No doubt about it, the secret to low stress cooking is a well organised and suitably stocked cupboard. Apart from anything else – like your plans being stumped because the store is out of one key item you need – if you shop for every meal, chances are that there will be a lot of waste, and that means wasted money as well. Plus, when you tear in after a mad work day, or straggle in after an exhausting day of anything, some key items being stocked up in the pantry means that a nourishing meal is not long away (and, channelling mothers everywhere, you’ll probably sleep better for having eaten well and promptly).
With a little more thought, you can also get the best out of a fridge and a freezer – for example, this snack was assembled in 3 minutes from olive oil and my own dukkah in the pantry, plus bread from the freezer. This is where you can also start to see the cupboard cooking team work – to the same items, for a bit more on a hungrier day, I could have added a couple of eggs – poached, grilled or boiled – from the fridge. Then perhaps finished off with a little date spread or lemon butter on the leftover bread pieces – also kept in the fridge – just to make it interesting!
In the Mumchefoz circle of cooks I admire, tinned tomatoes (and/or passata sauce) wins the prize as the most popular choice of item for the actual cupboard or pantry – that can be the base of a dish in a dozen different styles without any effort at all. Check the labels – there are now excellent options for those wishing to avoid added preservatives etc. Other frequent fliers are tinned chickpeas, kidney beans, in fact any beans (black beans, pinto, lima, butter, borlotti, you name it) to very quickly spin out a meal and make it more substantial – in this area, also sachets of cooked brown rice popped up as a new one on me that I think is a great idea.
As slightly slower time items, rice in all its forms and packets of dry pasta were definitely in almost every cupboard. On the right day, we make our own pasta because it is actually fun (no, really!) but that doesn’t stop us from using the ready made stuff on the run another night.
Lentils appeared as both tinned and packet items. For example, I often use a few spoons of (dry) split red lentils to give a dish a bit more body – they disassemble themselves like potato when casseroled, just a question of how long you cook it (split lentils or smaller potato pieces will go there more quickly). They are also outstanding for slow cooking, but more on that another time.
Another new one for me was coconut milk – common ingredient for Asian food generally. That’s just a cooking habit for this house – one of our sons was never keen on spicy food as a child, while my husband is quite happy if the curry self-immolates, so there was not much middle ground for a family meal. Must get back into that line.