Back in December, when I rescued dinner disaster from jaws of defeat with a Tortilla Pizza, I mentioned that I was adding that particular recipe to my Emergency Back-up Dinners list. After finding myself making emergency back-up tortilla pizza for my dinner this evening, I thought it was probably high time that I actually wrote about emergency back-up dinners.
I am, and indeed have, if not always been, certainly been my entire adult life, a chronic procrastinator. I can procrastinate anything, some people merely procrastinate on things they don’t want to do or things that are hard, I procrastinate on things I want to do and enjoy. As a student I tried to use food to motivate myself, which was a truly terrible idea, as I’d end up procrastinating eating until I started to feel nauseas. Hence why I ended up turning food prep into a self-care routine. I make detailed plans on what I want to cook, because otherwise I’m capable of standing staring at a cupboard full of food for the best part of an hour, frozen by inertia, unable to figure out what I want to eat and getting ever hungrier. While as an adult, my relationship with food is much healthier, if I’m having a bad day, I’m entirely capable of procrastinating on making dinner until its two late to make whatever I actually wanted to make.
So for those days, I have Emergency Back-up Dinners. Simple, straightforward dinners, that require minimal prep, short cooking times and only a few ingredients. They almost always involve some variety of cupboard staples that I almost always have in the cupboard and can use as a base. Also, because, often once I get started on cooking I’ll feel inspired to do something more adventurous, they’re also recipes that can be easily made more complex if you find yourself with extra energy or ingredients.
Melting Sunshine Rice
This was the very first of my vegetarian appropriate emergency back-up dinners. I’ve made so often over the years that it never even made it into my hand-made recipe-book, instead its ingrained in my brain. It came from a ‘Low-fat cooking’ recipe book I found at the back of a drawer in my mother’s kitchen over a decade ago. I think, technically, it was probably meant to be an accompaniment rather than the main dish, but its pure sunshiny comfort in a bowl all by itself. The main theme of the recipe is yellow. Cook the rice with a generous teaspoon of turmeric. Throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen sweet corn. Chop up half a yellow pepper into small pieces – I don’t think that’s actually in the original recipe but it does taste good – and depending how crunchy you prefer your peppers either add while the rice still has few minutes of cooking left or once you’ve drained your rice. Once you’ve drained the rice, return to the pot and tear up some mozzarella cheese (or any other suitably melt-y cheese you have in the fridge) and stir through the rice so it gets nice and melted. Spoon into bowls and enjoy. (You can put leftovers in a box in the fridge for an edible hug for lunch on a cold day, or eat straight from the pot if it’s been that sort of day.)
Sesame Hot Noodles
This has been in my repertoire almost as long as the Melting Sunshine Rice, and is a recipe firmly in the ‘that shouldn’t taste as good as it does’ genre. Cook a nest (or two) of egg noodles according to the packet instructions. Mix together a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oils, with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a crushed or finely chopped garlic clove. Once smooth, add finely chopped chilli to taste, three tablespoons of sesame seeds, four tablespoons each of soy sauce and lime juice and mix well. Drain your noodles, dump the gloopy disaster into the pan and stir through noodles until heated through. Serve and wonder aloud why on earth this tastes so good. If you’re feeling fancy, you can always stir-fry some spring onions, mushrooms and the protein of your choice and them to the pot, but its pretty satisfying just the way it comes.
Apparently some people have couscous in their cupboard that isn’t quick cook? I’m not one of those people. Couscous has always been an emergency food for me, whenever I go on holiday or other long journeys I take an emergency packet of lemon and coriander couscous with me in case of food disasters. In more civilised circumstances, I just dump a few ounces of couscous into a pint of vegetable stock, leave until its drunk all the stock, wilt some spinach in a pan with some feta cheese and stir through that and a couple of generous teaspoons of harissa paste. The best part of this dish – aside from being, as far as I’m concerned, the tastiest way to eat couscous – is that when you take your leftovers to work for lunch the following day, your colleagues will act like you’ve made the fanciest of lunches. Especially if you used the giant couscous they sell now. Unless your colleagues are actually from either side of the Mediterranean, then they’ll be on to you…
Emergency Back-up Ramen
Packet noodles – with those little sachets of flavouring – were a staple of my student days that I look back on with mix love and loathing. However, more recently I’ve discovered some in the world food section of the supermarket, that actually lives up to the name. They do in fact attempt to make a semi-decent basic noodle soup. So for ages I kept them in the cupboard as an emergency dinner, when I looked in the fridge and thought, that’s an odd assortment of veggies, and I’ve got some cooked meat and I really can’t be bothered making a stir-fry… These days I can only use the sesame flavoured ones, which handily makes a nice noodle soup all by itself, and I now have to throw in a handful of frozen quorn pieces in a the small frying pan, with a couple of spring onions, and a mushroom or two, and maybe half a pepper you’d forgotten was in the fridge. And suddenly you’ve got enough food for two, and can divide the noodles and accompaniments in two, have noodle, quorn and veg soup for dinner and noodles, with quorn, veg and whatever stir fry sauce has been lurking unloved in the fridge. (In a true emergency mix a tablespoon each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, corn flour and Chinese five spice together in a pot heat through until it thickens and pour over your leftovers. Despite almost never buying it, I almost always have sticky plum sauce in the fridge. It keeps well.)
Not Remotely Mexican Quesadillas
I love quesadillas. I do not, in any way shape or form, make remotely authentic quesadillas. Generally I make them with leftover veggie chilli and lots of cheese. However I have also been known to fill them with anything that fits the bill of thick, unctuous and spicy. Almost always, when I’ve made a stir fry or a curry in bulk, will end up with a three decent sized portions and one, awkwardly small sized portion. A portion that, if it were chilli, would be the perfect size for quesadillas. And honestly if you’re using up leftover korma or goan curry, and you happen to have some paneer in the fridge, its amazing in fake quesadillas.