The explosion of interest in cooking, and the flood of cookbooks that came along with it, over the past decade has been a great thing. Cooking for yourself is one step towards eating less junk food or heavily-processed meals. But one less savoury byproduct has been the buying of food for recipes, then seeing the leftover ingredients slowly going bad in the fridge.
It’s perhaps strange that a cookbook author is rallying against this food waste, but that’s what Vicky Bhogal is doing. Bhogal’s first book, Cooking Like Mummyji, based on the Punjabi cuisine she grew up eating, was published back in 2003 but was long out of print. Now it’s been re-released in a revised and updated edition, but Bhogal isn’t intent on just getting people to use her recipes – she wants people to learn how to cook for themselves.
“Nowadays we’re so nervous about cooking and we cling to celebrity cookbooks like they’re the holy grail and we can’t veer outside of that,” Bhogal told Coach. “I think that’s a shame because cooking is supposed to be creative and individual.”
So we asked Bhogal for some starting points to help expand our culinary horizons… and hoover up those sad-looking courgettes in our fridge crisper draw.
First things first, what you should always have to hand. Onions and garlic, obviously, and what Bhogal calls the “holy trinity”: salt, garam masala and turmeric. Add to that any spices you like (Bhogal’s a fan of cumin seeds) and canned tomatoes.
Stock up your freezer with ginger, coriander and chillies. Grate the ginger, shape it into teaspoon-size balls and whack it in the freezer on a tray – then once it’s frozen, pop it in a bag. Stick finely chopped coriander in a freezer bag and break off a chunk when you need. And freeze whole chillies, then just run them underneath the tap for a few seconds before chopping.
Got that sorted? Great, here are three ideas to have a bash at. There’s no need to follow them slavishly, pull in any ingredients or flavours that you like. As Bhogal told us, “just have a go. If it’s absolutely horrendous what’s the worst thing that can happen?” (Nothing major, as long as you make sure the meat is cooked through.)
Try A Tharka
A tharka is simply a base for a meat or vegetable dish. Put a tiny bit of oil in a pan with cumin seeds (if you like), then add finely chopped onion. Cook until they’re golden brown, or if you’re making a meat dish cook them until they’re a bit darker – you’re caramelising the onions which gives the sauce a depth of flavour.
Add ginger, coriander and canned tomatoes to make a paste, then let it cook through for a few minutes. Add your meat and/or veg and cook it in the paste for a bit, before adding boiling water (a little bit for a drier dish, more for a sauce-based dish) and cooking with the lid on for 20-30 minutes depending on your ingredients (cook the meat thoroughly, people).
Pull Off A Pilau
This one takes a bit longer, which Bhogal admitted can elicit the reaction, “ugh, do I have to do that?” But she reassured us that “once you know how to do it, you’ll incorporate these aspects of the technique and it’ll be effortless”.
Measure out half a cup of basmati rice per person and put it into a pan of cold water for 30 minutes. Afterwards, pour the rice out into a fine mesh sieve and run it under the tap to rinse it off.
Add a tiny drizzle of oil to a wide, lidded sauté pan and throw in any flavourings, seasonings or ingredients you want. Cook these ingredients, then add your drained rice, 1⅓ cups of water (around 330ml) per cup of rice, put the lid on and let it steam through for ten minutes until the rice has soaked up all the water and is cooked.
Bhogal likes cumin seeds, finely sliced onion, prawns, cashew nuts, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, a squeeze of lime and some finely chopped coriander, but also does a kedgeree version by adding curry powder and finishing the dish with strips of smoked salmon and boiled eggs.
Spice Up Your Scrambled Eggs
Next time you’re making scrambled eggs of a weekend morning, have a nose around your fridge for any spare veggies you don’t know what to do with. “Really flavoursome scrambled eggs is such an Indian thing,” Bhogal says. “When a lot of my relatives came to this country they were like, ‘why are they making scrambled eggs plain?’”
Finely chop any leftover veg – “anything from tomatoes to spring onions to peppers,” says Bhogal – and sauté them (cook in a tiny bit of oil on a high heat), then add your beaten egg with a little garam masala and perhaps some chilli or coriander. Your call.
Cooking Like Mummyji is out now, RRP £25, check price on amazon.co.uk