan B to when you don’t feel like thinking of what to cook. If your pantry is organized, it will tell you what to cook. Every cook’s pantry can be radically different than another’s. I, for instance, realized only recently that I don’t have sugar when a friend of mine asked for some for his tea. I don’t use sugar, as essential as sugar might sound to other earthlings. We solved it with some honey and a stem of mint from my balcony. Genius!
Here are some ingredients I keep in my pantry, feel free to use them as a starting point: whole grain pasta, white rice, coarse brown bulgur, canned Hummus, Tuna (in water) and mushrooms.
Olive oil is indispensible. It’s pricy, but indispensible. You don’t need to get the luxurious boutique brands so pick a brand with a reasonable price. It’s worth it. A little trick is to pour your oil into different, preferably glass bottles. In each bottle, put a stem of herbs with the oil and voila, instant sauce. In my kitchen, I use a mix of garlic, basil and hot pepper in my oil. I use it for everything if I don’t have time to wow myself with a full-fledged recipe. You should try some mixes on your own. Start with one herb at a time, and get to your favorite cocktails. Cheat: If you’re back from work after some unpaid overtime, don’t order any fast food. You will regret that burger. Boil some whole-grain pasta, it will take you 10-minutes, and serve it with your cocktail oil and some fresh herbs. If you have some cheese in the fridge, slice and add.
You can fry with olive oil, but again, it’s expensive. Get yourself a bottle of vegetable oil to cook with.
Yes, Garlic and Onion are white. Have them for good luck at all times.
Spices are magic powders. You can turn a vegetable-in-a-pot into a valid dish with a sprinkle of the right spice. They’re not that pricey too. I recommend you have these at all times: white pepper, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, dried mint, sumac, seven-spice mix and of course, salt.
Nuts & Seeds
These are somehow optional, but totally worth it. A simple dish can become a feast with a splash of fried pine nuts. You will start craving the simple lettuce salad after you’ve tried it with some dried walnuts and roasted sesame seeds. I have dried almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and fennel flower seeds at all times. Put some dried almonds and walnuts in a bag in your freezer. They make for great snacks, sort of guilt-free.
As spices are magic powders, some sauces can be their liquid counterparts. Balsamic vinegar has been overused to an extent that you might now be allergic to the idea of using it, but it’s actually good when used right. Cheat: Pour some Balsamic vinegar on a can of tuna, drizzle some of your herbal olive oil and sprinkle some wild thyme from your mini-garden on top.
If you’re into spicy food, it won’t hurt to keep a bottle of hot sauce in your kitchen. No recipe in this series will deal with mayonnaise or ketchup; they’re the devil.
Mustard, on the other hand, can come in handy.
This more or less sums it up. You’re ready to play. I hope this gets you excited to cook something up even before our recipes start rolling. Until then, here’s some music to get you going:
The Cardigans & Tom Jones – Burning Down the House
We hope we don’t actually do that, safety first!