Over the past few years, cooking has become my personality. Period. My form of expression. My escape from the mundane. I get creative, intuitive. I improvise. After reading and rereading food blogs, cookbooks, omitting and adjusting ingredients (pro tip, never follow the instructed amount of spices. Double or triple them, especially in the UK. From my experience, the store-bought spices are so weak, they are barely classified as a spice.), I sometimes stray so far from the original recipe that it becomes entirely my own. Lastly, as a rule, I rarely attempt the same dish twice. Too many to try. Too little time. I have grown quite confident in the kitchen. On second thought, I do not know if I qualify to write a piece on cooking as a student. My advice would be DON'T.
According to Maslow, food qualifies as the basic physiological need, the fundament of all to follow. Without taking care of it, one cannot satisfy the higher needs, eventually reaching the self-fulfilment needs. However, boiling potatoes with a bit of salt and calling it a meal is simply sad. Food should bring joy. As simple as that. It is a way of connecting with your body, taking care of it. It should be nourishing. Your meals should be mini rituals, expressions of self-love. I find the process of cooking extremely therapeutic. An activity that helps me relax and unwind after a stressful workday—an activity that shortens the time. Do you not know what to do? Bake some cinnamon rolls.
Furthermore, food brings people together. In the light of making new friends at the beginning of the semester, or simply reconnecting with the old ones, a dinner party is always a success. Be it a potluck, a five-course meal, even a takeaway. We all come from different backgrounds with different experiences. Different flavour palettes. Hence cooking together, learning about unfamiliar dishes is a bonding activity. My friend SJ and I started having weekly dinners last semester. The rule was simple; I would cook one Thursday; she would cook the next. The only requirement? It had to be a dish that reminded us of home. I loved it. We did not concern ourselves with the events of the previous week; we buried them. We focused on each other. We focused on the trivial. The deep, if you want it. In those moments when I found myself sitting there, on the floor in the dark with candles lit around me, laughing at the top of my lungs listening to her childhood stories, I felt at peace. As I mentioned, it was a collaborative event as well! She would pick an Indonesian dish, and together we would figure out how to veganise it. I was introduced to a new palette of flavours and SJ to the possibility of meat substitutes. So this is why food matters. To make sense of life.
Hence I strongly encourage you never ever to purchase a premade microwavable meal. What joy does hearing the timer go off bring? None You are never in too big of a hurry not to chop up an onion, slice a garlic clove, sauté them with a bit of fresh tomatoes and cook a handful of orecchiette on the side: low effort, quick, nutritious. So please, the next time you are in Tesco, stroll right past them. Even if you think you do not have the necessary time, trust me, you do. Just watch three TikToks less and take care of yourself.
Well, since I nevertheless feel obligated to offer at least one piece of advice, let us discuss meal prepping. It might work for some. My flatmate loves it. She would batch cook lentil soup and eat it for five days straight with slight variations, not worrying about groceries or potential time commitment. It does not work for me. I find meals motivating, something to look forward to throughout the day. Imagine evening music playing in the background, dancing around the kitchen, stirring the pot. What will I make? The possibilities are endless.
On the other hand, meal prep conjures up the image of differently sized Tupperware stacked on top of the kitchen counter, waiting to be defrosted in the microwave. Again, can you hear the annoying sound of the timer going off? Can you feel the harmful microwaves radiating over your frozen curry? Hence I suggest meal planning, a concept I was introduced to following my favourite food magazine, Healthyish (highly recommend). Flagging recipes as you go, prepping some ingredients, e. g. making sure you have greens on hand, aromatics ready to be pulsed, but other than that allowing yourself to be inspired by the heat of the moment, excuse the cliché. It is about planning just enough that no food will waste but leaving enough flexibility to cater to your mood swings.
But I understand. I sometimes get tired as well and just want food. What do I make? Choosing Chia's vegan Ayurvedic Kitchari. A low-effort, high-impact healing and detoxifying dish, perfect for a work/school night. With *almost* no adjustments.
Prep time: 20 minutes (soaking time)
Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes
150 g red lentils
60 g brown basmati rice
approx. 2.5 cm ginger root, grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp turmeric
pepper, salt to taste
3 – 4 cups water, best to add as you go
Soak the lentils and rice separately for at least 15 – 20 minutes, proceed by rinsing.
Heat a tsp of coconut oil (alternatively, use a tsp of water if oil-free) in a saucepan, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, and bay leaves. Once the seeds start popping, add the shallot and sauté for approximately 1 minute. For it not to stick to the pan, add a bit of water. Proceed by adding the lentils and rice, stir well before pouring over water. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add more turmeric, a tsp of cayenne pepper if you require a kick! If the Kitchari is too thick, add more water.
My topping of choice is curled leaf parsley, however my sister opted for some vegan parmesan instead. To each their own.
The original recipe calls for mung beans, which I have substituted with red lentil, the only reason being that the first time I attempted the recipe, I did not have any mung beans on hand, and I could not be bothered waiting an additional day to get the beans. I needed to sample the dish instantly! I can confirm that the lentils work just as fine! A significant alteration I make, however, are the quantities. As you will see, if you follow the link, the recipe uses equal amounts (100 g) of mung beans and rice. Moreover, I am a firm believer that one cannot quantify spices, thus feel free to ignore the arbitrary "1 tsp" and just follow your taste buds!
Choosing Chia's original recipe: https://choosingchia.com/ayurvedic-kitchari/