On Using Up What You Have

My, aren’t we a busy bee this week?  Seriously though, I have had so much to do I have barely had time to sit down, let alone write.  Mostly this has been to do with my job at a certain public service broadcaster, it’s awards season, don’t you know (dahling) and I have been super busy.  It’s not been all bad, though, at the weekend our dear friends Simon and Natalie came to visit us from Bristol and we had a weekend of mostly eating and drinking.  Saturday night was a Peckham extravaganza of pizza and wine at The Gowlett (Gowlettini, in case you’re interested), eye-poppingly strong pisco sours and keeping it real at Peckham Springs and then some gimlets and martinis at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms.  We would have gone on to Blow Up at The Bussey Building, had we not been too pissed.

On Sunday we took our tired selves up the East London Line to Hoxton for a hangover-busting lunch at MEATMission.  After talking the boys out of the Triple Chilli Challenge for the second time, we ordered (deep breath) Dead Hippie burgers, bingo wings, chilli cheese fries, currywurst, deep-fried pickles and a greek salad.  More on this later, but needless to say, I wondered if I would ever eat again.

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

In the interests of pacifying my bank balance and my waistline after such an indulgent weekend, I have been on a bit of a mission to make meals primarily out of what I have in the cupboards, fridge and freezer and buying just a few items to supplement this rather than a great big shop.  One of my new years’ resolutions (God, doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?!) was to reduce the amount of food waste in our household.  As the issue of food waste was given more coverage in the media, I began to notice that we did tend to throw a bit of food away.  Not huge amounts but often a wilted half-head of celery, a few slice of mouldy bread or some manky herbs would end up in the bin.  The main reason for this was that we would do a ‘weekly shop’ at the beginning of the week, allowing for meals for each lunchtime and evening, and would then end up going out for lunch or dinner on a whim, wasting some of the meals.  So since January, the big trips to the supermarket have ceased and I buy food only when I need it.  Saves money too.

I’ve also recently been thinking that our obsession with following recipes is partly to blame.  We not only have more access to recipes than ever before with an unprecedented number of cookbooks being released each year, a boom in food blogging and a number of recipe databases, such as those created by BBC Food and UKTV Food, we also have access to a wider range of recipes with our interest in global cuisine reaching further and further.  Wanting to follow recipes all of the time means that we end up buying more and more from the ingredients list to make specific dishes rather than focusing on what we have.  It was difficult to shift my focus, but I now look in the cupboards and think “what can I make with this” rather than look in a recipe book thinking “what do I need to make this.”  The results are sometimes experimental, but on the whole they are good.  At first I was apprehensive about using a mix of single cream and creme fraiche in my second batch of naan bread, rather than the specified yoghurt, but it all turned out OK.

Another wonderful outcome of this approach is that I rely less and less on the big supermarkets.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to trek to the Sainsbury’s Superstore to pick up a tin of lentils and a couple of red peppers, so I have been embracing local shopping a little bit more.  I am lucky enough to live in a part of London where the ethnic diversity is reflected in the type of shops we have available to us.  In Peckham there are Indian shops selling enormous bags of cheap spices, far better value than the little jars you get in supermarkets, a brilliant Persian shop, Persepolis, that sells anything and everything from the middle-east and two Chinese supermarkets.  There are also a number of vegetable stands where you can pick up a range of veg for next to nothing (I like the one right outside the entrance to Rye Lane station).  In East Dulwich there is the ‘triangle of love’ in the form of William Rose butchers, Moxons fishmongers and Le Cave de Bruno wine shop, destination of choice for a dinner party or lazy weekend dinner.  Brockley Market is a 20-minute bike ride away each Saturday and there is a new farmers market up in the Horniman Gardens in Forest Hill.  Of course, I still have to make the dash to the John Lewis food hall from time to time, if only to pretend that I’m one of those rich people that actually lives in central London. (OK, it’s a bit poncey, but it’s right next to my office).

Spinach and chickpea curry

Spinach and chickpea curry

This dish, otherwise known as ‘last night’s supper’ is an example of how to use up what you already have.  This is a spinach and chickpea curry made completely with items lurking in the flat.  There is a little exception here, as the spinach I had planned to use was ruined due to the fridge being up too high, so I had to make an emergency dash to Rye Lane for some fresh stuff.  The aforementioned grocer outside the station sells three bunches for a quid which, when you consider how much you pay in the supermarket, is a bargain.  Despite being a fridge-raid meal (or ‘storecupboard meal’, as my mum would say), it’s still a pretty decent little vegetarian curry in its own right.  If you do decide to make it, it’s best not to take the ingredients list too seriously.  Mix stuff up here and there, add things, subtract things, or use a different flavour paste.  Be a rebel.

Spinach and Chickpea Curry

  • 2 tbsp any old curry paste you have lurking about (I used Bhuna paste)
  • 1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 250g spinach (or two bunches from the man in Peckham)
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, fry the curry paste for a few minutes until it starts to separate.  Add the onions and reduce the heat, cooking them until soft and translucent – about another 5-10 minutes.  Increase the heat again and add the chopped tomatoes, cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly,  until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Add the chickpeas and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season and turn the heat down to low before adding the spinach, stirring until the leaves have wilted.  Stir in the lemon juice and serve with whatever you have in the kitchen (fortunately, I had a load of basmati rice in the cupboard and two peshwari naans in the freezer – win).

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Serves Four.

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