Variety spices life
A little bit of culinary flexibility gives a boost to kitchen confidence in a cultural climate where perceived food shortages and self (or compulsory) isolation is becoming the new norm.
Flexibility means the ability to use pantry stocks or unfamiliar ingredients in deliciously familiar ways.
Food’s a huge comfort. We want to eat what we know. We want to feed who we love. It feels good to reach out for each other across the dining room table with meals that inspire and sustain.
Right now, we need good food — not just to keep well, but to keep connected to small pleasures in what feels for many like anxious times. Understanding how to work with food substitution on a practical and romantic level makes this attainable.
Practically, thinking of polenta, or cous cous, or finely diced cauliflower as an alternative to white rice or pasta means we can all buy a little differently, easing the weight of need around one or two supermarket items.
Romantically, creative cooking approaches keep us inspired when default recreational food options — lunch, dinner or breakfast out for an edible change of pace — aren’t possible, and stovetop drudgery is more of a threat than ever.
Losing work (hands up, here), means losing income. But it also means gaining time.
Time has its own economic value. It means we can think more. Plan meals. Buy food that requires more prep, but comes at less cost: tinned tomatoes can be replaced by fresh; pulses and legumes can be bought as dry goods, then soaked and cooked to yummy readiness.
And use aromatics. Salt. Basil from your garden. Lemons from your neighbour’s overhanging tree. The unused smoked paprika that sits in the back of your spice drawer, along with the bottles of cinnamon and ground cumin and coriander. If you’re not sure where to start, try this recipe which includes mix-and-match options.
Recipe (serves four)
Choose your own carbohydrate:
Rice. Pasta. Potato. Quinoa. Polenta. Cous cous. Noodles. Raw cauliflower rice. Sweet potato. Pre cook your choice (unless using raw cauliflower) and hold aside for later.
Choose your own protein - around 300 grams should feed four people:
Legumes. Beans. Tempeh. Tofu. Chicken. Fish. Lamb. Pork. Game meat. Soak and pre-cook legumes or beans. Cut and brown off any meat protein.
Choose your own fat:
Olive oil. Butter. Coconut oil. Mustard oil. Ghee. Nut oils. Vegetable oil. Choose your poison, and the quantity. A tablespoon should usually suffice.
Make your own aromatic blend:
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves fresh garlic / ginger / onion / spring onion / leek
1/2 tsp smoked paprika / sweet paprika / dried chilli / fresh chilli
1 tsp cumin seed / ground coriander / fennel seed
1/2 tsp black pepper / white pepper / Sichuan pepper / pink pepper
1/3 tsp ground ginger
1/3 tsp ground turmeric / fresh turmeric / ground celery seed / 1/2 cup chopped fresh celery
Pinch of palm sugar / raw sugar / brown sugar / white sugar
Heat all spice in a pan with your chosen oil. If you don’t have cumin, use coriander. If you don’t have coriander, use fennel. If you have garlic, ginger and spring onion, use them all. If you only have leek, use the leek. Use only one, maybe two, from the paprika-chilli option, in order not to throw the spice blend off balance. Use only one from the turmeric options, to avoid an overtly bitter blend. A little bit of sugar helps to harmonise spice contrast. If you don’t have a spice, omit it. Warm on low heat until aromatic.
Add to the spice blend around 1 or 2 cups of chopped, raw vegetables. Lettuce works amazingly well with spice. Finely sliced carrot, fennel, zucchini, pumpkin; whatever’s looking sad in your veggie drawer. Cook on low heat around 15 minutes with the spice and fat.
Add your chosen protein and cook through further for another 15 to 20 minutes. Pair with your chosen carbohydrate.
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