The traditional preconception is that a student can’t and does not cook. The repertoire of ‘the student’ is baked beans and frozen hash browns, perhaps Mi Goreng if you’re feeling fancy. However, at university, I saw this stereotype exceeded by many and certainly for me, the discovery of a frying pan was the start of an enlightening uni experience.
The kitchen really is the social hub of most student houses. When you are looking for a house to move into, I would prioritise those that include a dining table. When your sofa is the only place to eat, social unity is somewhat diminished as all the attention is usually diverted to what’s on the TV. Meanwhile, the dining table actually forces each other to – dare I say it – interact.
The first thing I would like to advocate about the importance of cooking at uni, is its therapeutic effect. I, more than anyone else, know the stress that your one lecture and seminar can elicit each day. However, rather than coming home and migrating straight to the comfort of your bed, you might want to consider digging out a recipe and dedicating your evening to creating a meal from scratch. You must agree with me that there is no better incentive to get out of your room than food. I found that cooking each evening was a great way to clear my mind and reflect on the day – almost like a form of meditation. Whether you are cooking alone, or with other people around you, you have little else to concentrate on other than what is there in front of you.
There is only one way to cook properly and that is slowly and surely, so as to eliminate any possibility of anxiety that cooking may induce. The longer amount of time you leave, the more you will enjoy it. The prospect of cooking from scratch may seem daunting, but you have no idea how accomplished you will feel at the end. Even if you have only written 100 of the 1500 word assignment you were set this is sure to leave you feeling accomplished and somewhat purposeful at the end of the day. And it really is easier than it looks. There are so many student-friendly recipes/cookbooks out there that are designed around budget, convenience, versatility and nutrition such as Mob Kitchen, Jamie Oliver, The Roasting Tin, Miguel Barclay’s One Pound Meals and A Girl Called Jack, to name a few. Put away your phone and your doubts, crack on some tunes, maybe light a candle or two, and focus on sautéing those onions. I promise you, you will go to sleep feeling 10 x calmer and more at ease than before.
What’s more, there is no better way than to impress your housemates than by cooking for them. You can only redeem yourself from not having done the dishes all week by treating them all to a dinner on you. Most people’s excuse is that they can’t afford to feed themselves, let alone others, but you really don’t have to spend a fortune to do so. In fact, it is cheaper to cook for 4 rather than 1 person. I would recommend cooking vegetarian. Its cheaper, easier, more environmentally friendly and exciting (in the sense that is pushes one out of their comfort zone of the familiarity of standard British cuisine). And, everyone will be impressed when they are pleasantly surprised by how food can actually taste so good using just vegetables. Examples of the best vegetarian/vegan sources are Bosh, Anna Jones, Brett Cobley, Rachel Ama, The Happy Pear or on Instagram: @telltalefood @greenkitchenstories @thehappyskinkitchen, @bos.kitchen, @rebelrecipes, @minimalistbaker. Just leave yourself enough time to prep so that you can are able to socialise properly later with everyone. You may need to invest in a couple more knives and forks, but it is worth it – you have no idea how much humans can bond over food, and the feels that it can arouse. Voila, your evening of fun, food and friends awaits.
I’d say the main problem surrounding students and cooking is food waste. We all tend to get overexcited about the prospect of cooking, and when we’re feeling it, go out and buy an abundance of exotic ingredients, that, realistically, will be used once and then shoved to the back of the fridge or spice cupboard. However, there are means to avoid this. Start by buying only one or two varieties of vegetables and try and base all your recipes for the week around these two ingredients. This can be a bit of a fun challenge – you will be surprised as to how many recipes or methods you will be able to come up with. Secondly, buy as many frozen ingredients as possible; these are more economically viable and last forever. Lastly, yes, you could keep an updated list of all your ingredients that you have bought paired with their use-by dates, but – let’s be real – there are much better ways to spend your time. Instead, keep all your freshest ingredients at the front of the fridge where they are more visible, rather than instinctively denigrating them to the bottom of the veg drawer along with the last wrinkled aubergine that you bought 2 weeks ago. The veg drawer is the pit of all evils; it really shouldn’t exist. It might also be worth designating different drawers in the fridge to each person so that it’s obvious what you’re working with.
As long as you have the following bare essentials, you can make a whole host of interesting and flavoursome meals:
- olive oil (worth splashing out an extra £1 for the extra virgin, you will thank me later)
- rice or pasta
- lentils (surprisingly versatile)
- salt n pepper (not together, do not fall for that)
- onions (any kind)
- dried mixed herbs
- all-purpose seasoning or garam masala (the one spice that I could use for or in anything and you will never get bored of)
- chopped tomatoes
- spinach (can be used in a multitude of ways and is your token addition of nutrients/greens)
- broccoli or courgettes (cheap and delicious, and again can be made in so many ways)
- mixed peppers (adds colour and joy)
- potatoes/sweet potatoes (humble, nutritious and filling)
- beans/chickpeas (great source of protein, cheap and keeps for ages)
- frozen peas (standard)
- eggs (again, good for experimentation and very filling on a budget)
- carrots/parsnips/squash (cheap, locally sourced, and great source of a filling vegetable … carrots also good for snacking).
With all that being said, delete that Deliveroo app, wipe the dust off those Ikea saucepans and find out what you are capable of – both creatively and socially – through food.
Graduate, University of Newcastle