A proactive cook's guide to shopping, stretching and saving through uncertainty | Melissa Hemsley
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A guide to cooking through uncertainty

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A proactive cook’s guide to shopping, stretching & saving through uncertainty

Melissa batch cooking soup

I wanted to put together a peaceful, proactive, practical and non-panicky guide to buying, storing and cooking if we’re all going to be staying at home for a while. Now, more than ever, is a good time to hit the refresh (before heading out to the shops) and take a new look at what our fridge, freezers and cupboards can offer us. You might be surprised to find just how many meals you can make out of what you have already. 

My best advice for myself during this time is to cook. Watch me cook 3 big hearty pots + different toppings in my 90-minute Big Bean Cook Off last week. I find it to be an amazing way to help me relax and to give me something useful and productive to do that my future self will thank me for. And remember, let’s use this time to take stock and to look after each other, to stay connected, well-nourished and positive in these uncertain times. 

We don’t need to stock-pile tins and toilet paper. Here are my ideas and tips on what to buy, how to store it and how to cook our food to keep us well-nourished and feeling good. 

1. Start at the storecupboard. Before going shopping, have a good rummage through your cupboards. Take everything out, including all the packets and bottles, tins and jars. Collate those random packets of pasta, rice and grains, sort out the baking cupboard, and make an inventory of everything you have. See what needs using up first and bring that to the front of the shelf. Here are more of my tips to cook from our storecupboard.

2. Beans, beans, beans! A variety of dried, tinned or jarred beans and pulses are great to have in the house. I’m using this time to soak those forgotten packs of dried beans in my cupboards. You can turn them into a soup (try this store cupboard kale and bean soup) to freeze into portions. You could also pre-cook soaked beans, then freeze them to use later on. The shops might be empty of your favourite chickpeas, so use this as an opportunity to try new types of beans. I love turning any type of white bean into a herby dip or my freestyle minestrone. Red lentils cook quickly, they’re nutritious and great, when cooked, to blitz into hummus or for bulking out soups and my favourite Parsnip Dahl (below). 

3. Sort that fridge. Get it nice and tidy so it’s easy to see what needs stocking up on. An organised fridge will also help to extend shelf-life: over-crowded fridges can create warm spots and cool areas, making your produce more likely to spoil quickly so leave air to circulate. Remove plastic packaging from vegetables so they don’t sweat and go mouldy. Keep a shelf clear so you can see what food needs using up first. Here are more of my top tips to keep your fridge organised to help you waste less.

4. Give your freezer a workout. Prioritise your freezer space. Clear a drawer for frozen vegetables, like peas and spinach. I’m freezing fresh fruit too (peel and chop bananas, apples and other seasonal fruit) to blitz into smoothies or to cook down into a compote another day. A delicious way to get much-needed nutrition.

5. Batch-cook! Make double or triple portions of your dinners, ready to freeze into portions (label them to avoid freezer roulette). Veg-fuelled stews, soups, broths are a good place to start. Here are some of my favourite freezer-friendly meals. You could also make a big pot of bone broth or veg stock with your veg scraps to freeze for later.

eat green parsnip dahl

6. Seek out reliable roots. Root vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnips and parsnips, keep well and for a long time. They don’t need to go in the fridge. Store them in a cool, dark place. This any-root-veg soup is a nourishing antidote when under the weather.

7. What about fresh fruit? Apples will last much longer in the fridge, while citrus fruits have a good shelf life. Keep bananas separate from other fruit as they speed up the ripening process. Turn any fruit on the turn into pancakes, smoothie or banana bread.

8. Put flavour first. Stock up on your favourite flavour bombs. What are your favourites? Onions and garlic keep very well on your kitchen counter. Chillies and ginger freeze well and can be grated into your cooking from frozen. Belazu’s harissa adds spicy deliciousness to eggs and wraps. Make flavoured butter with herbs, spices, sun-dried tomatoes, capers or olives (anything goes). Tamari or soy sauce, some store cupboard spices, preserved lemons, curry pastes, tahini and nut butters all have long shelf-lives and are great for adding flavour to make leftovers or beans and lentils more exciting.

9. Fresh herbs! These don’t last very long so blitz up your favourite herbs (and salad leaves like rocket and watercress) with olive oil and freeze in ice-cube trays to pop straight into your cooking. Better yet, grow your own herbs on your kitchen counter by a window.

10. Support local. Now is an important time to support your small, local businesses if you can. There are plenty of wonderful local businesses operating online. A few of my sustainable favourites are Riverford, Farmdrop, Coombe Farm Organic, Piper’s Farm and Oddbox who all deliver direct to your door.

Get more waste-saving, batch-cooking flexible advice and tips in my new book, Eat Green.

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