I have a go-to method for creating most of my mid-week evening meals. It’s a method I have created over the years for enabling me to make a mid-week meal which is;
- Uses mainly store cupboard ingredients
- Full of flavour
- Contains a good mix of Protein, Fibre, Carbs, Fat plus lots of other micronutrients from spices and greens
- Contains at least 5 vegetables
- Can be adjusted to the season
It’s a really easy way to think about how I am going to construct my meal and it goes like this;
STEP 1: GRAIN
There is a good range of grains to choose from; Amaranth, Pearl Barley, Buckwheat, Bulgur Wheat, Cous Cous, Freekah, Millet, Oats, Polenta, Quinoa, Rice, Spelt, Teff….. Most of these are readily available in your supermarket and you can find them in their original state or made into a noodle or pasta. I keep a few different ones on my shelf to mix up my meals as each one gives a range of nutrients, textures and flavours. I always opt for the wholegrain variety;
The 3 grains I have used in this series of recipes are those I thought would be most commonly found in your cupboard; Wholewheat pasta (use gluten-free pasta if you are avoiding gluten), Quinoa and Wholegrain Rice.
Rinse the grain well under running water to remove any dust residue from the harvesting, pop it into a pan, cover with 2-3x the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer as per packet instructions;
STEP 2: EVERY GOOD MEAL STARTS WITH AN ONION!
When I am staring into the fridge, looking for inspiration of what to cook for dinner, my default is to reach for an onion! I know it’s the best way to start building a meal. If I have any celery, then I reach for a stick of that too since they add a wonderful base of flavour to most cooked meals;
I simply, peel/wash, and dice and throw them into a large pan or frying pan with a tiny bit of oil.
Fry for at least 5 mins, until they start to soften. I find placing a lid on top helps to cook them nicely;
STEP 3: FLAVOUR
There are some really great spice mixes available in the shops today. One way to make your life easier is to stock up on a few blends so you have them to hand for adding to meals. They can make a bland, boring, tasteless meal into a pow-wow one in just a tsp! They are an essential ingredient when it comes to adding depth of flavour to your cooking. I have chosen 3 common spice blends;
- Garam Masala – a mix of coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and cardamom
- Harissa Seasoning – a mix of paprika, tomato, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, chili, black pepper and caraway
- Ras el hanout – a mix of paprika, turmeric, allspice, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cardamon, clove and pepper
You could, of course, make your own spice blends and keep them stored for when you need them. Not everyone has the time to do this though so I think buying a ready-made mix can be a little kitchen meal life saver 😉
Keep the pan on a low heat while you add your choice of spice mix to the fried onions and celery;
STEP 4: EXTRA FLAVOUR
I like to bump up a few of my favourite flavours to any spice mix by adding a combination of;
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon,
- 1 tsp ground cumin and
- 1 tsp ground coriander.
I find this combination works well in any dish;
Add these to the pan and stir through.
STEP 5: SAUCE
Another store cupboard item you should have is some tomato passata. A great way to make a sauce. You can sub a smooth passata for a tin of chopped tomatoes.
Add 1 cup to the pan;
And stir through;
STEP 6: A GRATED VEGETABLE
One way to thicken any sauce, whilst also adding a healthy dose of vegetable to your meal, is by adding a grated vegetable. I find the ones which work best are celeriac, courgettes, and carrots, but experiment with whatever is in season – beetroot, turnips, sweet potato, butternut squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or even fruit like apples.
Wash, it, peel it and grate it. Pop it into the pan and stir through;
STEP 7: BEANS AND LENTILS FOR PROTEIN AND FIBRE
A frugal way to bulk out your meals, increase satiety (feeling full), add fiber (and not to mention a whole host of plant-based nutrition), is to add beans or lentils. You can use ready cooked ones from a tin for ease or soak and cook your own if you have the time. Of course, the benefit of using ready cooked ones from a tin or carton is that they can be heated in minutes, making your midweek meal prep a breeze!
Rinse and drain you chosen bean or lentil and add them to the pan. Shown here are 3 of my favourites; Green Lentils, Black Beans and Black-eyed Beans;
Add your chosen bean to the pan;
And stir through;
STEP 8: GREENS!
I am sure you don’t need me to tell you to eat your greens?! So I won’t 😉 but I will tell you that this is a great way to add then your meals – just choose one from the many amazing, nutrient-rich greens available. I have chosen 3 of the most popular ones here – frozen pea, kale and spinach;
Wash/chop and add them to the pan;
And stir through,allowing it to simmer for about 5-6 mins on a medium heat;
STEP 9: SEASONING
Think beyond the salt shaker when it comes to seasoning!
We’ve already added lots of flavour from the spices, but a little saltiness, acidity and umami go a long way in bringing out the flavours in any dish.
I like to do this by adding;
- sea salt – Celtic sea salt is my favourite,
- apple cider vinegar,
- a little grated vegan cheese and
- nutritional yeast flakes.
- Garlic. I like to add the garlic at the end of the dish so that is mostly raw. I find it adds much more flavour at this stage, rather than being cooked with the onion at the start of the recipe. I also think it retains much more of it’s incredible nutrients this way too. If you can’t tolerate the strong taste of raw garlic or it does not digest well for you, add it to the frying pan with the onion and celery and cook it through. Add some ground black pepper and I find these flavours really round off the whole meal and adding that finishing touch to make the meal (almost! see step 10…) complete;
Add each of the ingredients to the pan;
And stir through;
STEP 10: FATS
The final stage of my recipe, is to add a small amount of fat in the form of seeds, nuts or avocado. They add some healthy nutrients and help the body to assimilate any fat soluble vitamins of minerals present in the other ingredients. Fat also makes food taste GOOD 🙂 A little goes a long way, so add a small sprinkling of hemp, sesame, chia, ground flax, walnuts, almonds, Brazils etc or a few slices of avocado;
Now, your meal is good to go! Add the cooked ingredients to your bowl and serve;
Garam Masala Carrot, Kale & Black Beans with Pasta
- 2-3 servings Wholegrain pasta
- 1 medium onion peeled, diced
- 1 stick celery washed, chopped
- 1 tsp rapeseed
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cup tomato passata
- 1 cup water
- 1 large carrot peeled, grated
- 1 tin black beans rinsed, drained
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup grated vegan cheese
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 cups kale roughly 2 large leaves, stems removed and shredded
- 1 tbsp shelled hemp seeds
Place the pasta into a pan, top with water and cook for around 10 minutes, as per packet instructions.
Add the chopped onion and celery to a large pan with a dash of rapeseed oil and cook on a low heat for at least 5 minutes, until they begin to soften.
Add all of the spices and stir through.
Next, add the tomato passata and water. Stir to combine.
Now add the grated carrot, black beans and kale and combine together.
Leave to simmer for about 5-6 minutes on a medium heat until heated through.
Next, add the garlic, grated vegan cheese, nutritional yeast flakes and apple cider vinegar and stir everything together.
Drain the pasta and serve together with the black bean mixture. Top with the shelled hemp seeds and a seasoning of salt and pepper to taste.