The mid-week dinner has to be one of the most divisive meals. You want it to be delicious, wholesome and easy, but it also has to be quick to make. Nobody enjoys stopping at a grocery store after a long day of work, which is why the batch-cooking, meal-prepping concept has been so popular. But you’re forgiven if, by the time Wednesday rolls around, you’re tired of that large chilli con carne you made on Sunday and end up ordering in. That’s why this week we’ve rounded up some tips on how to be a better, smarter shopper, so you can be a better, smarter cook (who saves money in the process!).
Here’s how to shop once and cook all week!
Make ingredients do double duty
While it can be intimidating to improvise with recipes you already know and trust – especially during the week – it’s helpful to think on your toes. Not every recipe needs to be followed to the letter, so if something calls for sour cream and you don’t have it, substitute it for the plain yoghurt you have on hand already for the next day’s breakfast. Use pastas in your soups, as opposed to specially sought out egg noodles. Or sub in any nuts you have to replace a call for walnuts or pine nuts.
The first step to successful shopping is to make sure you’re picking up ingredients you can use for a multitude of different dishes. For example, buy fresh veggies like carrots and broccoli, which are good in curries and stir-fries but also great for standalone soups. The same can also be said of proteins. Chicken breasts might get a bad rap, but they’re easy to flavour and quick to cook. A packet in your freezer can turn into everything from schnitzels to stir-fries and curry. Similarly, canned tomatoes are endlessly versatile and consistently tasty. They can be used for pasta sauces and soups, as well as bases for curries and stews, so having a few cans on hand means you have a wide variety of dishes you can cook up at a moment’s notice. Speaking of canned goods…
Cans are your friends
Ottolenghi taught us that cooking beans and pulses from scratch is the way forward – and we wholeheartedly agree with him – but during the week, it’s just not going to happen. Canned beans and chickpeas can be the secret weapon in your arsenal. They’re endlessly riffable, so you can throw them into a pasta or soup to add more body, or you can flavour them up with some fresh herbs and spices, and serve them as a fancy beans on toast (poached egg optional, but encouraged). You could even blitz them up to make your own hummus or dip for a mid-week mezze spread.
Think of what you like to eat and cook while shopping
While it’s very romantic to imagine yourself cooking from one of your favourite cookbooks every night, the reality is that when you’ve worked a full day, running from store to store to find a particular ingredient might make you lose your mind. That said, just because weeknight cooking tends to be simple and perfunctory doesn’t mean it needs to be boring and repetitive.
If you know you always default to pasta then don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but do try to opt for a new yet simple take on it. Instead of picking up a store-bought pasta sauce, make a simple cacio e pepe or tomato sauce (from those tins you picked up!). Even a pasta with just good olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes can make for a quick and satisfying family dinner, which are all versatile ingredients you likely already have on hand. If you know you often crave curry during the week, make sure your shopping trip includes the pantry essentials you’ll need. Or if you’re a fan of baked beans on toast, have the ingredients on hand so you don’t end up ordering in instead.
Fresh herbs forever
Remember that to succeed at anything in life, you don’t necessarily need to work hard, you just need to work smart, and that can be applied to your shopping too. Fresh herbs are flavour bombs and can take any dish from good to great, so make sure you’re adding flexible herbs to your shopping trip. Parsley, coriander and basil suit many different cuisines, such as Italian, Mexican, Thai or Indian. Plus, if you’re ever in a pinch, blend them all up with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic to make a zingy green sauce for fish, chicken or even pasta.