There’s a lot of talk about improving your cooking skills right now, taking the time to tackle big projects (sourdough, I’m looking at you). Stay tuned for an installment on deliciously fun activities that you can do, either by yourself (stuffing dumplings is very meditative, especially if you do it while rewatching a favorite tv show) or as a group activity. However, many of these are white flour based, and as it’s Passover, I decided not to torture myself and to instead take it back to basics. Whether you’re just getting started in the kitchen or looking to up your culinary game, I think you’ll find some tips in this list that’ll help you out or at least get those creative juices flowing. And if you master them now, by the time you can have people over again, you’ll be such a pro that you can use your cooking skills to seduce someone (not that you’ll need to since we’ll all be so dessssperate for human contact…)
Methods of cooking:
– By cooking vegetables, tofu, and beans in a hot oven (think 450F) with olive oil, salt, and pepper, you’ll bring out their natural sweetness and create an enticing textural contrast between the crisp exterior and soft creamy interior.
– Make sure to spread everything out in one layer (and prevent overlap) to ensure that every piece gets crispy. Some of my favorite items to roast include: asparagus, potatoes, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peppers, zucchini, marinated tofu, and chickpeas.
– Finish your roasted goodies with a squeeze of lemon juice/swig of balsamic and elevate further with fresh herbs, toasted nuts, and a simple sauce like tahini and pomegranate molasses or coconut cream and red curry paste.
– Inspired by the vegans of YouTube when being fat-free and salt-free was all the rage (oy vey), if I want to sauté a heartier vegetable (I do this primarily with broccoli and eggplant) I’ll put it into a pan and add a splash of water (around ⅓ of a cup) and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat on high, cover the pan, and then let it steam until the veg is tender. If the water has not yet evaporated, drain it off, but if it has (you can help this process along by simply removing the lid of the pan), lower the heat to medium-high, and add a little oil in order to make the veg crispy and delicious – this is also the time to add garlic, ginger, scallions, etc.
– When you cook on low heat, you’re looking to slowly enhance sweetness and softness. When cooking on high, you’re searing your food, developing an exterior crispiness without much time allotted to cooking it through. For soups and stews, start your base vegetables on medium which gives the flavours time to meld together before they brown.
Easy ways to boost flavor:
– Adding fresh herbs to a dish is transportive and delicious. Use them in cocktails, spring rolls, sauces, to finish off soups and stews, in salads, etc. Play around with different combinations, discover how wonderful fresh mint and cumin are together, the magical pairing of basil (italian and thai) and strawberries or of dill and mushrooms, and read my love letter to parsley for several ways I use this long lasting fridge staple. I love to blend fresh herbs with oil/water and then freeze in ice cube trays in order to add a pop of freshness to dishes.
– A lot of beans and vegetables have earthy undertones and you can cut through that flavour, brightening up the dish, with a squeeze of lemon/lime juice or a swig of vinegar. You cannot imagine the effect this will have on your cooking. It’s night and day. Lemon/lime zest adds a fragrant lightness that’s phenomenal in dips, baked goods, and in fillings for stuffed pasta and breads.
Salt & sugar
– Salt every layer of your dish. Season your cucumber and tomato before adding them to a salad, the onions that form the base of your tomato sauce, and don’t forget about the interplay between salty and sweet. The two bring out the best in each other. If your dish tastes flat and salt and acid aren’t creating a balanced taste in your mouth, add a pinch of sugar. And don’t forget the importance of salt in your baked goods (think of the mouth-watering delectability of salted caramel if you’re skeptical)
A few favorite all-purpose cooking techniques:
– Corn fritters are amazing, as are these Indian style sweet potato latkes. But any vegetable that can be grated is fair game – squeeze out excess liquid, bind together with flour and egg, add a little baking powder for lift, and then season generously with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs and scallions/onions. Pan fry in vegetable oil and enjoy with a salad/yogurt dipping sauce. Too good. These keep extremely well in the fridge, and reheat beautifully in the following days in a pan or toaster oven.
– Though I live for hummus, there are many many other beans simply waiting for their moment in the spotlight. Start by sautéing onions over medium-low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic after a few minutes, followed by cumin, coriander, paprika, and chili powder. Blend this (I use my immersion blender) with cooked white beans, black beans, or brown lentils. Add tahini for richness, lemon juice for punch, and salt and pepper to taste. Thin out with a little water. This will last in your fridge for over a week.
Easy stove top breads – naan, tortillas, roti, arepas
– A seriously fun and easy way to try something new and to elevate a basic meal. Tortillas and roti are so simple and no leavening agent required (if you don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle). They’re delectable hot and fresh, but even as you reheat them in the following days, you will be so happy to have taken the time to make them.
– I made arepas (a sort of pan fried corn cake typical in Latin America) for the first time a few weeks ago, and the most complicated part is obtaining the correct PAN flour (worth the few dollar and cupboard space). Make sure to pan fry these (instead of baking) for the crispiest crunchiest exterior and soft fluffy interior. They’re so versatile, delicious with grated cheese, refried beans, sauteed veggies, or an avocado, cilantro, tomato salsa.
– I’ve been making naan for years, following a recipe I adapted. It is the easiest, most flexible and forgiving recipe. You can make it with active dry or instant yeast – knead the dough and you have naan in a few hours, or let it rise for 10-24 hours after simply mixing together the ingredients. You can leave the black mustard and nigella seeds out and it is not only still delicious, but also makes an awesome stovetop pizza OR oven baked pizza crust (oil a baking sheet, and bake at 375 for 15-20 mins).
What I’ve cooked since the last blog post:
Avocado tomato toast on homemade seeded sourdough
Soba noodles with broccoli in a tahini mint cilantro sauce
Roasted peppers and mushrooms stuffed with barley, asparagus, herbs, and almonds
Matzah balls and mock chicken soup
Chocolate covered strawberries and matzah buttercrunch
Spring rolls with peanut hoisin sauce
Baby spinach salad with avocado, oranges, barley, and cashews
Rosewater chia pudding with berries, maple syrup, and coconut milk
Oatmeal with apples and almond butter
Beyond meat sausages with salad
I WAS ON THE RADIO sharing “tips and ideas on how to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store by getting the most out of your load of groceries.” It was incredibly fun and exhilarating. You can listen to it here.
Let me know what you thought of this post in the comments down below and if there’s a specific ingredient or topic you’d like me to cover. Don’t forget to like my Facebook page, follow me on Instagram and on this site in order to receive a notification for the by-weekly content I’m posting here during the quarantine here. If you subscribe to my YouTube channel as well, I will love you forever.