Be simple – There is no need to always use a dozen different ingredients. Some of the best meals are combinations of one or two veggies, a grain or rice, and a little seasoning.
Always have a pot of grain cooked – Get in the habit of making a large amount of brown rice, quinoa, or other grain. Then use it to quickly make a rice bowl, to add to a soup, or to go with a quick stir fry. A rice cooker with a timer can make this very painless.
Have cooked beans, chickpeas or lentils ready – for instant use in quick dishes. A pressure cooker can help with this. For dry beans, it is best to make a habit of soaking them the night before. Using canned legumes is a very quick option, but more expensive and involves packaging.
Use up what you have – Check your refrigerator and cupboards for left over veggies to make into a quick soup or stew.
Pantry at a glance – Keep your grains, beans, flour, etc. in clear containers, so you can see at a glance what you have on hand. Store veggies in the fridge in clear bags.
Make some extra! – Leftovers can be stored in the fridge or frozen in individual servings for quick future meals. Reheat portions as needed by steaming or microwaving.
Don’t over chop – There is a tendency for enthusiastic beginner cooks to chop everything into tiny pieces. For many recipes it is preferable to have larger bite-sized pieces.
Use a garlic press – Inexpensive hand held garlic presses will instantly convert a clove of garlic to a pulp.
Steam instead of boil – Any vegetable that you would normally boil, including potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, can be quickly steamed. It is faster because you don’t have to wait long for a pot of water to come to a boil. Steaming also saves energy.
Use thin pots for soups and steaming. They heat up quickly.
Microwaving – Zapping vegetables keeps them nutritious and crisp and you avoid over-heating the kitchen.
Cool food quickly using cold water – Place a pot or bowl containing hot food in a larger container of cold water (or sink partially filled with cold water). The heat quickly conducts out of the food and into the water. Warning: don’t try this with very hot glass, the sudden change in temperature can shatter the glass. Cooling hot foods in the refrigerator or freezer takes much longer than water cooling, and use a lot of energy.
Foods to buy ~ quick tips
Fast grains and pasta – Use grains and pasta that cook fast such as couscous (three minutes) and thin noodles (8 minutes), and bulgur and kasha which take about 10–15 minutes. White rice, parboiled rice, and quinoa take about 20 minutes.
Convenience foods – Buy a variety of instant food items such as veggie burgers, cans of baked beans, chili and vegetarian soups. These can be used as a basis for a larger meal. Just add extra vegetables or grains.
Stock up on grains and legumes – they last for months when dry. You will save time by shopping less. Make sure that the store has fresh supplies which is usually the case for busy places that specialize in whole foods. Buy items like brown rice, quinoa, black beans, a few varieties of lentils, chickpeas, etc.
Seasoning mixes – Using concentrated seasoning mixes can add flavour and spice to your meals and save several steps when cooking. Try the following: vegetable bouillon stock cubes, Indian curry paste, Thai green curry paste, hot sauce (harissa, tabasco or chili sauce), miso (as soup base), salsas, chutneys, mustards, soy sauce, etc.
Can help – Buy cans of beans, lentils, chick-peas, tomato sauce, tomatoes and other vegetables, etc. This will save you from cooking these items from scratch.
Buy bottled lemon juice (organic ideally) instead of squeezing lemons. Almost as tasty as the real thing. Three Tbsp lemon juice = one lemon.
Preparing for making a recipe
• Bring out all the necessary ingredients for your recipe before you start. This saves time and steps. Also try to plan ahead when shopping.
• Consider what substitutions you want to make.