How to use what you have to cook great meals
There’s never been a better time to develop the skill of creating delicious and healthy meals using what you already have in the house. Looking up a recipe and picking up the ingredients on your way back from work is already starting to seem like a forgotten luxury.
1 Find the star of the show – look through your fridge and cupboards and pick one thing to build your meal around. This should be something you fancy but also consider what needs using up first.
2. Build it up – add a couple more ingredients until you have a meal containing carbohydrate, a protein and some veg. It doesn’t have to be exactly 100% every day but it’s a good guide. Think something starchy like rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread plus some protein like beans, legumes, tofu, meat replacements, eggs or cheese and then some vegetables, salad and/or fruit.
3. Time – choose cooking methods/ingredients to suit your timeframe. Some recipes need more time but little attention like stews where as others take less time but can’t be left – stir fries for example.
4. Inspiration – At this point I start to form a rough idea of what I want to make and check that I have any extra ingredients I might need. It’s good to have a few go-to recipes up your sleeve which can be adapted. What’s the best way to showcase the ingredients you’ve chosen?
This stage often just depends on what you fancy. Think pies, soups, salads, fritters, tacos, hash, stews, curries, wraps, pastas, rices, stir fries, noodles, grain bowls, ‘meat’ balls, falafel, burgers etc. You could try searching for a random recipe on Google or flipping t0 any page in a cook book for a basic idea and then adapting from there.
5. Flavour – what do you have in the cupboards that can add flavour to your ingredients? Think sauces, pastes, spices and herbs. Choose your favourite combinations or create flavour profiles based on world cuisine – Italian, Mexican, Asian for example.
6. Balance – As you cook make sure to taste often and balance your flavours and seasoning. Think sweet/salty/acidic. The number one thing I found that improved my cooking was using more acid – red wine vinegar in pasta sauces, lime juice in thai curries or lemon juice in pasta for example.
7. Texture – There’s not many vegetarian meals that wouldn’t benefit from some crusty breadcrumbs, roasted nuts or fried crispy onions. Think about texture and add some crunch.
How to cook with a limited budget
When the budget is limited vegetarian cooking is actually very cost effective. Think about things that work well in cans or frozen – peas, sweetcorn, potatoes (for certain recipes), beans, lentils and chickpeas are just a few.
For the more expensive ingredients – meat replacements, tofu, exotic vegetables, pre-made sauces, herbs and nuts – try using them sparingly and padding them out with more vegetables or other proteins.
Some meals can be re-purposed the next day to create something that tastes new.
How to cook with limited time
When time is limited I like to cook things up when I get a few minutes or when I have the oven on the night before, then stick them in the fridge to use later. Things that take a while like potatoes and roasted vegetables for example are great to have ready to go in the fridge.
You can also batch cook things like stews, fritters or sauces or pre-make things the night before like overnight oats.
Certain cooking methods are better when you’re short on time. Stir frying works well as do salads. You can use pre-made pouches or things like rice or grains although they do cost more – might be best to batch cook grains from scratch and leave in the fridge (be careful if doing this with rice, it needs to be cooled very quickly).
How to cook with limited ingredients
Cooking with limited ingredients means we need to be flexible and open to adapting our usual recipes. Think about ingredients that cook or taste similar to each other and try swapping them.
Vegans and vegetarians are often more flexible cooks anyway as they are already open to adapting recipes to meet their own needs – think of all the people looking for egg replacements now!
How to avoid food waste
Use all parts of your food – use off-cuts for stock and cook up old bread for croutons. Try to cook only what you need and reuse any leftovers. These can always be adapted – cook leftover porridge in the oven to make oat bars or use cooked vegetables to make a hash.
If you have children to feed you can limit waste by feeding them the same as you, splitting the same ingredients between you but slightly adapting theirs or, if they eat first, you can reuse their leftovers in your meal later on.
Leave your top tips for meal planning and creation below 🙂