Ironic curried canned lentil soup

Verdict: This makes a quick, easy, and satisfying soup from canned lentils… by smothering the healthy promise of said lentils with processed fatty and salty things. One out of two ain’t bad?

You’ll need: garlic and onion; a can of lentil soup (I used a low sodium version, ha ha); half a can of coconut milk; Thai green curry paste and/or dry curry powder; and tomato paste (or leftover red pasta sauce).

Mince the garlic and onion (finer is nicer) and sautee in a small pot. When onions soften, add the whole can of lentils without draining. [Healthier alternative: drain the lentils and use low-sodium stock instead.] Add the curry paste to taste (I ended up using about four heaping teaspoonfuls) and stir in; add the dry curry powder if more heat is desired. Finally, stir in the tomato sauce [or crushed fresh tomatoes], which will add salt and flavour as well as (together with the milk and curry paste) bring the soup to a fairly thick and creamy consistency. You can also throw in some spinach to wilt if you have any on hand.

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Storecupboard “Sicilian” not-pesto

This is an even lazier version of Nigella’s Sicilian pesto, from which I learnt the sardine-sultana combination. It’s basically salt and oil masquerading as a fairly nutritious meal, and barely involves anything that could be mistaken for cooking.

Acquire:
1. one tin of salted sardine (or anchovy) fillets in olive oil (I used boneless and skinless this time, but it might be even better with the bones in);
2. a sprinkle of pine nuts or slivered almonds;
3. garlic;
4. golden raisins;
5. pasta (long noodly type better).

First, cook the pasta (in a pan, to minimise cleanup). Meanwhile, coarsely mince (is that a thing?) a nice big quantity of garlic.
When pasta is done, drain and set aside in serving bowl. Dry the pan and put back on medium-high heat.
Drain all the oil from the sardines directly into the pan. When heated, fry the garlic until beginning to brown.
Then toss in a generous handful of the sultanas, some nuts, and then the fish, which you flake into tiny pieces using a fork/spatula/etc. (The fish goes in last so it doesn’t get too dry.) Finally, put the noodles back in, stir, and serve when warmed through.

Verdict: This is fairly expensive for a dish without fresh ingredients. My sardines were about $3.30 a tin, and the pine nuts I used probably $0.70’s worth. Still cheaper and easier than salmon, though, and better than bacon-y pastas.

Creamy (but cream-free) lemon chicken soup

A good friend gave me this recipe, which I’m rewriting here because I need truly idiot-proof instructions.

Take one boneless skinless chicken breast (or two if cooking one to use in another dish) out of the fridge to warm up.
Pour one large carton of chicken broth into a pot and bring to a boil.
While waiting, peel and halve two or three large (or several baby) carrots, and peel and halve one large or medium onion. Put them into the broth immediately. (The vegetables need only be cut enough that they fit into the pot and are covered by the soup.)
Simmer the vegetables for at least 20mins.

When the vegetables are almost done, squeeze the juice of half a lemon directly into the pot, cupping a hand under it to catch the seeds.
Last, add the chicken breast to the broth. Cover and boil gently for another 6-8mins or until the chicken is cooked through.

Just before the chicken is ready, crack two eggs into a bowl and whisk.
When chicken is done, take the pot off the heat. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. (If making only one serving, reserve half of the cooked meat for use in another dish.)
Also remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside separately, to use in another dish (cheesy carrot and onion mash, anyone?).
Check that the chicken is done, and shred or cut up into largeish chunks. Then put it back into the soup.
Finally, drizzle the whisked eggs slowly into the slightly cooled soup, stirring gently so that the eggs “cream” the broth.
Pour into bowls (or containers, if storing some) and serve immediately. (Do not leave leftovers in the pot, or the pot on the stove, as this will cause the eggs to clump and separate.)

Verdict: Bright and comforting at the same time. Worth the small effort.

Rustic herbed chicken and mushrooms

Tip: Make two portions. Serve the first with rice and/or leafy vegetables, save the second to use in a creamy pasta dish.

Step one: TAKE CHICKEN OUT OF REFRIGERATOR, GENIUS. It’s actually not a bad thing if it’s still a little chilled when it goes on the oven (so it’ll stay moist inside), but you don’t want it freezing either. Then, step two: PREHEAT OVEN, GENIUS. 400-425 F. Ish.

Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. Spray with olive oil.
Skin and halve/quarter three or four cloves of garlic.
Clean, DRY, and halve mushrooms (crimini or baby bella are nice here).
Slice the slightly chilled chicken, trim fat, and season generously with salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and/or similar. I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

[Note: Slicing the chicken and mushrooms will cook this dish in about 10mins. This will cause the juices to leak out, but that’s just fine as you’ll use it to dress the salad or rice dish.]

Finally: Put in oven. Set timer for 10mins. When done, check meat to make sure no longer translucent on the inside. Spoon juices and then meat and mushrooms into bowl lined with arugula or rice. Do this quickly and the heat and moisture from the dish will ‘wilt’ the arugula sufficiently so you won’t have to do it in a pan. Serve and celebrate your slothly efficiency.

Verdict: This dish was edible when made with chicken breasts; switching to thighs made it much much better.

Easy a-bit-of-everything chili

Dice a medium white or yellow onion.
Dice zucchini, squash, and/or eggplant.
Open and drain a small can of corn, a can of tomatoes, and a can of black or pinto beans. Rinse the beans. DRAIN EVERYTHING VERY WELL or the chili will be watery.
Open a can of tomato sauce (but always have a second can on standby, as you may need it!).

Heat oil in a large pot. Brown some lean ground beef (or possibly ground turkey breast), seasoning with a bit of salt, lots of pepper and/or paprika, some cumin, and immense amounts of garlic powder.
Add the onions, stirring until they begin to soften. Then add the rest of the diced vegetables (eggplant first, if using).
When all vegetables are cooked, drain the whole pot carefully (using the pot lid over the sink) if necessary. Then add the tomato sauce. Bring to a bit of a boil, then add drained beans and corn for colour. Add spices again if necessary.

Eat for the rest of the week.

Verdict: Hard to go wrong with chili. Leftovers can be cooled and then refrigerated in the pot for several days (just make sure you always use a clean spoon to scoop out portions to microwave). They also look nice in glass jars as packed lunches. Always microwave with a paper towel on top to catch exploding tomatoes and beans!

Baked eggplant with ground beef

Based on recipes from here and here.

Remove the stem and end of one large eggplant, then cut in half lengthwise. Use the point of the knife to score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle liberally with salt, wait 30mins, then squeeze the saltwater from the eggplant and pat dry (skip this step if using the longer, thinner Chinese or Japanese eggplant) [source].

Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush the flesh of the eggplant with olive oil and bake face-down for 35-45mins, until tender.

Meanwhile, mince garlic and dice onion. When eggplant is cool, scoop out some of the flesh from the shells, and chop as well.
Pan fry the garlic and onion, and then add ground beef and cook until browned. Add the eggplant flesh and some tomato/red pasta sauce to the mixture.

Finally, scoop the beef mixture into the eggplant ‘boats’ and serve.

Verdict: Enormous. Half a globe eggplant will make an entree-sized meal. Pretty tasty but frankly not quite worth all the effort, especially if you’re stuck with the annoying form of eggplant.