Oh, how things have changed when I think back through my staple quick and easy (and, in my opinion, delicious) meals…
I don’t know how old I’d have been when I started making my own lunches once a week when I would get home from school before my mum, but I know what I was making: there was a ramen noodle phase (and there were times when I ate those raw, inspired by Monster Noodle Snacks discovered one family holiday in Australia), there was a ravioli and tomato sauce phase using semi-circular plastic tubs of super rich tomato sauce that were inexplicably delicious, and, worst of all, there was a packaged personal oval-shaped pizza phase topped with suspiciously chewy bits of animal flesh. The thought of it still makes me shudder, as does the memory of the first lunches I would throw together for myself from scratch: whatever veggies I could find (all I remember is carrot), sliced; sautéed with oil in a too-hot pan so that everything would cook too quickly/burn but not all the way through; seasoned with soy sauce and random herbs. I don’t remember being ecstatic about the flavour of these bowls of food, but I do remember the feeling of satisfaction – not quite pride, yet, though – at cooking something for myself completely from scratch.
In uni, Quick, Easy and Delicious became more relevant: without the skill set to even attempt anything complex, and with the preparation of late post-training dinners sharing my attention with getting myself showered, changed, and the kit bag unpacked, every meal was quick and easy.
It took me a few weeks to grasp the concept of how hot to heat a pan of oil, and how long to leave garlic and onion in it before adding other ingredients, but once I understood that cooking wasn’t necessary accompanied by the bitter smell of charred garlic, I was able to master a favourite: pasta (usually penne or fusilli) with chewy pan-fried slices of tofu, sautéed mushrooms, wilted spinach, lots of (properly cooked) garlic and black pepper. These days I’d add olive oil to it before serving, because if nothing else I remember it being distinctly dry (one thing at a time guys, I had only just learnt how to not burn my food the moment it touched the oil!). But it was always a comforting meal and, may I say, not too bad nutritionally for a first year university student!
By my third year of university, we had moved into a slightly smaller house with a bigger and easier to navigate kitchen, and I had finally gone back to a vegan diet. Although that year saw me experiment with my improvised versions of lasagne (using tahini mixed with spinach for a “spinach and ricotta”-like filling), quiche (with a tofu and vegetable filling, and homemade wholewheat shortcrust pastry), pizza (with homemade wholewheat dough that was nothing like pizza dough; see above), pesto (substituting cashews for pine nuts because who can justify spending the amount of money it would require to make proper pesto?) and even chocolate truffles (with a praline centre using Sweet Freedom carob-based syrup and hazelnuts, hardened and blitzed into a powder before being blended with tofu and chocolate), my diet mainly revolved around a rota of quick and easy staples.
One of those I look back on with particular fondness, though it probably doesn’t sound in any way exciting or delicious. I need you to imagine you’ve had a two-and-a-half-hour, very sweaty Thai boxing session, and it is about 9pm or so, you have a kitbag filled with sodden clothes to unpack, gloves and shinpads to wipe down and air out, handwraps and ankle supports to untangle and lay out to dry, a protein shaker to wash and a shower to take. You’ve also been looking forward to this moment all day, the moment you can sit down and relax without feeling like you should be doing any kind of uni work, watch something mindless or catch up with a housemate or two, and get cosy.
Here’s what I was having:
- one minced birds eye chili, if available, along with half a green pepper, diced – into some hot oil (pro tip: if you ever want to rid a room of people, throw a minced birds eye chili into hot oil and don’t open any windows)
- one tin of chickpeas, drained – thrown in
- four pellets of frozen spinach – added and covered with a lid to thaw
- once the spinach had thawed and the pepper softened, madras curry powder and salt to taste (i.e. lots)
- I’d take the saucepan off the heat, add a very generous dollop or two of tahini, stir it in with the wooden spoon, and pile the stodgy mess was piled into my favourite (and only) bowl
I’d be rushing up and down the stairs unpacking my kitbag and getting changed and showered in between each step, and I’d say the whole thing was probably done with me ready to sit down and flake out in about 30 minutes – the concept of “thirty-minute meals” never struck me as anything to brag about, considering everything I ate was ready in thirty minutes including getting me ready to sit down!
Side-note: I am nowhere near old enough to be reminiscing about final year university meals…
I was, of course, planning on recreating this dish for this occasion – seeing as it is so quick, easy and delicious – but time slipped away from me. I could even have made it tonight, with bonus authenticity from getting home after 9pm, but I was totally craving a salad. That, too, however, was quick and easy and surprisingly delicious!
Forgive me for the abundance of harsh, grainy, late-night photos in this post… But trust me when I say that tonight’s un-photogenic thrown-together salad was surprisingly satisfying: just iceberg lettuce, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes (because always), sweet pointed pepper, cherry vine tomatoes, sumac, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a big dollop of hummus.
Basically, the key to make everything delicious no matter how quick or easy is chickpeas and/or sun-dried tomatoes!
When all else fails though, you know what else is quick, easy, and delicious? Takeaway!