Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of cookbooks and posts about the joys and ease of batch-cooking. It was a task that used to occur on a regular basis in my home on Sundays. But then that thing called ‘life’ happened; and I got away from it. I’ve recently returned to this time-saving event, which to be honest, doesn’t really take all that much time when I carve it out of my schedule, typically a Sunday morning.
Given the fact that we are recently hearing suggestions of having at least two weeks of food on hand, and some even recommending up to three months, I thought that today I’d focus on using pantry ingredients to create a plethora of delicious, hearty, quick, and easy menu items that will minimize your time in the kitchen with variety on your plate.
So, let’s talk about what components will facilitate your being able to whip up amazing meals where batch cooking is the basis where it all begins.
Beans and InstantPot for the Win!
For me, it always starts with a large pot of beans. Any beans will do. If you cook garbanzo beans, keep that valuable liquid gold, aka aquafaba, as it will come in handy for some of the recipes. My personal favorites are black beans, cannellini beans, lentils, fava beans, and lima beans. But there are also a plethora of heirlooms that are as beautiful as they are tasty. And don’t forget some of those mixes; but you’ll want to make sure that the variety you select all have similar cook times. You don’t want to wind up with a pot of mush. Cook them until tender but retain their shapes. Want to punch up the flavor on the beans? Try throwing a couple leaves of dried epazote in during the cooking. It’s an herb indigenous to Mexico. It smells like rotten gasoline, yuck, but do not be deterred. What it does to dry beans in the cooking process is nothing short of magical.
My absolute favorite vessel for this task is the InstantPot, or any other multi-function cooker. Since I’ll be using this appliance for the other main pantry item that we’ll be cooking, rice, I have an extra stainless-steel liner so that I can quickly swap out the liners once the beans are done and get that rice cooking.
A word about the multi-function cooker. They all have a silicone liner. One of my favorite things to also cook in the InstantPot is Brussel sprouts and cabbage. Stinky, right? And that silicone liner just loves to take on that aroma. OK for future cooking of Brussel sprouts and the like, but not so good with other foods that you don’t want to take on that lovely aroma. So, I’ve purchased replacement liners for my brand’s cooker, and they are colored. The original translucent one remains for rice, oatmeal, pretty much grains. Red is for those Brussel sprouts, etc. Trust me, you won’t regret this purchase if you are like me and have come to fully embrace a multi-function cooker. I also purchased the optional lids so that if I am in a pinch and need to cook a batch but not ready to go beyond that task, I can quickly put a lid on it and pop it in the frig for future creating.
And There’s Rice
Back to the batch cooking. Next, cook up a large batch of rice. I typically steer clear of white, refined rice, opting instead for brown rice, which now are readily available even in jasmine, basmati, and other exotic rice. Rinse well a couple of times with cool water until the water runs clear. This will help the rice to keep its shape integrity after the cooking process by removing its surface starch. This week, I changed it up a bit. I mixed half brown rice and half barley. Really, any grain will do. Have you ever tried farro, or kamut, or quinoa? I recently came upon an ancient grain that was completely foreign to me, Turanicum. It’s from Italy, and looks like a fat brown long-grain rice, but is actually a whole grain. Hearty, nutty, earthy, positively delicious!
To mix it up, throughout the week while you’re eating your dinner, you can always throw on another pot of beans or grains to add some additional variety.
I consider my freezer part of my ‘pantry’, always having on hand a myriad of frozen organic vegetables. They work really well with batch cooking ideas; and since they are typically flash frozen upon harvest, they actually maintain far more nutritive value than some of the ‘fresh’ produce we purchase in the grocery store.
Keep That Pantry Stocked!
A well-stock dried herb and spice shelf will enable you to create vastly different flavor profiles using the exact same bulk ingredients. Be adventurous here. You can buy already-blended varieties or create your own. (If you buy your spices/herbs in the bulk aisle, you can keep just enough in the pantry for your immediate use while freezing the remainder. It will keep quite nicely if securely sealed for a good year in the freezer.) Here’s where you get to experiment with different spices to get to know your preferences. For me, my ‘go-to’ cuisines that I mostly gravitate towards are Italian, Indian, and Thai. For each of those cuisines, I have Indian Masala tins, which are actually tins within tins. When my hankering is leaning towards Italian, I pull that tin out, which has oregano, garlic powder, bay leaves, basil, parsley, and thyme in it. My Indian masala tin has chaat masala, garam masala, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground chili powder, turmeric. If you have a favorite blend of dried herbs and spices, create your own tin. It’s a great time saver as well as space saver in your pantry.
Another pantry section would be your condiments that you can use to create sauces or use to saute. For example, the other day I mixed Namu Shoyu with some lemon juice and garlic powder. I used that to stir-fry broccoli slaw. I keep a spritzer bottle of water alongside the stove so that when ingredients begin to stick when sautéing or searing, I give a little spritz into the pan, and voila, sticking no more. You can also do this with a spritz bottle of a vegetable broth, but I would keep that refrigerated and be mindful of its shelf-life.
A variety of nuts and seeds, if you include them in your diet, are great to make ‘cream’ sauces. If you didn’t have time to soak them, you can put them in a pot filled with water, bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain, and rinse to make your cashew crema or alfredo sauce (add some nutritional yeast).
Now, who doesn’t love a Buddha bowl, filled with rice, beans, veggies, and a sauce? And of course, there’s always chili and stir-frys. But I’m sure you’ve already done those so no need for redundancy. Alas, let’s get a bit more creative.
I could go on and on. In fact, I did! Keep an eye out for part two of this helpful guide for batch cooking!