Growing up as a third culture kid in Indonesia limited your eating options to getting someone to cook it for you or eating out. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic. My parents were wonderful food role models who introduced my tastes to flavours from all over the world; from Asian to North American and European, I owe a lot of my adventurous palette to my parents.
That being said, once I moved out of home, I was a little unarmed when it came to feeding myself outside of takeaway. My home made diet, like many others in my predicament, consisted mostly of creative ramen noodle varieties- a wonderful trek down convenience and frugality, but a damning blow to healthy sodium intakes. It didn’t mean I didn’t eat “well”, it just meant that when I ate at home and attempted to cook for myself, the options were extremely limited to what was mostly pre-made.
Ms. 3013 shares my healthy appetite for good food, and we’re lucky to live in Melbourne where worldly food is of abundance. She is also quite a good cook, someone who is quite familiar with using recipes. These were novel concepts to me. She was, of course, horrified at the sight of my bare pantry and poorly stocked fridge. She recoiled at the absolute bare ingredients on hand for any sort of mildly healthy cooking.
The truth is, I was both afraid of cooking well and extremely uninterested. I didn’t like precision, had little patience, and greatly preferred the eating part of cooking. A change was a comin’, and let me honestly tell you, as a reformed former professional ramener, cooking really isn’t that hard. And the results can be terrific.
How do you reform a ramen eater into a (half) decent cook?
You start with the basics, beginning with stocking your pantry with some essential ingredients; onions, garlic, spices (a colourful mix), and if you’re so inclined, fresh herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary. Having these regularly stocked means your cooking has some very solid flavours on which to build upon.
I hated following recipes, but after the first few times you see that while you can follow them to a T, it’s also possible to use them as a guide. Stick close to them, but don’t worry too much if you want to do a little experimenting. Add a little bit of this here, take away a little bit of that there, it’s all part of making cooking enjoyable.
Where do you find good, not overly complicated recipes? We primarily take recipes from either the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home book, or (gasp) Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals. You can of course, take your recipes from anywhere, but we’ve found that both of these books tend to find the happy medium between vegetarian and carnivorous, lean/healthy and indulgent. Both books are easy to follow and aren’t part of trendy dietary fads.
STICKING TO THE PLAN
Don’t be lazy and while most of these meals tend not to take more than 45 minutes to prepare, you’ve got to create yourself a weekly menu and stick to the plan. Think of a few dishes on a Saturday or Sunday before your weekly grocery shop and make them big enough for a few servings (lunch the next day is always a winner). You can either find recipes that are made for multiple servings or just double/triple whatever it is you choose to make. In the end, if you’re stuck (or tired), doing some tried and trusted favourites like spaghetti bolognese means you can still cook plenty while exerting minimal effort. Leave yourself a few nights for dining out or takeaway too; it helps keep the cooking burnout away and helps refresh those taste buds.
Over the first few weeks, you’ll get to know your cooking style and preferred dishes. We’ve got a few that we stick to bi-weekly, but often flick through the recipes to see if there is something new to try. I’ll go into some specific recipes and dishes at a later date, but the most important thing about reforming your ramen habits into regular cooking is to stop thinking that cooking is both overly time consuming and difficult. It can be, but really doesn’t have to be. Music, some booze and good culinary discussion are all part of making time in the kitchen enjoyable and delectable.
Being able to cook is both a practical and cultured trait. Cooking doesn’t mean you have to be pretentious with your food, you’ve just got to start actually doing it. Cooking for yourself or for your significant other can be wonderful part of living mostly, reinforcing the fact that the kitchen truly is a place for both men and women.