Cooking is how I show my loved ones that I cherish them. Sola I eat a lot of pasta, lentil soup, and oven fries. Serving a meal that’s designed to be customizable is a great way of accounting for a variety of food preferences. My favorite kind of meal has lots of little dishes where you have an idea of what the final product is meant to be, but you and your dining companions are essentially building your own dinner (BYOD). Perhaps I love this so much because I lived with my parents for many years, and since each of us preferred a different ratio of carbs to veg to protein, it became easier to make several different (easy) components and then let each person assemble their own meal.
These suggestipies work well whether you’re feeding a family where everyone wants to eat something different or if you’re solo and want to make one dish and then modify it in subsequent days. These meal ideas are also fun to scale up and serve to a crowd, which we will one day be able to do again.
Here are a few of my favorite choose your own adventure meals:
My roommate and I love tacos (we eat them bi-weekly at the very minimum), keeping avocados on hand (once they’re nearly ripe, store in the fridge) in order to turn ensure that #tacotuesday can actually be #tacosanynightoftheweek.
- Protein: she prefers fake meat and I like black beans or marinated tempeh. I’ll saute an onion and lots of chopped garlic in a little oil, season with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and a little cinnamon. Divide that mix into two pans – add black beans or tempeh to one and fake beef to another (a chopped up tomato is also a good addition). Finish each pan with a splash of water (to help the flavour of the spices get into the protein), a squeeze of lime juice, and a good few dashes of hot sauce.
- Tortillas: I prefer corn tortillas and she likes flour – regardless both go into the toaster oven for a few minutes to reheat (wrap in aluminum or a damp cloth in order to keep them warm and pliable at the table)
- Fav accompaniments include:
- Mashed avocado (a combination of avo, lime, scallions, hot sauce, salt, and cilantro*)
- Roasted sweet potato cubes with garlic lemon mayo
- Salad – crisp romaine lettuce with chopped tomatoes and a simple lime, salt, and olive oil dressing (if I have red pepper, mango, or red onion on hand I’ll throw that in too)
- Pico de gallo (onion, tomato, chili, and cilantro salsa)
- We also do brunch tacos with sauteed peppers and onions, crumbled tofu, lots of spices and fresh spinach wilted in at the end. This is great served with any of the listed toppings (the roasted sweet potatoes are especially good with this tofu mix) plus cashew “sour cream,” which is simply soaked cashews blended with salt, lemon juice, water, and nutritional yeast. I love adding fresh cilantro and raw garlic to this to add kick and complexity. This is so good on top of the tofu which can be a little bit dry, and as a dip for the roasted sweet potato cubes.
- My favorite way to eat this is to smush the sweet patates on top of corn tortillas, then put the tofu mix on top (it’ll stick to the potatoes), followed by salad/guac/pico, and then the cashew sauce. I eat it with a knife and fork. Ultimate mix of sweet, salty, creamy, spicy… mmmm.
*and when I do this with my friend who doesn’t like cilantro, I exclude it from the dishes and serve it on the side (I know I’m becoming more mature because I only make fun of his inability to eat cilantro sometimes instead of always).
Rice noodle bowls!
I love rice noodle bowls – so so so so much. They’re an amazing way to clean out your fridge in a way that feels totally celebratory. You don’t need a large amount of each vegetable to create a cornucopia of components, and some of my favorite additions, like carrots and radishes, are always kicking around in my vegetable drawer. They are built thusly:
- Rice noodles – any size works, but I prefer ones that are on the thinner side for this (I like the very thick ones stir fried). Boiled the noodles in salted water, stirring frequently, which will prevent them from sticking together. Then drain, and rinse very well with warm water. Let all of the water drain off before tossing with sesame oil and tamari* (for nutty and salty flavour – respectively)
- Sauce(s) – peanut sauce is delicious (or a peanut-hoisin hybrid), as is a tahini sauce, or simply combine tamari, a sweetener (maple syrup, honey, sugar, etc), sesame oil, rice vinegar, something spicy (chili oil, sriracha, chili crisp, sambal olek, chili flakes), and grated garlic and ginger. You could also replace the tamari with a little miso diluted in warm water for a different type of umani saltiness.
- Protein – I love to marinate tofu in chopped (frozen) lemongrass with tamari, honey, vinegar, and sambal olek and then pan fry that. But you can start with a regular pack of firm tofu (patted dry – do this always as it will help your tofu get delicious crispy), pan fry it in a little oil, and then season with garlic, ginger, chili, salt & pepper, or hoisin and sriracha, or tamari and scallions.
- Veg – You need at least two vegetables – one raw and one cooked. Bonus points if you have more than one of each.
