Saturday, 8 January 2011

Which three recipes would you pass on?

There's been a huge stir this week about US food writer Mark Bittman's post on 'Three recipes to change your life and the world'.

Bittman, a columnist for the New York Times and author of How to Cook Everything (also available as an App, incidentally) starts from the premise that no-one is cooking any more and that many see home-made food as more expensive than ready made meals. Which to be fair it can be but largely because we tend to eat way too much protein.

His argument is that anyone can master three simple recipes and that "the more we cook the healthier we and the planet will be." A great idea, simple to communicate but the crucial question is which recipes?

He chooses a stir-fry, a chopped salad and - this is the odd one - lentils with rice - all straightforward, wholesome and healthy but to be honest not that appealing to the average red-blooded male - or woman - going through one of the harshest winters in recent memory.

Having written a number of student cookbooks I've given quite a bit of thought in the past to this and I think mine would be:

A simple tomato-based pasta sauce to which you can add any number of other ingredients

A basic vegetable soup which can be adapted into all kinds of soupy stews

And, yes, perhaps that stir-fry

What would be yours? Remember they have to be simple, healthy and cheap. Not necessarily vegetarian but using a minimum of meat or fish.

If you want to see Bittman in action making his dishes there's a video of him on the Today show here.


Unknown said...

I can't think of three at the moment, but one of them will definitely have to be my tomato based casserole sauce. Fry off some onion. When soft add lots of chopped up veg (mushrooms, courgettes, aubergine, peppers etc), then add some chopped up garlic. If the pan gets dry I add some of the stock I'll be adding later rather than oil. When all veg is softened, I add tinned tomatoes, a bit of beef stock (for richness), a good squirt of tomato puree, dried mixed herbs, a few dashes of tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and some paprika. If I have left over red wine (very unlikely) I add that. I then add the main ingredient. It can be browned off mince (to make a kind of bolognese), tinned beans, browned sausages (my favourite), skinned chicken pieces, lentils, pieces of pork, lamb or beef...anything really. I haven't tried fish yet, apart from tinned tuna which was ok. Or you could just keep it as a veg casserole.

Maybe the next one would be a very simple stir fry. Fry off chopped onions, until soft, add garlic and chilli. Add chopped veg of your choices (peppers, courgette, mushrooms, bean sprouts, pak choi etc). Stir fry for a couple of minutes then add a good quirt of lime juice, a dash or two of fish sauce and a decent splash of soy. Then stir in cooked noodles and mix in. Serve.

Oh actually, I have thought of a third! My roasted veg 'salad'. Roast chunky pieces of onion, courgette, aubergine, mushrooms, peppers & olives with chunky pieces of garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast for 20 minutes and then stick in whole cherry tomatoes and roast for another 10-20 minutes. Serve with mixed salad leaves, chopped mozzarella and dollops of houmous. Of course this can easily be adapted too. Roast fish on top of the veg or stir cooked pasta in with cheese and bake for 10 mins or so to make a pasta bake.

If you have time, check out my foodie life at:

Jean said...

I'm not the best cook in the world and I don't have a large repetoire of recipes I can pass on, but mine would have to be my Mum's recipe for Scouse; a vegetable mulligatawny soup and my Mum's coconut cake.

Elizabeth Gowing said...

My own invention of 'scrambled toasted sandwich'. Same ingredients as a toasted sandwich, but scope for more vegetables to pad it out, and it looks like a meal rather than a snack - fry up onions and/ or peppers/ leeks, tomatoes etc with garlic. Add squares of bread to the pan till fried like croutons, and grate cheese over the top. Slide the whole lot onto a plate.

Fiona Beckett said...

Thanks v much for all your suggestions. Your tomato-based casserole sounds much like my pasta sauce, Clare. And good thinking about the roast veggie salad. You can vary that a lot.

Like the sound of that scouse recipe notSupermum - one of my husband's favourites

And that scrambled toasted sandwich sounds like classic comfort food, Elizabeth

Bristol Foodie said...

mmmm- vegetable mulligatawny soup sounds amazing!!

he;s hardly provided a selection of core all encompassing recipes has he?!

My simplest "if i only had to cook these and nothing else for the rest of my life I'd be OK" would have to be:

1) Basic Casserole - fry off onion & garlic, add your raw meat/sausages (cooked meat if using leftovers) or veg if going for a vegetarian option. Fry for another 5. Add stock/tinned tomatoes and cook down either on the hop or cover and put in an ovenproof dish in the oven. One of those ace recipes which you can adapt to any core inrgedient (sausage, chicken, game, veg whatever!)and make more complex as your get more confident

2) Cheesey potatoes - make a simple cheese sauce, grated cheese, 1 tbsp flour, milk and butter. slice potatoes and put in dish. Pour over sauce + extra grated cheese then cook for 40 mins. An amazing accompaniment or good on its own with brown sauce

3) Curry - because you an throw whatever you have lying around in there and, contrary to popular belief, making your own paste / frying the spices yourself is mega easy, loads cheaper and better for you - no nasty e-numbers! Jamie Oliver has quite a good curry sauce recipe which can be adapted to pretty much anything!

Robert said...

I have three ideas, the first is making a basic curry sauce. This can be used with whatever ingredients you have to hand. Either vegetarian, White fish or meat. Then served with White basmati rice.

The second is jacket potatoes. This is served with either tuna, cheesy beans or a tub of pre made sandwich filler. Along with a salad for vitamins.

