So, you have moved into your flat and done the obligatory collective flat shop where you bought cereal, toast, toilet paper, milk, marmite and beer (all the essentials), but did you get anything that you could contemplate eating for dinner? Probably not. And trust me, Satay Kingdom gets pretty boring when it’s all you have been able to afford to eat for six weeks.
The Basics – things you might have overlooked but simply need to have:
Canned Tomatoes – this most basic of foods comes in many varieties (my favorite being the traditional ‘whole peeled’) which, combined with some pasta or rice are basically meals in a can: sauté an onion and some garlic in a pan (don’t burn or brown it), pour in the tomatoes and crush them if they are whole peeled which is really quite fun if you do it with your hands (please wash them thoroughly before doing so), season (we will come to that later) and then pour over a bowl of hot pasta or rice. It’s your five plus a day in one can but be wary of cheaper versions as they have high sodium levels (salt) which ain’t good for your arteries.
Couscous – though not for the wheat intolerant, this grain (semolina) will become a godsend when you are on the run. Unlike pasta or rice, it comes already cooked. Just throw it into some boiling water (the directions are on the packet) and within about a minute it is ready to eat. It is perfect with any sort of leftover sauce quickly heated up in the microwave.
Seasoning – stuff to make the basics taste more interesting:
Salt and pepper – now, I hear some of you going “well, duh”. But you wouldn’t believe how many people cook without these life-giving substances. Salt heightens other flavours and unless you are cooking pasta, less is more. If you add the salt to the meal while you are cooking it rather than at the end you are adding much less and because it has worked its way into the food rather than just being sprinkled on top of it, it is much more effective at doing its job, making other things taste good rather than just being salty. Pepper, on the other hand, has a flavour of its own (which differs between white and black) and is spicy (hence it being a spice) and a little bit hot – peppery is a good adjective to describe it. It is also one of the most commonly used spices, especially in savoury dishes. I use it in almost everything, so buy some peppercorns and a mill and get going.
Paprika – this is getting into the posh stuff so ignore the supermarket brands, about all they can do is impart a red colour and a certain mustiness (usually because they have been sitting in storage for too long). The Spanish smoked paprika or ‘pimentón’ is a whole other kettle of fish, perfect for lifting those tomato sauces. It comes in sweet or hot varieties (the hot being quite spicy) and costs about $8 for a small jar – but because you use so little of it it goes an awful long way.
Dried oregano – quite possibly the only dried herb worth its salt. Just add a little bit (about a teaspoon) to tomato based pasta dishes once they have finished cooking to give them a bit of lift. Don’t add them during cooking as they can get bitter. The more expensive ‘wild Sicilian’ oregano (it is what it says) is pretty wonderful if you don’t mind forking out up to $15 for a bag.
There we go – something to make your basic flat cooking a little bit tastier (with notable exceptions like olive oil and bacon). And if it’s tastier it is more satisfying. And if it’s more satisfying you eat less. And that means you can use more butter.