Cooking at university has some pretty unique challenges. You’re off on your own, with no one to turn to for help. It may well be your first time cooking. Space is at a premium, as you likely share a kitchen with loads of others. You have a very limited range of cooking equipment, and it’s not exactly of the highest quality, either.
Most importantly, you’ve got better things to do than buying tonnes of ingredients or washing up loads of pots and pans afterward.
That’s why you need a good few simple recipes that you can whip up in no time, without messing up too many dishes or requiring too many expensive ingredients.
The jacket potato is a stalwart of university cuisine for good reason. All you need is a baked potato, filled with whatever you think might be tasty.
If you have a microwave, then you can even bake the potato quickly. Just wash the spud, prick it a few times all over with a fork, put it on a plate and microwave it on High for about 5 minutes for a large baking potato. Turn it over and give it another few minutes. Once the potato is soft, cut it open and fill it with your filling. If you want to melt some cheese or heat up some beans on it, then pop it on top of the potato and give that a quick 30-second or one-minute blast, too.
It’s just as easy to do in the oven, but it takes a lot longer. On the plus side, you will get a more satisfying potato, especially if you rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper and all that.
Pasta and sauce
The very simplest pasta dish is also outstandingly impressive. It’s spaghetti aglio e olio, or spaghetti in olive oil and garlic. Simply boil the pasta until tender, then toss with olive oil and gently cooked garlic. You can add dried or fresh basil, chilli flakes or shavings of Parmesan cheese. Serve it with a lovely salad, and you’ve got a great meal.
Once you’ve got that down, add a few basic sauces to your repertoire to make more complex dishes. The top sauces for pasta include béchamel sauce (your go-to sauce for insane macaroni cheese or creamy lasagne and a simple tomato that can be jazzed up with different ingredients.
The very simplest curry we’ve seen involves cubes of chicken, chopped onions and garlic, coconut milk and curry paste. You pan fry the chicken until cooked through, then add the onions and garlic, cooking on low until the onions are translucent but not burnt. You add the coconut milk and enough curry paste for your taste, and then stir it all together. Let it simmer on low until the sauce is as thick as you like it, then serve over rice.
To mix things up, you can use different curry sauces or add lots of different vegetables. You can experiment with the kind of meat or protein that you use – even almonds and cashews make a great, meat-free protein option!
The thing about stir fry is that all it takes is thinly sliced vegetables and meats or other proteins, heated quickly over a high heat, all in one pan. It is like student recipe nirvana, because it can use just about any ingredient you have in your house. It also works with both noodles and rice, so you can just use what you have to hand.
Basically, slice whatever you want (let’s say chicken, red and green peppers, onions and carrots) thinly – about 1cm thick. Pan fry the chicken (or whatever takes the longest to cook) in a nice splash of vegetable oil, then add the other ingredients according to how long they need to cook. Once everything is cooked – meat needs to be cooked thoroughly, but the veg needs to still have a little crunch – add soy sauce and stock to make the sauce.
If the sauce is a little thin, cook your instant noodles right in it. Perfect.
Soup is so easy, it should be illegal. You just put some water in a pot, throw in the food you want to cook and flavour it with herbs, spices and a few more tricks. The simplest soup is just veggies boiled in water, and you can add a depth of flavour with your choice of stock. You can also make a creamy soup or chowder by starting off with a béchamel sauce, then diluting it with water or stock and then chucking your ingredients in.
If you really want to get some good flavour going, get serious about aromatic vegetables. Lots of cuisines from Europe, Asia and the Americas have certain sets of vegetables and herbs that they use as a base for most of their easy, one-pot dishes. Try frying up carrot, onion and celery (France’s mirepoix) before adding water or stock to give your soup a little “je ne sais quoi”. It’ll turn your tea from a desperate attempt to empty your fridge into a satisfying, relaxing dining experience.
Plus, you can assure your Mum you’re eating your veggies without lying.
Last modified: October 8, 2017