Do not worry, I am not starting a food blog! I am just documenting some quick, easy and cheap vegetarian dishes for the benefit of my little sister and some curious friends. I have not photographed ingredients in little bowls or different steps in the cooking process. I even forgot to photograph what my kitchen looks like post-cooking (the bit B has to deal with). Also, I do not really cook with measurements. Or set ingredients. Or temperatures. Or, you know, any other useful information you might expect! I do not own any scales. Good luck.
What I like to cook: things that are cheap (under 3 GBP / 2 EUR), things that are healthy (no, not historically inaccurate diets), and things that are quick (ca. 20 minutes). If I make an effort (curry) I might cook for an hour, but never longer than that. Most my food is achieved by tossing the vegetables I find in the fridge into a pan, and applying different cooking methods to them.
People are often surprised by the amount of money I spend on shopping, and the fact that I have not fainted from vitamin deficiency. In turn, I am often surprised by the amount other people spend on shopping. There are a few tricks: do not buy meat or fish, do not buy alcohol, and do buy the vegetables/fruits which are on offer. That is all. I added up all my shopping, and divided by months/weeks, and this is the result. My spices add up to ca. or 0.20 GBP / 0.25 a week, staples (rice, potatoes, garlic etc.) ca. 2 GBP / 3 EUR a week, vegetables ca. 5 GBP / 7 EUR, and misc. (coffee, fruit) ca. 8 GBP / 12 EUR. That is all the food, even covering dinner for two people, for 15 GBP / 21 EUR a week; and therefore also the cost of all the food, and more, described below.
Bread sticks / flatbread (or ‘understanding simple bread’)
Ingredients (all optional, apart from flour and water):
Rosemary (or some other flavor)
Olive oil (or other oil)
Preheat the oven to ca. 200 degrees; it does not matter very much, but as a general rule, bread likes higher temperatures than cakes. Roll out a sheet or two of baking paper. A baking tray is fine too, but it might stick a bit, plus the bread gets baked more evenly when nothing’s in the way (very important tip for making crispy pizza too).
Add some flour into a bowl. The amount may vary; it just depends how much you want to make. I usually add somewhere between 500 gr – 1 kg; or, if you like, up to the 0.5 – 1 litre mark in a bowl. Add your flavourings (e.g. rosemary, maybe 2 teaspoons, salt, pepper). Add the olive oil (maybe 1 or 2 tablespoons).
The water is the difficult bit (as far as this can get difficult). You might need ca. 2-3 cups, but add the water very carefully because the dough can get too wet very quickly! You might need much less water than I say / you think. Just touch the dough with your hand. Does it stick too much? Then yes, it is too much water. Add some more flour to make up for it. Is not all the flour in the bowl sticking into your dough ball? Add some more water. You may want to take the dough out of the bowl now and knead with two hands. If it gets super stuck to the counter, rub some olive oil on that too (but it should be fine without). Knead the dough for a few minutes; it will get cohesive and stretchy (I think the correct term is ‘creates gluten’).
Now, divide your dough into balls, maybe golf-ball sized. I usually split the giant ball into two, and then repeat this until I have a pile of golf balls; there could be four, there could be eight. You will notice that if you leave them they start to rise slightly; I think the salt causes that (but maybe not). Anyway, take one of your balls, squish it, and roll it out like a sausage. Then squish it down with your fingers till it is flat-stick-shaped. (Or just leave it round, for regular flat-bread.)
Stick your dough in the oven and bake until it looks golden brown. This might take between 5 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven, temperature, and size of the bread. Obviously, if you like it crispier, just keep baking it.
Want to make sweet bread? Add cinnamon and sugar instead of rosemary and pepper. The possibilities are endless. This could feed a very large dinner party, or become your lunch for a week (although I do recommend baking this fresh; nothing beats bread warm from the oven).
Basic Bean Soup (or, ‘understanding simple soup’)
Ingredients for one pot:
Veg stock cube
A tin of black beans
A tin of plum tomatoes
A clove of garlic
A few carrots
Maybe a potato
Cut up your onion into tiny pieces and fry for a bit (in some healthy cooking oil if you like; I also simply like to use drops of water to soften them). Peel and chop up your carrots into small dices, and add to the frying onion. Do the same to the optional potatoes. And any other random vegetables in your fridge that you enjoy. (But have a think on whether you find that the flavours go together.) Cut your garlic into tiny pieces and toss it in (or use a garlic press if you are fancy like that). Add the beans (drain first, if in salty water). Add the tomatoes. Throw in your spices, e.g. 1-2 teaspoons of the cumin and paprika; maybe a bit more. Basically, these are the same flavours as a chili.
Next, boil some water. Perhaps around 750 ml – 1 litre. Add it onto your tomato-bean-mix and drop a stock cube on top. Boil for a bit, then turn down to a simmer. The longer the flavours get to sit together, the better – although obviously try not to overcook your nice veg.
There you are. Soup. Apply the same principle to basic vegetable soup – although you might want to use less tomatoes and cumin and definitely add in a leek. You could also try a hand of pasta or noodles instead of the beans. Also, for extra flavour, add a teaspoon of maggi. If you want to go British, puree it all into a sort of vegetable-puree, which they also call soup here. I also really enjoy making Dutch green pea soup, which requires dried split peas, and a (vegetarian) sausage.
