My God Ingredient
The food so good they named it twice. Couscous is the lazy man’s rice/pasta/porridge/kebab. With minimum effort you can create a warm pile of carbohydrate fulfillment in minutes. The process of couscous cooking is as simple putting the kettle on boil, then pouring the hot water over some dry couscous in bowl. It’s like pasta cereal.
To sex up your couscous, add anything you can find, a bit of soy sauce, a pinch of cumin. Rice and pasta have had their day, they were too sure of themselves: their arrogance shining through as the took an age to cook and then still sticking to the pan. Couscous has risen out of obscurity to be the new champion of the starch kingdom. It used to be only for the hippies and vegans, but now thanks to the miracle of mass production and supermarkets, you too can wield its power. So join the liberation and rush now to Sainsbury’s, to Tesco’s, to that corner shop near where you live and demand couscous, for it will change your world.
When my finances are looking bleak, there’s one thing I’ll always continue to buy (as well as alcohol): mayonnaise. Hellmann’s or Sainsbury’s, full fat or low fat, a jar or a squeezy bottle, it’s all the same to me: glorious mayonnaise.
This cracking condiment is the perfect addition to practically any food; burgers, sandwiches, chips, pizza – even a roast dinner is improved. If what you’re eating is that little bit too hot, dip it in the cool, creamy and refreshing mayonnaise: you’ll experience a incredible food sensation that also won’t burn the roof of your mouth. When life is really tough, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, do not fear – there is a solution: get the mayo out, and just eat it on its own. And for that moment, everything is wonderful: all your worries just float away. It’s that good.
So, the next time you’re eating a meal – be it a 3am drunken snack or a romantic dinner date with your other half – don’t forget the white stuff. It’s just too good.
Wagamama Teryaki glaze
Sometimes I get annoyed at how much I love Wagamama’s Teryaki Salmon. Firstly, because
it’s so good that it means I’ve never tried anything else on their menu. And secondly, because it’s one of the most expensive things they sell. But now, without wanting to sound too much like a Brand Power advert, I can create it inexpensively at home with a jar of Wagamama Teryaki glaze.
Available in all good-sized retailers (read as: Tesco Metro opposite the Arndale) one jar contains more than enough for four portions of any sort of stir fry. Combining it with noodles, pak choi and salmon helps me feel as though I am sat on a long bench centimetres away from a stranger a la my normal Wagamama experience but there’s no need to stick to their suggestions.
With sustainable fish all the range, I like to marinate sea trout fillets in it before baking or frying. Teryaki beef is a dish that costs two pounds more to experience in the Japanese dining establishment so I’ve never braved it, but a homemade version definitely ups the ante. To be honest, this glaze works with any stir fry; even the humble vegetarian stir fry can be brightened up to please my carnivorous self when I pour in some of this tar-like substance.
Whatever you do, don’t let supermarket own brands tempt you. After mistakenly opting for Coops thinner, cheaper offering I noted my error and thoroughly regret ever straying from the sweet smell of a Wagamama Teryaki stir fry.
Pesto, staple of Italian cooking, staple of my cupboard. I’ve not found anything with the ability to transform mundane, student-esque dishes in the way that this tasty, herby, and cheap as chips sauce will. Spreading it on bread in the place of butter in sandwiches will create a quick lunchtime masterpiece (in particular if toasted-or taken into uni to rub in the faces of the unfortunate students living on soup from the JRUL cafe). Better still, stir into a bowl of plain pasta (or tortellini if you’re posh) to create a dish Antonio Carluccio himself would be proud of – I know because he made it on Saturday Kitchen the other day.
Possibly even better than the endorsement of a top Italian chef – although it should be noted Carluccio didn’t get his pesto from a jar – is the price tag on a jar of the stuff, easily available at less than a pound from most supermarkets-definitely Lidl and the wide range; green (basil), red (sun-dried tomato or pepper), or purple (aubergine) means that unlike the generic ketchup or mayo or barbecue, this is a sauce that will take a while to tire of, plus, unlike the aforementioned sauces, it’ll impress your mum.
I think onions are the best, the unsung heroes of the culinary world. Ranging from the bog standard flavour filled brown to the delicately flavoured and crunchy spring onion they can add flavour to pretty much any meal, but are never really appreciated in their own right.
What would a risotto be without the base flavour given by slowly sweating brown onions or shallots first? And doesn’t gravy taste so much better when its combined with a few onions?
The beauty of onions is that they are so versatile. When eaten raw, a red onion adds zing and crunchy texture, but when they are cooked slowly for a long time, leeks, red and brown onions create a deep savoury flavour which cannot be imitated by any other ingredient.
One problem with the onion is that it doesn’t often enough take centre stage, but there are a couple of my favourite dishes in which the onion takes the leading role. The first is the classic French onion soup. Very easy and very tasty, the dish relies wholly on the flavour packed in by the abundance of onions used. The second is a red onion, tomato and herb salad. If you macerate the onions in lemon juice and salt for about thirty minutes before adding them it takes away some of the bite and also turns them a nice pink colour.
Next time you’re planning your meals for the week, spare a little thought for the onion. The tasty workhorse of the food world.
My favourite store cupboard ingredient by far is Aromat – the legendary ‘All Purpose Savoury Seasoning’ from Knorr. Available in Sainsbury’s in the herby section for just 79 pence, this kitchen delight is an essential for anything I make involving pasta. Aromat is effectively a replacement for salt, hence its main ingredient after salt is monosodium glutamate (MSG). Don’t listen to the MSG cynics, Aromat is perfectly healthy in moderation and good for the soul.
How to make something with this amazing ingredient? Simply cook some pasta, then add butter and Aromat to taste. Nothing pretentious, this is pure comfort food. I also use it in spaghetti bolognese, chili con carne and pasta bakes. By no means is Aromat restricted to pasta dishes, the container suggests use with vegetables, rice, salads and even as a meat rub. Why not? My love for Aromat means that as well as keeping a pot in my kitchen cupboard, I now have one in my bedroom fruit bowl, ironically enough. How can anything that is this bright yellow not be an excellent addition to one’s food?
I couldn’t live without lentils. I was going to to lie and go with the safer option of pesto, but the sad truth is lentils are the ingredient I couldn’t live without,and here’s why:
They are incredibly good value, one bag lasts me at least a month and, like rice, they are a great carrier of spices and sauces. Baked chicken or fish are great on lentils as an alternative to mash. Soups, Stews, Curries; the lentil isn’t fussy, it loves them all.
Lentils, in my completely non-technical food groups, are what I would call ‘a Bulker’. I find good-quality meat and fish too expensive to be buying in large amounts. Enter lentils. They are excellent as a substitute, or for the dedicated carnivores, just to ‘bulk up’ a normally meat-only meal. Next time you make a chicken curry or beef stew go half meat, half lentils. Delicious, cheaper and just as filling.
I feel sorry for lentils, I really do. For somewhere along the line they were relegated to the ‘uncool’ pile of food goods, condemned to a life in Vegan cafés surrounded by equally defeated ingredients such as quinoa and tofu. If the saying goes that real men don’t eat quiche, they certainly don’t eat lentils. I’m guessing that the majority of people picture the lentil-eating customer as similar to the mother from About a Boy in all her orange yeti-sweater and Jesus-sandal glory. I am no vegetarian, and I certainly don’t wear sandals. But I do love a good lentil.