Finally, pasta. This is very adaptable served with various sauces. I've probably covered a wider area than the remit but I was looking to increase the variations on a theme!

Nikki Jewell said...

I think my three would include a basic omelette or tortilla, pasta with cream, herbs & smoked salmon trimmings, and a green lentil and tinned anchovy dish. All of which could be varied and enriched with extras depending on what's around and cheap and none of which are too difficult or time consuming to make.

I don't think I'd find Mark Bittman's salad very satisfying, even in summer, without extras.

Fiona Beckett said...

more great feedback - thanks all! Particularly like the sound of cheesey potatoes (potatoes are my FAVOURITE food bar none though sadly not particularly healthy) and the green lentil and tinned anchovy dish (sounds great, Nikki, how do you do that?)

A standby curry sauce is also a good plan, Robert and Bristol Foodie. I'm impressed you grind your own spices. Where have you found the cheapest place to buy them BF? Easton or Gloucester Road?

verity said...

I love this as an idea and think your choices are spot on. I think there is something in one of the Jamie Oliver books called a "family tree" where you make one thing and can adapt it in various other ways. Being a baker though I'd love to include some baking of sorts - a basic victoria sponge recipe can be made so many different ways (it's the basis for coffee and walnut, chocolate sponge...), or something like stewed fruit which can be made into a breakfast or a crumble or a pie...

Nikki Jewell said...

Fiona - the first idea came out of the newest Pauper's Cookbook but as always I've played with the recipe to suit me & what I like.

You cover 225g of green lentils with water & simmer till tender (I use green ones rather than brown as they don't seem to need soaking) - about 1 hr to 1hr 30. Drain.

Melt 25g of butter, or butter and olive oil, or just a glug of oil, in another pan (or just wash out the lentil one) with two onions and two cloves of crushed garlic. When the onions are soft add 1 50g tin of mashed-up anchovy fillets, stir about, chuck in the lentils, stir well, season (it likes black pepper) and cook for a bit longer, adding another lump of butter or glug of oil before serving.

I usually stir in a good handful of fresh herbs (parsley or basil for preference) and a bit of lemon juice as well. You can garnish it with hard-boiled eggs to make it more filling.

Sometimes I eat it on its own, sometimes with a plain green vegetable like broccoli, or maybe salad in the summer. It's a nice way to eat lentils even without the anchovies too, and the quantities don't need to be exact.

Or I've made it as a side dish to go with lamb chops or similar, if I'm feeling very rich, without eggs. It's good cold too, or the leftovers make nice soup.

La Cuizine said...

I love to cook seasonal so I would have my 3 favourite recipes for each season. My winter one would be:
-a farmhouse type of soup with barley grains, lots of veg and just a few lardons of smoked bacon to give a true winter feel,
-a filled omelette - with mushrooms, with potatoes, with spinach.. Eggs are great source of proteins, so easy to prepare and very economic.
-a risotto because it is so versatile, quick and hearty- with celeriac and walnuts, radicchio, squash and stilton, prawns and and saffran- the combination are limitless.

Robert said...

Mmm how did I forget frittata? It's handy to make as you can use up cheese ends, sprouting (not green) potatoes, tired vegetables, leftover bacon/gammon/ham. All enveloped in a eggy blanket.

Fiona Beckett said...

Do you know I dithered about frittata too Robert. It's such a brilliant way of using odds and ends from the fridge I nearly included it.

I like the idea that the selection should be seasonal, La Cuizine. At the very least winter and summer. Good choices!

Thanks for the lentil and anchovy method Nikki. Am going to have to make that.

And yes, Verity, fair enough that one of them should be sweet. I'd probably go for the stewed fruit option as closest to the spirit of the original post as you can make it with all kinds of fruit including frozen. (Hope you've recovered from the flu!)

Jackie said...

In terms of passing on dishes to my kids, my top 3

1) tomato based sauce (that can use up almost any veg to hand)that you and Clare suggested.

2) roast dinner (probably chicken) with seasonal veg and all importantly left overs meal and using carcass for stock

3)basic sponge pudding/cake - on the grounds that if you make it you can control what goes in it and understand why it is an occasional treat.

I hadn't realised how traditional I am!

Fiona Beckett said...

Nor had I Jackie. My husband said the other day what a good traditional British cook I was and I was quite affronted! (Wrong, really. One should feel proud) Chicken would definitely be on my list too. Definitely the kids favourite roast.

Hannah @Cooking Manager said...

I agree that soup is essential, if only to use up leftovers. It's harder to mess up than most things.

maggiedon said...

1) minestrone-type soup, esp if made suitable for veggies - anyone can make it, great for all cultures, and packed full of healthy minerals, vitamins and protein - esp if beans and pasta are added so you get full protein boost
2) shepherd's pie! Do we ever tire of this dish? So comforting in the winter particularly, and can contain loads of veg to extend the meat, or can be veggie with lentils
3) egg and lentil curry with rice - again, complete protein, cheap, healthy and delicious

Pistachio and Rose said...

My first would be either a spagetti bolognase or shepards pie, because mince is so cheap as is potatos, pasta and tins of tomato's. My next would be a soup using whatever veg you have in the fridge which is something I do alot! And the third would be jacket potato with cheese and beans or whatever you have handy. All very cheap and very warming.

Fiona Beckett said...

Shepherds pie ..... oh, yessss Maggiedon and Pistachio and Rose that IS a good one. (Presuming you include cottage pie too which I think I like even more)

Healthy Recipes said...

1:) Chicken Pizza 2:) Banana Shake 3:) Sea food