Now I'm not claiming to be a whizz in the kitchen, but I've endured some difficult times in Spain that have forced me to acquire some culinary discipline. I lost a cushy job selling houses for a Spanish estate agent chain thanks to the 2008 crash, and, being unable to qualify for benefits here, money got very tight. For a few months I was almost living on air. During that time I learned some important lessons which are becoming useful and relevant again, now I'm virtual house-arrest in the uber-tight Corona-virus lock-down here in Spain!
So in the unlikely event I might be able to help someone struggling to cope in these difficult times I thought I'd share a few tips I've picked up over the years. I shared some of these on the '48% Preppers' group on Facebook, a group that has been preparing for a no-deal Brexit for a number of years, and they were warmly received.
Firstly you can probably make vegetables last a lot longer than you may have thought possible. Take onions for example. I used to hold an onion by the stalk end and cut the bottom off, then take slices perpendicular to the stem because they're easy to use in sandwiches or chop for frying, then I'd throw the onion in the bottom of the fridge in the hope in might use the rest of it later. The problem is that when you chop the bottom off of an onion you're depriving it of the root, so the onion thinks it's dead (it is - you killed it when you chopped the root off!) A few days later when you go back in the fridge to retrieve the onion, the layers will have started to separate and the onion will start to go off and look very unappetising. The trick then is to take you onion and take slices from the side, parallel to the stem. Then keep the onion in sealed in a Tupperware box, so it hinders drying out. This will help the onion to keep believing its still alive while stopping any onion smell pervading your fridge. You can take four quarters away from the onion like this leaving the exposed centre it will still survive for a week or more, just because you took the trouble to keep the root in tact.
If I buy a whole lettuce I never cut into it with a knife unless I plan to use the whole thing in one go. Cutting creates a wound from which moisture escape leading to oxidation triggering the death of the plant. Again with lettuce, like the onion, keep the root on and peel off leaves as you need them. If after a while the lettuce starts to wilt, this can often be remedied by placing the lettuce in a bowl of water overnight to give it a drink. If the root has calloused over, slice off a small section of a millimetre or so to expose the capillaries to the water. The lettuce will drink up water and be good for another week or so.
Moisture can be the enemy with a lot of veg. I often get a prepared salad rather than individual items because, living alone, I'd rather have the variety than buy lots of individual items that might end up getting not used. The problem with prepared salads is because they're chopped already, they tend to go off more quickly than individual items. One can delay the ageing of prepared salads by sealing them up, either in their original bag or in Tupperware, with a dry sheet of kitchen towel. The towel will soak up the moisture creeping out of the leaves, so preventing them going damp and mouldy so quickly.
Another thing I found is to know what is essential to have in your store cupboard. A lot of this is down to personal taste, but I like curry so I always have spices, chick peas, gram flour, wholemeal flour, tinned tomatoes and a couple of tins of coconut milk. It's amazing what you can pull off with just these simple ingredients. You can make a chick pea salad essentially with onions, oil, chick peas and a few spices. There are loads of recipes for chickpea salad online with cucumber, tomatoes, peppers etc but don't be precious about it, throw in what you have, it'll be fine! A great accompaniment for this is the world's easiest bread. You can make a chapati with wholemeal flour, salt and a little water. Mix into a fairly dry dough, roll it flat and cook on a fairly high heat a few minutes on each side. Cheap and quick!
Another good thing to have in the store cupboard is textured soy protein which keeps forever and can be used to run up chill-con-carne, spag-bol. burgers etc. I'm not a vegan so when I'm reconstituting it with hot water I stir in a little Bovril to get a good meaty taste going on. Bovril is another store-cupboard favourite of mine that keeps for ever and finds multiple uses like this whenever a spot of umami is required.
Sorry if you are a vegetarian but now I come to one of my favourite money-savers, a whole chicken. I'm in Spain and I can get a decent sized bird for about five euros and that will feed me for the best part of a fortnight. I'll roast the bird whole. For the first week I'll have maybe a chicken salad, chicken and chips or have roast chicken, spuds, veg and gravy for dinner in the evening and a chicken sandwich or chicken omelette for breakfast. Then, as I'm down to the carcass I'll generally boil it up to get as much meat off it as possible. Then I can use that for soup, or any number of other dishes. I've found the one that goes furthest is chicken biryani. The way I do that is I'll whizz up some garlic, lemon and fresh ginger to make a tikka masala paste, throw in my preferred spices, coriander, cumin, asafoetida, salt, pepper, chilli powder etc and add that to a pot of yogurt to make a marinade. I'll let the chicken soak in that over night, then the next day I'll make a batch of pilau rice. When the rice is pretty near done, I'll put the marinaded chicken in a baking dish, pour the rice over the top, cover with foil then bake in the oven on 180c for half an hour. When I take it out I stir it all together and there it is - the perfect 'cheats' biryani.
I find biryani a complete meal in itself though sometimes I'll put a little chopped mint and onion in a pot of yogurt as a make-do raita to go with it, but either way I'll usually get about five or six portions out of the one chicken's leftovers so as I say, the one bird almost stretches to a fortnight, which is what you need when the local police and the army are trying to discourage people from making unnecessary trips to the shops. Now if only I'd had the foresight to buy some demijohn's to make my own wine. "Alexa?..."