Hello everyone. I am writing this at the end of Week 10 of Lockdown. Can you believe this has been going on since the 23rd of March and it is now the 30th of May? Well done for making it this far because it sure as heck has not been easy!
Lockdown and social distancing has made a lot of us spend more time in our kitchens. Be that due to restaurants and delivery services closing; the fact that there is more time to prepare things; less distractions and things to do mean that family meals become more important. Or perhaps you have always been a keen cook. I don’t know and to be honest it doesn’t matter because in the words of the Disney Ratatouille Movie (A favourite of mine) ‘Anyone can cook’.
Shop shortages made us all have to think beyond our usual shopping lists and fill the gaps with products that we otherwise may not have considered. I was actually quite excited to see how many beans, pulses and legumes had been bought (every cloud has a silver lining). There is a perception that vegetarian cooking is expensive, and whilst I agree that is the case in processed foods and specialist restaurants, it is not the case for the basics.
Maybe you have used the tin of lentils you bought for the first time or maybe they are still sitting in a drawer. I am pretty bad at doing that myself. I do my shop and then eat all of my favourite things and then certain items just remain sitting on the shelf as I do shop after shop without using them up. I am sure we have all grown to enjoy foods we hated as a child, in my case leeks and dark chocolate (although not together). So if we never try something new we can never find new favourites.
The other thing Lockdown and social distancing has meant is that we can go out less often. So rather than the normal, or normal in my case anyway, big shop and then multiple top up shops or snack stock ups throughout the week, it really is just the big weekly shop. So it is essential to make sure you utilise everything. I think we all know that feeling of the day before shopping day when you have a rather ramshackle selection of things.
Anyway that is quite enough for the introduction. The only other quick thing I will say is I realise I am writing this article from a position of privilege of never worrying about being able to afford food and having a nice kitchen to cook in. I know these are hard times for a lot of us but if you can support local charities or food banks then please do.
I have put these recipes in very brief summery. There are no measurements, quantities or precise instructions. The reason for this is all of these recipes are very flexible quantity wise depending on your preferences, food availability and how many people you are cooking for. But more importantly the internet is full of beautifully written step by step recipes to follow. I want this post to act as an inspiration for your cooking, to give you new ideas, to help shape your shopping list and give you a bit of kitchen freedom.
But most importantly all these ideas are super easy and straight forwards. So the oven is on and I am ready to cook!
Spaghetti bolognese: Green lentils, tinned chopped tomatoes, mushrooms (shopped small), basil, paprika, I like to add shredded carrots to the sauce too. Then spaghetti and grate on cheese after serving in a bowl.
Chilli con Carne: Chilli Mock/vegetarian mince, kidney beans, small pieces of bell pepper, finely chopped red onion, tinned chopped tomatoes, chilli powder, paprika, basil, cumin. The serve with rice.
Chickpea curry: Tinned chickpeas, baby sweet corn , finely chopped onion, add edamame beans (optional and add towards the end of sauce cooking time so they don’t get too soft), tinned coconut milk, turmeric, chilli powder, paprika, ginger. Serve with rice or warmed flatbread. You could make a yogurt tip to drizzle on top of the curry: Plain Greek yogurt, finely chopped fresh coriander (ground does work but use sparingly), finely chopped spring onion, ground dill, a tiny bit of honey or maple syrup.
Sausage and chips: Linda McCartney sausage, frozen sweet potato or standard fries. Serve with fresh green salad or peas to get some veggies in.
Stuffed Sweet potato. Bake sweet potato in the oven until soft. Filling of black beans, sweetcorn, finely chopped bell pepper and finely chopped red onion. Sauce: A little bit of olive oil, a splash of tomato ketchup, loads of lime juice, some sweet chilli sauce, ground basil, ground cumin, paprika, stir well and add water to thin. Half bakes sweet potato and fill with bean mix and sauce. Great cheese on top of finished product.
Macaroni Cheese: Make a basic white sauce by melting butter, adding flour and then gradually adding milk. Make sure you keep whisking as it will thicken quickly. Cook your macaroni in a separate pot. Grate lots of cheese, a stronger tasting one gives the dish more flavour, mix 3/4 of it into the white sauce and then save the rest to melt over the top. Then add the macaroni to the white sauce pot (sauce is a pain to clean up so better to keep it in the same pan). Mix them all together before transferring to an oven proof dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and add sliced tomatoes for decoration. Cook in the oven until the top is bubbling and beginning to brown.
Sausage pasta: Cook some pasta (red lentil penne will up the protein content). Then cut the sausages into small pieces (I like using Quorn cocktail sausages) and cook in a frying pan (if they are frozen I suggest a few minutes in the oven first). To the sausages add finely chopped onion and stir until they begin to soften. Then add tinned tomatoes and season with basil, paprika and Chinese five spice. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and add to the sauce mixture. Stir it all together and then severe, grating some cheese on to each portion if you fancy.
Sweet and sour beans: Make the sauce in a separate bowl and mix with a fork. Sauce is made from: Olive oil, tomato ketchup, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, maple syrup, water (for thinning) and the spices are: Ground coriander, paprika, ground turmeric. In a frying pan cook some small slices of bell pepper and spring onion, once those have started to soften add some butter beans. I like to steam some broccoli too. The serve with a carb source of your choice.
Summer salad: Lettuce or whatever green leaves you fancy, chopped spring onion, little pieces of bell pepper, cherry tomatoes cut in half and pomegranate.
I hope this post gets you thinking about how simple vegetarian cooking is. You don’t need to convert to vegetarianism or veganism, I am a firm believer in eating what you want but perhaps once a week you could cook a meat free meal. If everyone in the world did Meat Free Monday it would make a ginormous difference. But that aside I really believe that veggie food can be cheap, easy and delicious. Cook on guys.