Is the thought of cooking a meal from scratch a little daunting? Whatever your cooking skills (or lack of them!) here’s a look at some recipes that are super-easy for even the most inexperienced cook.
In the early days of the pandemic there was a lot of chat about cooking tasty meals with limited ingredients. The first lockdown meant many of us were short of exciting ingredients and had to improvise with whatever we had to hand.
It’s a style of cooking I’ve always enjoyed, dating back to years in bedsits and shared houses in London. I much prefer knocking up a tasty meal from a few basics rather than a fancy recipe. And let’s face it, at times the basics are all many of us can afford.
So if your cooking skills are limited, or even non-existent, I hope you get a few ideas from this quick run-through of my three favourite recipes that turn everyday and cheap ingredients into great meals.
Get creative with a stew!
Making a yummy stew is so easy, and the approach I use is the same for dozens of different recipes. If you eat meat, the first step is to cut it into not-very-big chunks and gently fry them in a large saucepan. Chicken thighs, sausages, stewing beef… it all works just the same.
You’re not aiming to thoroughly cook the meat yet; just fry enough to part-cook and get the outside brown. Then remove it from the pan and set it aside on a plate.
If you prefer a vegetable stew, skip the meat and go straight to the next bit…
Now gently fry some chopped onions in the same saucepan, with some chopped or crushed garlic if that’s to your taste. When the onions have softened a bit, gradually add your chosen root vegetables, chopped into hearty chunks. Carrots, potatoes, parsnips and leeks are all good to add at this stage.
Stir every couple of minutes for about ten minutes, seasoning with a little salt and lots of black pepper. If you like your food spicy, you can add some chilli powder, paprika, or anything you like to give it a kick.
If you are cooking a meat stew, now is the time to put your browned meat back into the pan and stir everything together for a few minutes.
Next, add your stock. You can use a stock made from a stock cube and boiling water, but I prefer to use a tin or two of a suitable soup. Vegetable, minestrone, chicken…whatever soup goes with the ingredients you’ve chosen. Add a little water too, to make the stew go further (and to make it taste less like soup!).
Once the whole thing is simmering away you can add vegetables that take less time to cook, such as green beans and tinned or frozen veg. Give your stew a taste and add more salt, pepper, herbs or spices if you feel it’s needed. Keep simmering away for about half an hour, or until the vegetables are soft and the meat cooked through.
That’s it! This formula is so versatile, and you can use just about any combination of meat, vegetables, stock and spices to create a stew perfect for your budget and taste buds.
Soup the healthy, easy way
Even though I love making stew, I’ve never had much success with soup. That all changed recently with the purchase of a soup maker. A friend had been raving about hers for months and finally convinced me to get one too. I’m so glad I did, as it really couldn’t be simpler to cook up some low-cost, tasty and healthy soup.
It’s as simple as chopping up a few vegetables, making stock with a stock cube and boiling water, and bunging it all in the machine. Add your favourite herbs and spices, hit a button or two, and 20 minutes later you have some delicious soup.
My go-to recipe is a simple carrot, onion and celery soup. Parsnips and potatoes also go together really well. When I’m feeling more adventurous, I push the boat out, for example with a mixture of vegetables, spicy peppers and chorizo. Most soup makers cook two or more portions at a time, depending on the size of machine, so you can freeze some and stock up on ready-to-microwave lunches.
Turn simple rice and a few vegetables into a meal
Lots of people seem to struggle when cooking rice, and so turn to the ‘two minutes in a microwave’ packet rice. But there is an idiot-proof way to cook rice as part of a one-pot meal. It’s basically a version of ‘Spanish rice’.
First, throw a couple of handfuls of rice into a bowl or saucepan and cover with boiling water to soften it a little. (I like basmati rice, but anything will do.) DON’T put this on the hob; just let it sit. You’ll leave this for ten minutes, so in the meantime get your vegetables going.
Chop up a few onions, carrots and peppers into fairly small pieces and gently fry in oil in a large frying pan for a few minutes. When everything has started to soften up, add some chopped tomatoes. You can also introduce some olives, black beans, kidney beans, chorizo, cooked bacon pieces or just about anything else!
Along the way, add your favourite spices. I like black pepper and cumin in this recipe, but chilli powder works well also. Stir it all around for a few minutes. Then drain the rice and add it into the pan, mixing everything together.
Finally, cover everything with vegetable or chicken stock and let it all simmer, stirring now and again. You will see the stock slowly evaporate away until you have a moist but not soggy meal left in the pan. Serve it as a one-pot meal, or to accompany some meat, crusty bread or whatever takes your fancy. Perfect rice and veggies, every time.
I hope that if you rarely cook you’ll give one of these easy styles of cooking a try, and maybe then go on to more adventurous recipes. Or, like me, just enjoy creating cheap and tasty meals from basic ingredients.
WORDS Richard Groom