Welcome to a new series about cooking smarter! The aim is to promote eating exciting and healthy food for busy people with small budgets. Flavour, low-maintenance, reduced waste and low costs aren’t mutually exclusive concepts when it comes to food. And when you eat food that excites you, and is good for your body, it makes your busy lifestyle work better!
Lately, there’s so much praise for slow living. And it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, because I know that’ll always be an unrealistic goal for me. I’m sure this is the case for a lot of you guys too. This series (smarter. better. faster. cheaper.) is for you, because if you want to eat delicious and healthy food, then you can do it…you’ve just got to cook smarter!
part I: basic batch
Throw away your preconceptions about batch cooking. I’m not talking about making 10 portions of lasagne, freezing 6 and eating the rest for 2 days’ lunches and dinners. That’s monotonous; it doesn’t excite people. Plus you’ll have forgotten the fun you had while cooking it by the 2nd day of microwaving.
Your batch needs to be customisable, but readily so. Every day your brain will think that you cooked from scratch; your tastebuds will feel like you’ve eaten a mix of fresh and complex flavours; and your wallet will feel…well, heavier.
My 4 rules of batch cooking have not just gotten me through the tough weeks, but they’ve given me some of the best dishes to come out of my kitchen:
- the initial batch
You can choose anything for your initial batch, that’s the point: choose the flavours you love and you’ll be excited to eat it! But here’s some words of advice.
Robust root vegetables are your saviour! Carrots, turnips, squashes etc are so hardy (and hella cheap), so utilising them can give your batches some backbone.
Similarly, try not to add things which can be easily added at the time of eating. For example, if you love toasted pine-nuts in your veggie roast, you don’t gain anything by adding them 3 days before you intend to eat it. Leaving ingredients such as these before serving will preserve their texture, so only cook things that realistically need cooking.
Once you know what to include, cook it in a way that’ll make life easy for yourself. Do a tray bake, or let something stew away in a big pot for a while. These methods develop flavour, but they also allow you to get on with your other tasks.
- the carb
Switching up your carbs is one of the easiest ways to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating something completely different. It’ll physically look like a totally different meal.
But you can also use different carbs to your advantage. On the 1st day, I usually like some rice with my freshly-cooked food. But making 3 portions of rice is the same amount of effort and dishes.
So what do I do with the remaining 2 portions? They both use my batch: one to create the next day’s lunch burritos, and the other for the next night’s fried rice. This is super practical, because burritos are perfect for when you’re busy as you can eat them with one hand, while on the go. And for perfect, authentic fried rice, you need day-old rice anyway. That was just one example of using carbs to create dishes that respond to your lifestyle.
- the freshness
Some may be put-off batch cooking because they’re reluctant to eat the same flavours all week, but really this needn’t be the case. Firstly, because the flavours change from the first day, usually becoming deeper and intensified over time.
However, primarily this doesn’t happen to me because I have quick methods of adding different flavours at every meal. This is a key opportunity to add more excitement to your food! And although I’ve shown some examples in this post, you’re only limited by your imagination.
It also demonstrates that despite using some herbs and spices in my batch cooking, you’re not limited to food from one cuisine if you show restraint in the beginning. You can see how some chopped peanuts, chilli and coriander with jasmine rice will give your batch a totally different vibe than adding your batch to some truffle and white wine risotto.
You could even just serve with some side-dishes – a bowl of kimchi or pickles or hummus is no effort at all, but makes a meal feel like more of an experience. These little extras are deliberately quick and easy, but you’d be forgiven for feeling like you’ve cooked a brand new meal from scratch.
- the resourcefulness
I started becoming more resourceful with my food in order to cut costs and to reduce my environmental footprint. However, I soon realised that not only is it intensely satisfying to use what might’ve been thrown away, it can also enhance your cooking. This is most likely because the flavours and textures of what you’ve kept aside are inherently complimentary to the rest of the batch – they come from the same source!
When you’re batch is in the oven, why not chuck your veg peelings or bones into a saucepan with water. All you have to do is let it bubble while you cook your batch and eat your first meal, then sieve it. BOOM you have delicious, flavourful stock which you can use later in the week to make soup, or stew, or curry, or in my case: risotto! Try using it instead of water in your rice cooker; what’s the worst that could happen haha?
My other example from this current batch was keeping the butternut squash seeds. In the remaining oil (why throw it away, it’s delicious!) from roasting my veggies, I cooked the seeds in the oven for 10ish minutes. They’re a fantastic snack, they go well with anything you’re going to make with your batch (salads, sandwiches, anything to be honest). But I used them to make pesto, halving the number of costly pine-nuts needed and adding a completely unique flavour!
So get creative with your left-overs, not for your wallet or the environment, but for your tastebuds haha!
The batch method, when employed with enthusiasm and curiosity, can lead you to delicious, healthy, easy and cheap meals. So just remember that you never need to live ‘slowly’ to eat well!