You could feed at least four people with this recipe, or two very hungry ones. Although I object to cooking ahead, this soup does taste better the day after, so you could also just eat it for lunch a couple of days in a row.
Chili sin Carne (why would you add meat?)
A tin of beans in chili sauce (one per person)
A clove of garlic
If you have it:
A carrot, some potatoes
This is so simple. Fry your onion and garlic, add in the pepper and fry for a minute, then turn down the heat, add in the beans, add in some extra cumin, paprika and chili to taste, and simmer. If you are using extra carrots, potatoes or other vegetables, fry/roast/boil them before adding them in with the beans; if you are cooking for multiple people it is also nice to use a tin of proper black beans.
Serve with either potatoes or rice. If you found some avocados in the market, mash them with a fork, and add some salt, pepper and lime juice (simple guacamole).
Mystery Curry (or, ‘how to make anything taste like curry’)
Tin of tomatoes
Two (or more) cloves of garlic
Chili (in any form, e.g. flakes)
Turmeric (and/or curry powder)
Any sort of vegetable
e.g. some potatoes, carrots, cauliflower
A tropical fruit (pineapple, mango)
Some nuts (pistachio, cashew)
And literally anything you need to get rid of, including pasta
Also, you need something that can blend stuff; like a blender. I realise most students do not own these, but maybe you are lucky and your neighbour does.
So, first things first. Chop up your onion and garlic and fry it for a bit (I like my onion crispy). Add your tin of tomatoes and toss all the spices on top (2 or so teaspoons each). Note: if you are a very dedicated chef, fry your spices for half a minute too, instead of just stirring them in; it does a better job at releasing the flavours. (And if you are a clumsy chef like me and burn stuff: add a little bit of water.) If you like, also add in a few pre-boiled/fried potatoes or carrots at this point, it makes the paste extra smooth. Let it all cool down and put it in your blender (blenders do not like boiling hot food). Now is the time to add in any other food you need to get rid of. Like the pasta from last night. Or the bag of peanuts opened in 2013. The broccoli that looks ok, but you cannot remember how it ended up in your fridge. I have not tried to add in any wild ingredients like Roquefort though, so use your common sense. Pasta definitely worked however. And blend into a smooth paste. Blenders like liquid, so add half a cup of water if it all gets stuck. If you have it, coconut milk is the best.
My favourite ingredient combination: onion, garlic, (left-over) courgette, carrots, (spare) spinach, plum tomatoes, coconut milk, lime.
Then, transfer it back into the original pan/pot (I use a wok), and cook it a bit more. Add a teaspoon or two of turmeric / curry powder too (I like to add this after blending, as it turns everything very yellow). To make your curry a little more exciting than just the paste, you could add in a few chunks of veg (e.g. cauliflower; but not mystery cauliflower now), throw in some nuts, and chop up some fruit. If you want something citrus-y but do not have a pineapple laying around, add a bit of lemon juice. Et voila, curry. Serve it with rice.
Pasta Pesto (or, how any vegetable can be pesto)
Some sort of nut
Some sort of cheese
This requires a blender, or a lot of patience with a mortar.
Ok, so technically pesto consists of crushed garlic, fresh basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Now, think of replacing fresh basil with… spinach, or broccoli. Replace pine nuts with… cheaper nuts. Replace parmesan with… cheaper cheese.
Lets’ take broccoli as the example. You will want one whole broccoli and cut it into small pieces. Fry it for a bit, or roast it lightly, to bring out the flavor. Lightly fry some garlic also (some people prefer it fresh and sharp, but I do work as a teacher most of the week and nothing is worse than a teacher breathing on you). While you are at it, toast your selected nuts as well (I quite like pistachios). Now put it into a blender with ca. 4 tablespoons of olive oil (and if it will not blend, also some water). Add some salt, pepper, and perhaps dried basil (or fresh if you have it!). Blend it into a paste, and serve with pasta! If you want, you can add the cheese directly into the blender as well, but if you are making this from scratch anyway, you might as well melt it on top of your pasta instead.
Sweet Sticky Soy Sauce Beans (or any other ingredient)
Sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis)
If unavailable in your country/local shop:
regular soy sauce, sugar
A clove of garlic
A vegetable / tofu
Cut up your garlic (two or three cloves is allowed too) and lightly fry it. Either in some oil, or straight in the soy sauce. Add a very liberal amount of your soy sauce to the pan and turn the heat up very high; watch until it bubbles a little bit and turns a lighter shade of brown (it is caramelising). Add you chili into this mix as well.
If you are fast, you can cut up your vegetables while the soy sauce bubbles. Careful though, it could burn (and the garlic could burn too). So, if you are less confident, just cut the vegetables beforehand. I love to use green beans for this recipe, but simply adding dried tofu (not the squishy kind) works well too. Another vegetable that does great in this sauce is the mushroom, but they require some additional attention. Mushrooms retain a lot of moisture, so you want to fry these ‘dry’ before adding your soy sauce/garlic/chili mixture. Otherwise, the mixture becomes too diluted, and it will still taste nice, but it will not be sticky.
To really make the vegetables ‘stick’, do not stir them too much. Squish them all against the bottom of the frying pan, and leave for ca. 5 minutes, so the sauce gets time to caramelise and maybe even burn slightly, to make everything nice and crispy. Then shake it up, and wait again. Repeat until done (i.e. not completely burned/mushy).