The best part of cooking is when one simple ingredient takes a dish in a different and interesting direction. Knowing how to do this right comes from experience but when you do learn, it means you can keep your meals interesting with the bare minimum of effort and expense.
For example last week I was bored with the takeaway that I had bought so I just threw in some roasted courgette and had a different experience. Another time I brought home a basic Mcdonalds meal, the burger with no frills and paired it with sweet potato chips and roasted onions for another personalised experience.
Added depth and flavour
One of the best examples of this that I remember was a shop bought Thai green curry. This dish should have onions and other vegetables to give depth and flavour but processed food doesn’t because it doesn’t freeze well. So I added my own pre-made flavourings, I think it was leek, garlic, onions and some courgette. Simple ingredients but instantly I loved the change they brought. The curry flavour gained more depth, it was less intense and more balanced.
Food how it is supposed to be
It reminded me of the best curry I have ever had which was prepared by an indian mother cooking for her son, proper indian food. He was my friend and I was staying for tea. The curry alone was too strong for me but with all the other ingredients its flavour became a beautiful note complementing each ingredient. That is the kind of inspiration that inspires me when I personalise my food. Ingredients as simple as vegetables can transform a dish and return something processed to its more traditional and flavourful roots.
As you can see a big part of spicing up my food options has been having pre cooked food ready in the fridge or freezer to drop in to whatever I’m making right now. The sheer convenience of pre cooked ingredients can not be over stated. I use sun dried tomatoes in oil all the time to make sandwiches exciting. So I have been experimenting with making food in advance myself with the minimum hassle.
Following a generic roast vegetable recipe, the workflow I have come up with is the simplest process I could, using only the absolutely necessary steps:
- Prepare the vegetables (approx 1-5 mins). Speed and laziness dictate washing and brushing instead of peeling. I chop to large sizes unless I really need small. These last better in the fridge and I don’t know the size I will eventually need so laziness and speed win. Finally sprinkle on some olive oil
- Roast: Generally between 180-160 degrees celsius for 20-30 minutes. With experience you adjust according to what you want.
- Put in containers(approx 1-5 mins). I recycle those from chinese takeaway. While they cool you leave the lids off if you want them to dry out further and remain crispy or put the lids on if you want them softer. Again experience will tell you what you want.
That is all you have to do. In total it takes up to 10 minutes of my time, the rest is just the cooker doing the work, I do nothing. The result is that I have lots of different things I can use to keep my food interesting and side dishes that only need reheating. Examples include
- Sweet potato chips, new potatoes: as a side or mix with mayonnaise for a salad base
- onions, leeks and garlic: great in a sandwich or ham , chicken, cheese or pate
- Courgette adds juice to a dish with quick reheat or add to takeaway for a different experience
I often tweak my process to be more convenient. For example the carrots in the picture were prepared the same way as the sweet potatoes by missing the traditional boiling step. I chopped the carrots much thinner to compensate. I will see how they are in food but my first taste was very promising. They weren’t crispy like roast carrots, they were softer and tasted more like the sweet potatoes but saving that boiling step is one less thing to do and when you are busy that can make all the difference.
Let me know what you do with your vegetables because I always like to have new ideas. I just hope this shorter process helps you have more fun with your food like it has for me.