- Broccoli/eggplant/asparagus/brussel sprouts are great cooked on the stove top with a little water (covered) until they’re tender and the water is absorbed. Then add a little oil and chopped garlic, ginger, chili flakes. Season with salt. Snow peas and bok/pak choy are really good too, just skip the water sauteeing step.
- Carrot is great shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. Radish/cucumber/peppers can be thinly sliced, and chopped lettuce adds a fresh crunchy note.
- Finishes – chopped salted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, chopped scallions, fresh mint/thai basil/cilantro, pickled veg like carrot dikon pickle or kimchi, some kind of spicy chili sauce.
*I always use tamari because soya sauce makes me very bloated
Everyone loves pizza. But just as intense as a love for pizza is a passion for what ought and ought not go on a pie. For example, I love capers, olives, and pineapple together – with onions and mushrooms – see I can feel you judging me, and my cousin likes canned mandarin oranges on her slices, and now I can feel you judging her.
- Dough: You have many options for a base. I make a 72hr pizza dough which I build on a pizza peel and then slide onto my pizza stone to bake. But do not fret, you can buy pizza dough (frozen or refrigerated) at the store, make it in a bread machine, stand mixer, or by hand. It can be baked in a circular pan or a sheet pan (I love a square pizza), either way, coat the bottom of your crust in sesame seeds for pure crispy nutty nirvana). I also have a recipe for naan (leave out the black mustard and nigella seeds) that I’ve used as a pizza dough and it’s awesome. You can also make pizza on the stove top or use tortillas/pita/naan/bagels as a base.
- Sauce: tomato sauce (I like to bloom garlic, chili flakes, dried oregano and basil in oil olive before adding in a pinch of sugar, a can of tomatoes, and fresh basil and letting this cook on low for an hour), pesto (kale pesto, vegan pesto, pesto classico), no sauce white pie (a mix of ricotta, goats cheese, grated garlic, and lemon zest)
- Veg toppings: frozen thawed spinach (squeeze all the liquid out), caramelized onions, pan fried eggplant, chopped blanched asparagus, thinly sliced mushrooms/peppers/raw onion/zucchini/tomato
- Cheese: ricotta, mozzarella, goats cheese, parm/pecorino (grated on right before serving)
- Extras: Add before cooking – chopped garlic, olives, capers, canned pineapple, sun dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes. Add after cooking – fresh basil, chili flakes, olive oil, flaky salt.
- My favorite pizza (aside from a margarita) is – lots of tomato sauce, frozen spinach, mushrooms, fried eggplant, black olives, raw garlic, chili flakes
- My roommates fav is – pesto (is best), goats cheese (lots), maybe vegetables – but definitely pesto and goats cheese as the star ingredients
Pizza p2 – Lebanese Pizza – Manakish
Near Concordia University in Montreal, there is a place that serves awesome Manakish, which is a slightly sweet dough, soft enough to roll into a wrap with a slight crispiness to the golden edges. For $5 I would feast on a flatbread coasted in a za’atar olive mix, topped with garlic sauce, herbs, and vegetables, and then rolled into a perfectly portable meal.
During my two weeks in Lebanon, I ate a lot (a lot!) of manakish. Made fresh, it was the most delicious, affordable, and satisfying meal, and as the shops opened early and closed very late it was the perfect anytime food. You can buy them in big grocery stores (make sure to reheat before serving) or make them as a fun baking project. They freeze beautifully.
- Traditional vegetarian toppings include: mozzarella, halloumi, za’atar mixed with olive oil, finely chopped vegetables mixed in a little bit of tomato sauce
Accompaniments: You can wrap them up as I did during my university years, but in Lebanon, the condiments are typically served on a plate alongside in order to cut through the richness. Fresh mint and parsley, lettuce, tomato, olives, pickled turnip, and pickled chilis, labneh, garlic sauce. So delicious.
What I’ve cooked since the last blog post:
- Seeded (poppy, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, walnuts) sourdough + grilled (fake) cheese
- Mushroom spinach omelette
- Pizza party: 72hr dough with – homemade tomato sauce, fried eggplant, spinach, garlic, thinly sliced mushrooms, black olives, pesto, mozzarella, parmesan, and goats cheese
- Pasta with eggplant, peas, baby spinach, and leftover tomato sauce
- Salad with tomato, cucumber, and homemade salad dressing + cut up citrus and grapes
- Homemade hummus, crispy falafel, fresh pita, and salad (with cucumber, tomato, peppers, avocado, onion, baby spinach in a pomegranate olive oil dressing)
- Oatmeal with apple, banana, and peanut butter
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.