When I started studying at Manchester two years ago, I suggested to my flat that for the first week that we take it in turns to cook for each other–a sort of Come Dine With Me in halls. Each of us picked a day and got excited about what we were going to make. I was lucky enough to live with a few international students which meant that I got to try lots of things that I’d never even heard of, including Chinese baked eggs and frogs’ legs. I wasn’t too sure about the frogs’ legs but I believe you never know until you try!
I have loved cooking since I can remember, so I wasn’t too nervous about this idea, but serving up food for a reasonably large number of people wasn’t something I had really done before. I can imagine this being daunting for those who are not used to cooking regularly, but it doesn’t need to be. If you stick with something simple you can’t really go wrong.
It’s not Masterchef. It’s not even Come Dine With Me (I mean, you’re literally in halls)—the main thing about this meal time is to spark some interesting conversation with your new flatmates, and if the food tastes great then it’s a bonus. (And they’ll probably like you even more.)
At this point you probably don’t know everyone’s tastes and preferences, so it’s best to go with something simple and easy. Be sure to ask about people’s dietary requirements such as vegetarian, gluten-free or vegan diets. Here’s an idea to get you started:
This is what I made in my first week, adapted from something I found on a Sainsbury’s recipe card. It’s cheap, delicious and suitable for vegetarians. I love this recipe because it’s highly adaptable and by no means needs to be followed to the letter.
Pack of 8 soft tortilla wraps (white or wholemeal)
Tin of mixed beans (kidney, borlotti, cannellini etc)
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Tin of sweetcorn
100ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic (or 1tsp jarred minced garlic)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
100g cheese (any, but mozzarella or grated cheddar works well)
Optional: approx 6 cherry tomatoes for decoration
Preheat the oven to 200ºC, add the oil to a saucepan and fry the onions for approximately 5 minutes, until soft. Stir through the spices and garlic and cook for a further minute. Pour in the stock, beans and tinned tomatoes, and let simmer for around 10 minutes until the stock has reduced. Add the sweetcorn and prepare a round cake tin with a tortilla wrap. Spoon ¼ of the bean mixture onto the wrap, and grate around 20g of the cheese on top. Repeat 3 times using up all of the ingredients, and finish with a layer of cheese. If using, dot with cherry tomatoes in pattern of your choice. Bake for 25 minutes
To serve, slice into wedges and plate up with fresh salad. This should make enough for around 5 people, but the recipe can easily be doubled for more.
use any beans/pulses you have in, e.g chickpeas, black beans, even baked beans;
mix it up by trying different spices – it’s a good idea to club together when buying spices as you’ll have more of a range and it’s a great way to flavour food for less;
a layer of spinach and ricotta between each section of beans is a good way to balance the stack, making it look prettier and offsetting the spice if you have used too much.
This is a reasonably easy recipe that should be accessible to all, but if you’re struggling don’t be afraid to ask another flatmate for help! They’ll probably be pleased with the chance to get involved, and if it all goes wrong you can laugh about it later. This is one part of uni where you’re not getting graded. Enjoy!