Look, this is a brief overview of how I choose to cook. It is not meant as evangelism; I’m just sharing.
First things first, I do not use a lot of fat in cooking. I used to. I used to liberally add oil and/or butter to everything I cooked. I used to believe that I needed to. I used to think that fat meant flavour and that fat was the only decent lubricant. I was wrong; I know this now. As a result I am a lot thinner.
The first fallacy I held to be true was that fat imparts flavour. Fat imparts a different mouth feel. The only flavour it imparts is the flavour of the fat itself. I love the tastes of lamb and pork fat, and will very happily eat this from my meat when most others won’t. However, I do not cook with fat for its flavour; flavour comes from base vegetables, and from herbs and spices. Stock is a far easier route to maximum flavour than any amount of fat. Goose fat potatoes taste of goose fat; know the difference.
The second fallacy I held to be true was that fat was needed as a lubricant in foods: Whether this be in frying, braising or in making a sauce, like pesto. In most cases, a splash of water will do the trick. Fat increases the potential surface area in frying, but any liquid can do this. Water (or wine, stock or beer) evaporates off, leaving the things you’re cooking further along, and easier to caramelise.
Second fiddle: grains. A good few years ago I found myself thoroughly bored of eating simple carbs. I was done with pasta, rice and potatoes. I had eaten them all my life, and I was well and truly sick of the lot of them. But I couldn’t think what to do. The answer was the stuff of sandal wearing hippies the world over: Grains. I now cannot imagine a week going by where I don’t eat several portions.
Spelt is a great replacement for rice, especially in the form of a risotto, and makes a great “carb” on a salad. Bulgur wheat replaces couscous perfectly, but has a far better flavour. A sticky pile of quinoa cooked in stock is far more satisfying to me than a pile of mash, when served with a juicy steak. I find the flavour of plain cooked freekeh the best of all the grains; far superior to plain boiled pasta.
Cooking grains in stock gives them flavour, to the extent that it never feels like you are eating food “to be good”. They are enjoyable in and of themselves, and that is why I continue to eat them. While in the first instance they replaced the carbs I was bored with, they now add to the list of foods which are available to me, and they complement the foods I eat. They made me able to enjoy pasta again.
Third up is planning. A lot of people I know finish work and start panicking. They have some food in the fridge and in the cupboard, and they know they need to feed themselves, their partner and their children. They look through what they have, decide that there is nothing there with which to build a meal, so they have to go to the shops to buy ingredients for that night’s meal. While there they may pick up a few other interesting things, which languish in the fridge until they are thrown out.
I plan the meals we are going to eat ten weeks at a time. It takes me about an hour to write it on the notes app on my phone. In order to prepare for our weekly family food shop, we check the week’s menu between us, to make sure that’s what we want to eat, then I dictate the ingredients needed for each dish. This shopping list is then all we buy. There is never an evening where I have to make it up, and there is very little wastage. We don’t panic about what we are going to cook, and we don’t need top-up shopping trips. By the end of the week the fridge and cupboard is almost empty.
I’m not saying any of this to be smug, or to proselytise; it’s just what comes naturally to my family.
Fourth up is my preferred method of cooking any given vegetable: Roasting. I am a firm believer that by roasting vegetables in the oven you achieve a far better flavour. That is, you taste the vegetable itself. Yes, poaching in stock is good, but vegetables do not absorb much flavour that way. Simply chopped, a quick spritz of oil, seasoning, and shoved in the oven: you can be doing something else.
The task then is to moderate the moisture content of whatever it is you’re cooking; for this, foil is your best friend. I put things in to the oven with foil on initially, so that the steam which is produced can collect and protect the vegetables. This cooks them through without adding anything which will dilute the flavour. I later remove the foil and put up the heat, in order to add some crispy bits to it.
I will try roasting any vegetable I can find, and I have found very few which are resistant to being cooked in the oven, even peas. By using this method, not only do I have better tasting food, but I have the time while things are roasting – and in no need of attention – to do other things, like cooking meat, washing dishes or putting a child to bed. Let roasting free you from the stove top.
Fifth and final aspect of my cookery is lunch. So many friends of mine – and seemingly so many of the staff of BuzzFeed and the like – struggle with lunches, either having to buy lunches every day, or starting the week with batch cooking of grain bowls and the like. I like this, and I have done it, but I like my way of doing things a lot better. Salad can transform any leftovers in to a very lovely lunch.
I have a lot of little plastic tubs with close fitting lids. The volume of them is perfect for a filling lunch, and they can be picked up in many supermarkets. I split the leftovers between two tubs and add some leaves to each. I also have little cylindrical tubs which hold a good salad dressing (Oil, vinegar, salt and pepper) really well. When lunch comes, pop open the tub, shake the dressing, pour and eat.
I have done this with pretty much everything I cook, because I am pretty much incapable of cooking enough for two. This used to lead to enormous portion sizes and waste (waist?), but now we have lunches of meats, roasted vegetables, fish and grains every day. If we eat well in the evenings we can eat well in the afternoons too. That just leaves the problem of breakfast; where did I put my bacon?
Genuinely: eating like this has helped me lose weight, and removed stress from my life. I had to share.