Nutritional therapist and bestselling cookbook author Amelia Freer shares her top tips for tasty, quick & nutritious storecupboard cooking – plus new recipes from latest book.
In these strange and worrying times, I find great comfort in the consistent familiarity of the everyday. It helps to keep me grounded and in the present moment. Cooking is one of those things and although life is certainly hectic at the moment, we need to eat. So we need to cook (or at least, assemble).
I am therefore trying to make the process of bringing meals to the table as enjoyable as possible and don’t worry too much about aiming for unachievably high standards of culinary mastery, nutritional perfection or artistic flair! Good enough is just right for us all at the moment. This is no time for piling any extra pressure onto ourselves.
But with access to the usual cornucopia of ingredients we have been blessed with in recent years suddenly taken away, resources stretched and physical distancing necessary, it’s likely we are finding ourselves having to be more creative in the kitchen. Falling back on a few storecupboard staples and mixing in whatever fresh ingredients we happen to have to hand is the new normal.
The phrase of ‘limitation breeding originality’ feels rather apt here. Many of the best dishes started out as happy accidents. So perhaps, rather than feeling like we are somehow creating ‘inferior’ dishes if we don’t have everything listed in the ingredients, we could simply think about creating variations on a loose theme suggested by the recipe. Or indeed, letting go of using recipes altogether, and simply putting together things we really enjoy. Either way, I hope these few tips might be helpful for anyone struggling at the moment.
Sending courage, strength and culinary magic to you all.
You might see a tin of coconut milk and think ‘curry’, or tin of chopped tomatoes and think ‘pasta sauce’, but there are all sorts of brilliantly creative ways to use everyday ingredients slightly differently.
Tinned coconut milk could make an amazing coconut pannacotta pudding, or those tomatoes could be added to a risotto with some parmesan for a little taste of sunshine. This is when the internet is frankly brilliant – you can find recipes for just about anything you can think of, usually for free, online.
Many of us have had our worlds turned upside down over the last couple of weeks, and find ourselves even busier than before. Batch cooking is your friend. Cook once, and eat twice (or even three times) as much as possible. Leftovers for lunch is an everyday occurrence in my house, and I wholeheartedly embrace it.
Make sensible substitutions
If your storecupboard is looking a little bare, or you don’t seem to have the exact ingredient to hand, it’s fine to make sensible substitutions. Very few recipes are that exact that they can’t handle a little tweak here or there (perhaps with the exception of baking, where culinary alchemy tends to be a little more precise).
If you happen to already have a copy, there is a comprehensive section of ingredient substitutions in Simply Good For You, but here is a synopsis of a few commonly asked-about swaps. Obviously, the quantity and appropriateness of each swap will depend on the recipe you’re trying to make, so you’ll need to be a bit creative and use your intuition.
- Flour: try buckwheat flour, ground almonds, oat flour (whizz oats until fine), gram flour, fine polenta, GF flour or even ground linseeds instead of standard flour. Cornflour works well if you’re making a white sauce. You’ll need to be inventive according to the recipe, as proportions and other ingredients may also change, especially when baking. Add 1 sifted teaspoon of baking powder per 120g plain flour to make self-raising.
- Nuts: Different nuts, seeds, nut butters, ground nuts, or even chickpeas/other pulses can work in savoury dishes. You may also be able to omit the nuts altogether in many recipes.
- Fruits: Many fruits can be substituted for each other in recipes, although it’s a good idea to stick within texture/taste categories where possible. i.e., apples & pears/lemon, oranges or limes/stone fruits or berries/bananas, mango & pineapple etc. Check out frozen fruit / tinned (in juice not syrup) as an alternative source.
- Vegetables: The same general taste/texture category guidelines also apply to vegetables. I.e., broccoli & cauliflower/aubergines & courgettes / green leaves / carrot, squash & beetroot / Peas, beans, broad beans, soya beans). Again, the frozen section might be a good hunting ground.
- Fresh herbs: Use ½ teaspoon dried herb per tbsp. fresh. You can also substitute basil, parsley, coriander, rocket for each other according to taste.
- Onions: Leeks
Add plenty of flavour boosts
Add lots of spices, dried herbs (or fresh if you can find / grow them), lemon or lime zest, mustard, horseradish, acidity (through lemon juice or vinegar) to your food for interest and flavour variety.
Storecupbaord meals certainly don’t have to be bland.
Think about proteins
When we think of proteins, we might immediately imagine fresh fish, meat, eggs or dairy products. But there are plenty of longer-lasting protein options to be found in the store-cupboard: nuts, seeds, nut butters, tahini, tinned or dried pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas etc.) and tinned fish (tinned sardines – you can find boneless ones now if you prefer – are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids) for example, are all useful to have to hand.
I generally suggest aiming to have a portion of protein with each of your 3 main meals, or at least two of your meals in the current situation, as far as possible. A portion is roughly the size of your palm.
Amelia’s top staples
Storecupboard: Olive oil, tahini, nuts & seeds/nut butters, vinegar, mustard, pesto, pasta, brown rice, oats, tinned/jarred fish, tinned/jarred/dried beans, chopped tomatoes, flour, honey/maple syrup, spices, tea/coffee, salt & pepper.
Freezer: Bread (sliced), berries, peas, green beans, broad beans, stock, overripe & peeled bananas.
Fridge: Eggs, fruit, veg, feta, yoghurt of choice, milk of choice.
We are delighted to share some of her signature fast, easy, delicious and nourishing recipes from the book here: