When I first started learning how to cook, I remember feeling overwhelmed.
Growing up, my mother and grandma did all of the cooking in our house. I would help from time to time but I mostly watched in amazement. They knew how much spice to add to the food without any measurements. I am proud to say that I now do the same, but it did take practice.
I strongly believe home cooking is a powerful intervention to make healthful food. I also understand that cooking is a skill that is learned, and for those who are beginning, it can be overwhelming, but here are some tips to get you started.
Tips to Get Started:
1. Organize your kitchen:
This is not something I did in one day but taking the time to organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you will save you time in the long run. It is important to keep all of your most used items (knife, cutting boards, measuring spoons, prep bowls) where you can reach them quickly. Also, my pantry is organized with all of my bulk goods (legumes, beans, rice etc) in clear containers & labeled for quick identification.
2. Prep station:
Dedicate an area of your kitchen (if you have the space) as your “prep station”. I keep a kitchen towel laid down to secure my cutting board so that it doesn’t slide around.
3. Chef’s Knife:
I’ll keep saying it over and over, but if you don’t have a chefs knife, consider getting one. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. I already have a post dedicated on how to choose a chefs knife on Instagram if you want to learn more.
The spice aisle used to be very intimidating for me at the grocery store but I soon realized that I didn’t need EVERY spice to start cooking. In fact, I don’t buy my spices from a chain grocery store. I buy from a local Indian/Middle Eastern grocery store that often sells the spices in a larger pack at a lower cost. Spices that I personally use often include turmeric, coriander powder, cumin powder, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion salt, cumin seeds, and garam masala. These spices can be a great starting point to flavor a variety of dishes and will last you a while! You can store bulk spices in the fridge or a cool, dark area. Do not store spices near the stove/heat because it can damage them.
5. Practice mise en place:
French for “everything in its place”. It is a concept emphasized in culinary education that stresses the importance of prep work that is needed before cooking (reading & understanding the recipe, measuring ingredients, cut, peeled, sliced, grated produce ect). Basically have everything ready & accessible before you start cooking, including your spices. I can’t tell you how many times I have burned food when I am frantically searching for a spice. This also gives you a chance to make a substitutions if you realize you are out of an ingredient (more on substitutions in a future post).
6. Clean as you go:
I used to wait till the very end to clean the kitchen, but it was daunting. Cleaning as you cook saves time. If I have a minute or two when my food is simmering/cooking, I’ll take that as an opportunity to put away ingredients or dishes that I don’t need anymore.
Make sure to pre-heat the oven first if you need it. You could also preheat the pan as well to cut down on cooking time (i.e your food will start cooking as soon as its in the pan instead of waiting for the pan to heat up to cook your food). The same concept applies to boiling water, get that water on the stove first since this step can take time.*Bonus tip: Use the time when the oven is pre-heating or when water is coming to a boil to prep your ingredients.
8. Frozen produce:
Do not be afraid of frozen produce. I don’t care what anyone says, frozen simple veggies and fruits are a great option to create healthful meals. I say simple because I don’t recommend purchasing the varieties with added ingredients such as salt, sugar, and sauces.
9. Produce prep:
Speaking of produce, when I do have fresh produce, instead of immediately putting it away, I spend some time up front chopping certain vegetables for the week: dice onion, slice/dice bell pepper, wrap my cilantro in a paper towel, wrap my leafy greens in a paper towel, chop broccoli/cauliflower into florets etc and place in a sealed container. I’ll have an updated post coming soon on how I do this.
10. Start simple:
You can start with simple dishes or semi homemade in the beginning or when you are in a time crunch. For example, many grocery stores have frozen brown rice or quinoa. Purchase a stir fry sauce (lower sodium content preferred) & mixed vegetables (frozen is just fine) to combine with oil, garlic, ginger, and chili paste in a pan, and you got yourself a full meal in less time than take out.
11. Batch cook your meals:
Instead of making one cup of rice or a few servings of a dish, consider making a larger amount so that you can freeze it for future meals when you are in a time crunch. For example, if I know a particularly busy work week is coming up, I’ll make extra lentils and freeze them. Foods that freeze well include: grains such as rice and quinoa, sauces, soups, chilis, beans, legumes, casseroles etc.
12. Cross utilize your ingredients:
For example, if you know that you want to make fried rice and a taco bowl in the week ahead, make enough rice for both dishes so you don’t have to do it on two separate occasions. This is the same concept when prepping produce to be utilized in multiple recipes.
13. One pot meals:
This is exactly how it sounds, recipes that literally only need one pot to be made can save time. This pot can include a wok, skillet, dutch oven, Instant pot, Crock pot, rice cooker, etc. More to come on this later but I love my Instant Pot which has been a game changer for me.