Four simple, quick and cost-effective recipes for student life
Baked bean gratin, lamb burger wrapped in aubergine, spicy chicken, and rice pudding
Grilled spicy chicken. Photograph: Getty Images
Cooking away from home can be daunting, for even the most mature cooks. When I cook away from my kitchen it takes a while to settle and find my groove. Which section is more suitable to use as a chopping area, where best to place the bin and, more importantly, how does the cooker work?
Our third-level students have left us again and are now settling into college life. More often than not their diets seem to suffer, they start to miss the comforts of home and end up relying on a couple of basic carb-filled dishes to get by.
Being away from home is challenge enough, and often knowing what to cook can be a bigger headache than how to cook it. My daughters have made many a call to me from Dublin supermarkets requesting an instant dish for dinner. I love the challenge but soon realised I wasn’t really helping in teaching them what they needed to know.
Food is connection to home and friends and it can soothe the soul to know that comfort can be cooked anywhere – no matter how far away from home you are. There are times when we want to make a community through food. In the depths of student accommodation this may seem like a distant dream, but why not make a dish to share like the baked beans below and invite a few friends over in exchange for a few euro for ingredients?
Student kitchens no longer resemble the bedsit facilities of the past, and mostly come with the required basics. Relying on two electric rings, coins for the meter and not being able to find a clean or available spot to lay a spoon isn’t a challenge any longer for students. Corner and ethnic shops are full of surprises and cater for the student, offering ingredients that otherwise seem exotic to us.
When my daughters were heading off to college this year, I armed them with seven dishes that take little time to prepare, are inexpensive, require minimal ingredients and are ideal for sharing.
I recommend taking the time to explain the benefits of fridge management (reminding yourself of what is there before it reminds you) to students and teach them how to minimise waste. Sadly, many student houses have as much food in the bin as in the fridge and reducing this waste is an excellent skill we can give our kids going out into the world.
BAKED BEAN GRATIN
This is a perfect base dish for student life. You can pull it together relatively quickly by using tinned beans and skip baking it in the oven. It’s ideal for tidying up the fridge of sad vegetables, bits of cheese and cold meats. I often make this with leftover salami, ham or roast lamb and a mixture of different hard and soft cheeses together to form an indulgent topping.
This recipe makes a lot but it will keep well in the fridge for four to five days, can be frozen in batches and is ideal for a party.
4 onions, chopped finely
2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
Salt and pepper
1kg cooked beans of your choice or 2 tins, rinsed
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1tsp (heaped) smoked paprika
1 fresh chilli, chopped
3 bay leaves
2tbs molasses or treacle
Bottle of good beer
Splash of cider vinegar
Big bunch of chopped parsley
Breadcrumbs and/or cheese
Heat a large saucepan and add a good splash of oil. Add the onions and celery and season well with salt and pepper and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add in the beans, tomatoes, beer, chopped chilli, smoked paprika, bay leaves and molasses. Bring to the boil and turn the heat down to low and simmer for nearly an hour. Taste and add seasoning if needed. Add in the vinegar and mix well.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees and in the meantime mix the breadcrumbs with the chopped parsley and cheese if using. Sprinkle on top of the beans and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden.
Serve with crusty bread.
LAMB BURGER WRAPPED IN AUBERGINE
Make up a batch of these delicious burgers and freeze them individually for the weeks ahead or invite a few lucky friends around.
1 long aubergine
Oil for frying
700g minced lamb
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
75g raisins or sultanas, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
A pinch of chilli powder or flakes to taste
Salt and pepper
Heat a frying pan and begin by cooking the aubergine. Slice it lengthways into medium slices, you should end up with four to six slices depending on the size.
Brush each side with olive oil and season with a good pinch of salt. Place in the hot pan, reduce the heat and cook until the bottom side is a nice golden colour, turn over and continue to cook until each slice is cooked through and brown on both sides. Remove to a plate.
To make the burgers, take a mixing bowl and add in the meat along with the onion, garlic, cumin, the drained raisins or sultanas, chilli and salt and pepper and mix well. Allow to stand for 20 minutes, if you have time.
Reheat the same pan until it’s very hot and add just a splash of oil. Add the burgers and continue to cook at a high heat for a couple of minutes.
Lower the heat and continue cooking for another three minutes. Turn the burgers over and finish cooking them for another three to four minutes, depending on the thickness. Remove to a plate.
Return the aubergine to the pan to heat up for a minute. Place a piece of aubergine on each plate followed by the burger at one end and fold the aubergine over it and serve.
GRILLED SPICY CHICKEN
A simple fresh dish that’s perfect for any time of year. The marinade also works for lamb chops baked in the oven on a bed of potatoes. Feel free to add different spices if you have them in the kitchen. Coriander and fennel would be a lovely addition.
4 skinless chicken breasts
Zest and juice of 1 lemon or lime
Salt and pepper
For the marinade
1tbsp ginger, finely grated
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1tsp ground cumin
Pinch of chilli to taste
1tsp garam masala
200ml natural yogurt
Lime or lemon wedges
Cut each portion of chicken into long strips and place in a bowl. Squeeze over the juice and and mix in the zest of the lemon. Allow to sit while you make the marinade.
Mix all the ingredients well together in a bowl or if you have a blender, blend until smooth and pour over the chicken and mix well. Cover and allow to marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature.
When you are ready to cook, heat the grill until medium hot. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the grill rack. Cook for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the strips, remembering to turn them during the cooking.
Serve with the citrus wedges and salad.
RICE PUDDING WITH CINNAMON, CARDAMOM, APPLE AND MAPLE SYRUP
150g risotto rice
A good pinch of ground cinnamon
A large apple
2tbs-3tbs maple syrup
Put the rice and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer until the water has totally evaporated. Keep a close eye on it at this point.
Next pour in the milk, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat as much as possible and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes or until it starts to look very creamy.
Remember to stir it often to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.
In the meantime, grate the apple with the skin on and add it to the rice along with the cinnamon and the sugar to taste.
Turn off the heat and allow to stand for five to 10 minutes for the flavours to develop.
Serve with a good drizzle of maple syrup.