How to jazz up your go-to weekday meals
I was talking to a dear friend last week (and of course, cooking came into the conversation), and she said: "I've got some really nice cookbooks but most of the time I don't cook much, just simple stuff." Turns out the 'simple stuff' usually involves a piece of fish with vegetables. This really got me thinking: why is it, that a perfectly proper home-cooked meal of, say, said fish with vegetables, is waved off as 'not much cooking'?
I can think of two reasons (if I'm missing something, please tell me!):
We think that 'proper' cooking has to be a 'special production' with fancy recipes and all the trimmings.
We find our simple meals simply boring: if a meal is not flavourful or varied enough it won't feel satisfying, hence not considered 'proper'.
I have written about the first stumbling block before - more of a question of mindset and confidence rather than cooking. If you find yourself stumbling at the second hurdle, let me assure you: Simple meals don't have to be boring! It's flavour and variety that makes food interesting, and you can boost both, easily, even with 'simple' meals.
Here are some ideas to liven up things a bit: For the sake of argument I'll stick to my friend's 'fish with vegetables' example, but you could easily substitute with either quick cooking meat (e.g. chicken pieces), or tofu or beans/lentils/chickpeas for a vegetarian or vegan meal.
Jazz up the flavour
To pan-frying/bake/grill your fish consider these ideas:
Marinate before cooking (try olive oil/lemon/herbs or olive oil/soy sauce/ginger)
Put a spice crust on top (mix olive oil with spices and bread crumbs/polenta)
Smear on a (ready made) spice paste before cooking (e.g. harissa, thai curry paste, pesto, olive paste...)
Add a tasty sauce or dressing to serve with (see below)
For a more poached/steamed style dish, perhaps try these ideas:
Bake in a foil or paper bag with some liquid (e.g. wine) plus herbs/veggies - all the flavour stays in the bag!
Cook veggies in a flavourful broth, and sit your fish on top to poach in the flavour
Make a fish stew: cook veggies in a flavour packed sauce, and add the fish pieces at the end
And my top tips for flavourful veggies:
If you are usually boiling/steaming your veggies - don't! (flavour and nutrients leak into the water). Try a stir-fry, sauté or bake instead.
Always be generous with spices, herbs, olive oil or butter - it makes a massive difference to the flavour!
Switch things up for variety
Stick to the same basic dish (whatever your go-to dish is) but alternate the methods and flavours as above for variety.
Try different toppings (e.g. herbs, crushed/toasted nuts or pine kernels, coconut shreds, marinated onions, crumbled feta cheese...)
Try different sauces/dressings (e.g. lemon/olive oil/oregano, tahini/miso/lemon, honey/lemon/ginger/soy sauce, spiced/herby butter...)
Start where you are
Take one of your 'standard' go-to meals and start switching it up. Just change one small thing at a time (or as many as you feel confident with). Use the ideas above, or make up your own!
change the method
change the flavourings
change the toppings
change the dressing/sauce
How are you going to switch things up this week? Let me know, I'm curious what you come up with!