One of the questions that haunts me every day of my life, except Fridays, aside from “what should I wear today?” is “what’s for dinner?” Sometimes my husband will ask me that at 9am, when I’ve just logged on to Skype, and my hubby is at work, at his computer, and hungry from not eating breakfast.
Trying to keep meals interesting and easy is a pretty damn difficult task if you’re not Jamie Oliver, and don’t have a garden full of fresh veggies to choose from. And trying not to cook the same thing all the time is quite difficult too, as it requires having your fridges and cupboards stocked with a plethora of different food stuffs to cater for all occasions- something we might all agree isn’t really financially viable.
So, I’ve created a list of basics that every cupboard and fridge should have, that will help keep meals interesting, without having to buy a fresh bunch of herbs, only to use a few sprigs, and have to throw the rest out.
HERBS and SPICES
The first thing you want to do is establish yourself a hearty spice rack (or cupboard, in my case). Of course, the base of every meal are the spices you use. You could have the same 3 veggies and the same meat every day, but using combinations of different herbs is what keeps the flavours different. So here are my essentials:
– Curry powder
– Garam Masala
I haven’t included rosemary in this because I believe if you need rosemary, you really should use bunches that can be easily removed from the dish, because let’s face it- while the flavour of rosemary is devine, no one really likes chewing on those little stick- like leaves, and rosemary bunches can be kept for ages, as it really doesn’t matter if they dry out.
IN THE PANTRY/CUPBOARD
There are other basics every pantry should have that can help cater for many different types of meals. They can be kept for ages and ages and ages, and called upon whenever you need them. You don’t have to feel bad that they sit in the cupboard unused, because these are things that no matter how long you’ve had them for, you WILL eventually use them. These are:
– Spaghetti or fetuccinni
– Noodles- either Maggi, or those Mi Goreng ones
– Brown or Basmati rice
– Chick peas (cans are easier)
– Cans of borlotti beans, butter beans, lentils (green and yellow)
– Bag of red lentils
– Cans of chopped tomatoes
– recipe bases such as Continentals chow mein, thai green curry, beef goulash, curried sausage, french onion soup, etc.
– Sauces such as soy, fish, tomato, worcestershire, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sweet chilli
And of course, there are some basic vegetables that you everyone should have:
– Sweet potatoes
– A packet of frozen veggies in the freezer for emergencies
All other veggies can be seasonal, or whatever you feel like eating at the time. Curries and asian dishes can use whatever you have in your fridge, really.
WHAT TO DO WITH THOSE PESKY VEGGIES YOU DON’T USE
We all have those shopping days when we see a veggie we don’t normally eat on special, or are feeling rather creative, and think “hmm, I might be able to do something great with those asparagus/egg plant/brocollini. We also have those days when you feel like making something specific, and the recpie calls for a few sprigs of…say…spring onions. But what to do with that half a leftover bunch sitting in the fridge now?
The answer? Chuck it all in a pasta or stir fry dish. The great thing about pastas and stir fries is that if you have all the right sauces and spices (and if you follow my basics list then you should have) you can chuck all those wilting veggies in a pasta or stir fry dish and it will taste divine. Either blend it all up with a can of tomatoes and make a delicious bolognese sauce, or slice it and dice it, and chuck it in a wok with some soy, fish sauce, and a squeeze of lime juice. It’s healthy, and you don’t have to feel bad about wasting vegetables.
I have somehow developed this knack of being able to look in the fridge and make a meal out of what’s available, or what needs to be used. And I attribute this skill to a well stocked pantry and spice rack. They are all basics that can be used, or can sit there for years, and still be ok.
If you’re stuck with what to cook, have a fridge full of stuff, but don’t know what to do with it, let me know and I’ll give you some ideas!