The makings of a meal

Somebody once said to me, ‘If you have an egg, you have a meal.’ I think that’s a load of crap, but that’s because I really don’t like eggs. In stuff, fine. Scrambled (American style) every now and again, slathered in ketchup, sure. But an egg in general, no. Just… no. (The sight of a runny yolk on somebody’s plate will put me off. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach turn.)

Though I don’t agree with the item in question, I do have a few other things that are in the ‘if I have it, I have a meal’ category.

This stock photo is kinda what the cupboard always looked like as I grew up...

Growing up, we always had jars of stewed tomatoes in the cupboard. Each summer, my mom would grow loads of tomatoes in the garden, and the season was inevitably marked by a sweltering day in the kitchen. Hot as hell outside, and big pans of boiling water going on the burners. The tomatoes would be blanched for easy skin removal, then cooked down a bit, then put into big jars. The jars lived in the cupboard above the fridge, and they would aid a number of recipes through the year.

My black thumb keeps me from growing and canning my own, but the need to have tomatoes in the house has stuck with me. As long as I have tins of tomatoes at hand, I can go to town. Chili, pasta sauces, salsa, soups. It’s the basis of many meals for me, and probably the closest single thing I get to the whole ‘have it, have a meal’ idea.

Of course, there are other items that I generally have on hand at all times. My stupidly large range of spices are always handy, but I’d be crippled without cumin, cayenne, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.

My kitchen always has onions and garlic.

Next to the tomatoes, there are always a few cans of beans. (I sometimes have bags of dried beans, but the forethought required makes them impractical for the last minute dinner decisions I prefer to make.) Cheap kidney beans are the ultimate staple, but I try to get a variety whenever it’s a 5 for £2 or whatever at the supermarket.

All of this does indicate the type of food we prefer — spicy. Last night, we had tacos. Based on our staples (which also generally include frozen veggie mince, one of the only meat substitute veggie foods that I can stomach), the only thing we had to go out to buy was the taco shells.

I gave Adam a vague recipe while I got everything ready for the bin collection today. It’s all very ‘chuck in some of this and a bit of that’, and reflects an attitude that knowing which spices go into a mix means that you can do the spice mix better than the packet.

I also taught him how to do the cheap and easy salsa that I throw together every now and again…

  • 1 can chopped tomatoes in juice (I’m a strong believer in it being better to use ripe tomatoes in a tin than to use unripe fresh tomatoes when they’re out of season)
  • 1 medium-ish onion, chopped up
  • half a large bell pepper, any colour, chopped up
  • a handful of cilantro (or coriander, whatever you want to call it)
  • salt (to taste, but it generally takes more than you think)
  • pepper
  • cayenne pepper (to taste, but a little goes a long way if there are spice wimps about)
  • cumin (another one that’s more than you think…I go with around a tablespoon)
  • lime juice (a couple glugs from a bottle or the juice of around half a lime)
  • oregano (a teaspoon or so, but kinda optional)

Dump all the ingredients into a container for a hand blender or food processor and blitz it for a bit until it’s all a small chunky consistency. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or entirely even. A bigger chunk every now and again can be nice.

It’s good to go after that, but gets a nicer flavour after a bit of time in the fridge.

As with all of my recipes, it’s not a hard and fast rule for any of it. Most things I do are just vague combinations that can be tweaked, omitted, added to, or bastardised as the situation calls for.

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