Sabrina Ghayour on making the most of your larder during lockdown
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:38 09 September 2020
Trying times call for the comfort of food – and your larder is your best friend
Having been self-isolating since the beginning of March for various reasons, never have I spent so much time cooking and prepping and pickling and preserving. A staggering statement considering what I do for a living but at times like these, you’ve just got to stop and realise that there really isn’t anything you can do other than accept the situation and keep as busy as you can.
I must admit, when I realised I was leaving the big smoke to move to a small village in Yorkshire without a shop, my inner city-slicker panicked and I filled the cupboards with ingredients of every description so I’d never really want for much. I spend my work life in a constant state of recipe testing so having a plentiful supply of spices and grains – and a chest freezer full of stock is part of my normal life. But now, things differ.
Every grain and every gram matters. Waste is not an option and suddenly things that were purchased for one sole use (like chutneys, for example) have now become hero ingredients in so much of my cooking.
I am measuring out sensible portions of every staple ingredient I use. Dried pulses to 50g per person, tinned pulses to 200g per person. Meat is 100–150g per person, vegetables also portioned out sensibly.
I have become part cook, part mathematician and economist. I guess that is what needs to be done right now in order to make what you have at home last a lot longer.
Everything I cook is being transformed into several dishes. If I am using a lamb shoulder, the leftovers will be made into a few different things, usually a cottage pie mix, a chilli con carne and also lamb shawarma kebabs. Never before has being creative been so important.
Ketchups, sauces, chutneys, jams, marmalades and vinegars are being used like never before… a dollop here, a tablespoon there to help bolster flavours in soups, stews, marinades, curries, pie fillings and sauces.
My slight snobbery of dried herbs has vanished into thin air and dried parsley, dill, chives, tarragon as well as the more acceptable thyme and oregano are giving my cooking a fleck of green vibrance and some added flavour. Everything I have and that I’m using makes me feel so incredibly grateful and the satisfaction that I draw from an otherwise very ordinary activity of cooking, has become immeasurable.
I’m especially enjoying pickling and preserving things.
I have some damsons and Victoria plums in my freezer left over from last year’s harvest that I plan to turn into damson and chilli ketchup (because I’m mad about chilli sauces and know I will consume the lot). I’m planning to make fruit compote (which I can serve with yogurt but also stir into cakes and puddings) but also experimenting with making fruit leather in a low oven so I can keep the fruit as a snack for much longer.
I have a small but plentiful patch of wild garlic in the centre of my garden and I have made the usual wild garlic butter, pesto and oil to ensure we have plenty of garlicky goodness for the year.
The butter freezes beautifully so will last a long time and we’ve been picking nettles to make dips and soups - you can also make pesto, too. But one of the biggest joys has been the arrival of the first Yorkshire asparagus (from my local farm, Spilmans). When it first arrived at my door, I genuinely felt the same excitement you get at Christmas. It has been one of the most special and appreciated deliveries to date and a reminder that time rolls on, some things will change and we will get through this strange time, together.
I have learned and continue to learn so much about my cooking throughout this period. A level of appreciation that I have never experienced in my lifetime has come over me and I very much doubt I will ever be the same, all in a very good way, of course.
I don’t think I will ever waste anything again and I will no longer be snobby about tinned fruit and vegetables and dried herbs, because rewind back to the 1980s and they are all perfectly wonderful and acceptable ingredients to use.
Whilst I’m not suggesting I omit beautiful fresh British produce, my attitudes and previous beliefs of the limitations of many ingredients has completely changed and I’ve perhaps had my own little journey back to a time, a wonderful time, in my life when we didn’t have all the variety, convenience and instant-meal choices we do now.
A time when you had to do a little more thinking and planning to feed a family for the week and to stretch out ingredients as best as possible. And you know what? We always did the best we could and it did us no harm.
Signing off, a little nostalgic perhaps, but entirely happy to admit I’ve rediscovered the joy of cooking in its most pure and simple form and if I can take anything positive away from times like these, it would be that it has opened my eyes and changed the way I cook completely and, I suspect, for the rest of my life… and for that, I will remain grateful.
Pea, dill & garlic rice
Recipe serves 6-8, adjust accordingly
This is my twist on the Persian classic baghala polow, a lovely aromatic dill and broad bean rice dish. This version uses simple cost-effective and readily available frozen peas – and I am very pleased with the results. The best news? No fiddly peeling of pods is necessary. You can use chive/parsley too or any other soft fresh herb.
375g basmati rice
1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
Generous pinch of saffron threads
100g dill, finely chopped
100g butter, cubed
400g frozen peas
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook the rice according to the packet instructions. Once cooked, drain and rinse under cold running water. Drain again and set aside.
Heat a drizzle of vegetable oil in a large pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry for 1–2 minutes, or until soft and translucent and it begins to turn golden around the edges.
Crumble in the saffron, breaking it down as much as possible, stir well then add the dill and fry for a few minutes. Season heavily with salt and pepper and mix well.
Stir the butter in the pan, allow it to melt then add the cooked rice. Stir fry for 2–3 minutes then add the peas and cook for a few more minutes. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for a final 10–15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Recipe from Bazaar