Expanding the menu

When I was living away from home, I had a few meals I would cook routinely.

In my first house in London, I would often eat pasta covered in butter and poured on some toast, sometimes with honey or at other times with cheese-on-toast. Despite the fact that I could cook to a decent level, I lived off this mainly to avoid spending too long in the kitchen of a very dodgy shared house.

This was also the time when my evening meal was a frozen pizza from Asda after finishing an evening shift at the call centre. I shouldn’t need to state here that there were consequences in the bowel region from this diet.

In later years and in less dodgy houses, I got into cooking in bulk and freezing a load. And I have three main staple meals for this.

My chilli con carne remains my signature dish. It was initially made with turkey mince, but then switched the lentils when I stopped buying meat; and it has recently changed again to vegan mince. So it should be chilli sin carne – that’s a Spanish joke right there.

My second dish is a fish stew, which evolved into this. Initially, as a quick meal in a shared house, I’d fry an entire bulb of garlic, then pour in a tin of mackerel and some soy sauce. This would be served on some rice and was actually pretty tasty. Over the years, I added more things such as chopped tomatoes, onions and other ingredients. And thus the fish stew was born.

My third dish is a lentil dhal. It’s a fairly new addition to the repertoire and is really tasty, albeit a bit of a faff to scoop all the lentil foam off when they’re boiling.

And after tonight, I might well have a fourth dish. It isn’t the mushroom katsu curry I made a couple of times, then forgot how I made it. I made a vegetable curry with cauliflower, potato, carrot, peas and ground almonds; plus a variety of spices. Considering I wasn’t planning on making it until lunchtime and hadn’t bought specific ingredients for it, it turned out rather well and I should be able to get about eight meals out of it.

My menu has come a long way since the days of buttery pasta on toast.