With the convenience of on-campus fast food, and more cheap eats just a few blocks from most dorms and student housing, home cooking is usually not on students’ collective radar. And while on-campus dining always offers healthy options, it’s hard for most people to choose salad when pizza beckons five feet away down the buffet line.
I talked to several of my friends who don’t get in the kitchen much. Common reasons for their avoidance of cooking included: their busy schedules and the feeling that cooking takes a lot of time; their own boredom with the limited amount of dishes they were comfortable preparing; and the fact that they liked getting the food they knew would be prepared well at a restaurant every time.
The notion that it takes time to cook is true--in part. While chopping, sautéing, and washing pots all takes more time than order take-out, savvy home cooking can actually save you time. By making bulk quantities of food and freezing leftovers in single-serving sizes, your next meal (or three) is just a quick microwave or bake away.
The lack of inspiration to cook is understandable, too--the same old beans and rice gets old fast. I like to switch up my routine by attempting to recreate my favorite restaurant dishes, and doing it healthier and cheaper. My RSS feed is full of inspiring food sites, like My New Roots, Food52, and The Post-Punk Kitchen. A few more helpful suggestions can be found at the Reluctant Gourmet’s fundamental cooking technique guide, Allrecipes.com’s Campus Cooking 101 (this is another great recipe site--you can search by ingredients you already have), and The Kitchn’s guide to herbs and spices. Walking around the farmers’ market, surrounded by glossy zucchini and luscious tomatoes, is another easy way to visualize your next meal.
Then there’s the idea that you can’t make it as well as Moe’s. Though it’s true that fast food places have their dishes down to the letter, they’re almost always made with a bulk of processed ingredients (recall the recently infamous claim that Taco Bell’s beef has more filler than actual meat), are heavy on the salt and fat, and rarely feature local produce. When you cook, you see exactly what you put into the pot--and that’s not likely to be sodium benzoate. In fact, you’ve got the option of taking it the other way, by buying organic produce that’s never seen a neurotoxin.
My friends admitted that they knew cooking was a lot cheaper than eating out as often as they did, but they cited the above reasons as overriding the costs--even though eating out almost always ends up costing more than buying your own ingredients in bulk. At farmers’ markets, which cut out the middleman grocery store, an abundant seasonal vegetable can be had for pennies a pound. Moreover, you’re directly supporting your local farmer with your dollar, instead of the box store’s shipping costs that get a beefsteak tomato across the country.
Restaurants provide a great atmosphere and experience, and their occasional convenience can’t be argued with. There are more and more healthy, local restaurants that emphasize sustainability cropping up every day. But your own kitchen can provide plenty of flavorful, healthy, sustainable options when you’re a student on a budget.
The following is one of my favorite make-and-store recipes. This hearty vegetarian chili stores well in the fridge and even longer frozen in individual portions, and tastes even best when made with fresh local, organic produce. Tempeh is a delicious soy-based alternative to tofu that’s worth seeking out.
Hearty Tempeh Chili (adapted from allrecipes.com)
· 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral-flavor oil
· 1 medium onion, rough dice
· 2 teaspoons ground cumin
· 2 tsp dried oregano
· 1 tablespoon salt (NB: may need less salt if using canned beans)
· 2-3 hot peppers (like serrano or jalapeño), chopped
· 3 cloves garlic, chopped
· 1 lb tempeh, crumbled in large chunks
· 8 tomatoes, diced (save the juice!)
· 1 16-oz can plain tomato sauce
· 1 Tbsp hickory liquid smoke
· 2 Tbsp chili powder
· 1 tsp ground black pepper
· 1 ½ cups (or one 15 ounce can) cooked kidney beans, drained
· 1 ½ cups (or one 15 ounce can) cooked garbanzo beans, drained
· 1 ½ cups (or one 15 ounce can) cooked black beans
· 1 cup (approximately two ears) fresh raw corn, kernelled
1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Sautee the onion until tender, about 3 minutes; then add cumin, oregano, and salt, heating until fragrant, about one minute. Mix in the hot peppers and garlic. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the tempeh. Cook until tempeh is lightly golden, about 5 minutes.
2. Mix the tomatoes and tomato sauce into the pot. Season chili with liquid smoke, chili powder and pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, and corn. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes.
3. Taste for salt. Serve with rice or cornbread, and enjoy!
Makes 6 servings.
Emily Moline is a senior at the University of Florida, where she is a Spanish and linguistics major. She is an intern for Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and UF Food Day Campus Coordinator.