Food is the highlight of my day. Three, four, seven times a day; nothing makes me happier than nibbling or snarling down whatever I’ve decided to make. Not only that but I take as much, if not more, pleasure in making it as I do eating it. Recently I’ve taken to spending more time in grocery shops than I do in Boots because, due to budgetary limitations, buying a fancy new spice to try out often works out cheaper than a new mascara.
Contrary to popular belief, it does not cost more to make student lunches and dinners that consist of more than a multipack of noodles. Yes, it does require a bit more manual labour and some sensible shopping but the end result far outweighs the time factor. Even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly kitchen-savvy student, the fastest and most cost-effective way to livening up your food is to season it. Season the crap out of it.
Sounds silly and repetitive, but having even basic spices in your cupboard can make all foodstuffs a hundred times better. And I’m not just talking about adding salt and oregano to your fancy pasta dish that you make when you have friends visiting, I mean chucking in whatever spices you can lay your hands on into everything; packet noodles, a plain bowl of couscous, a limp looking sandwich with only cheese and a weird sauce that you found at the back of the cupboard. Nothing is exempt from having at least three seasonings on it. And to prove that, I am going to share some of my favourite and easiest ways to make essentially just dry carbohydrates tasty.
- Mexican cheese toastie – the staple cheese toastie is key to all poor and hungry bellies but can get repetitive if you’re eating it as your post-night out snack six out of seven days in the week. By chucking on paprika, Cajun seasoning, chilli sauce, black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, you’ll have a fiery, considerably more satisfying hangover cure on your hands.
- (Literally) Supernoodles – even though I love cooking more than most, I will never say no to a packet of dried pre-flavoured noodles (my personal recommendation is the ones from Lidl for 18p per packet). Having said that, with a few extra ingredients, they can be an actual meal as opposed to a sad revision snack when you can’t afford Doritos. For curry flavoured noodles, I usually stick with those kind of Indian flavours so I would add some combination of cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt and then a generous spoonful of mango chutney. And, if times are really hard…
- Cobbled together couscous – the amount of times I’ve ended up eating plain couscous just because it’s the fastest thing to cook is verging on obscene. But, seeing as it is so easy to make and you can put nearly any vegetable/sauce with it, it does lend itself extremely well to stupendously quick lunches. To be honest, you could use either of the flavour combinations listed above and it would still turn out well, but Thai is also one of my favourite types of cooking, and although couscous is not strictly Thai, it does complement the fragrant flavours.
The easiest way to bring flavour to couscous is to crumble a stock cube into the boiling water before adding it. I usually use vegetable cubes but you can get a whole array of different flavours now; for a strong Thai flavour, you could use a ginger or fish stock cube. If that’s not available then just grate some fresh ginger straight into the bowl along with some garlic powder. Then just add anything that might seem vaguely complementary eg. Soy sauce, powdered lemongrass (it’s extremely cheap and useful), coconut milk (also cheap and useful), cumin, turmeric, and, of course, a splash of lime.
It can be daunting to go out and buy spices, especially when you’re not accustomed to cooking on a regular basis, but there is a vast array of spices from every corner of the world that come very cheap in some fantastic ethnic food shops, of which we have no shortage of in Glasgow. Big chain supermarkets can often charge considerably more for the most basic of flavours, simply because they have a recognisable brand name, but you are far more likely to get a bigger, cheaper and more exciting range of choices in small, independent food stores.
Whilst I am aware that not everyone has the borderline absurd amount of spices that I own and that it can be expensive to build up a collection, once you buy it you have it for years. Unless you’re buying saffron and putting it in your cereal every morning, they will last you for hundreds upon hundreds of meals that will be all the better for them. They might be the best investment you ever make.