Monday, June 1, 2020

Meals from nothing...Hints and Tips # 1...

What do you do, when, like Mother Hubbard, the cupboard is bare?
First of all, can I say, that with a little forethought, and very little money, your cupboard never needs to be completely bare. At a minimum, even in my most cash strapped days, I had pasta, rice, herbs and eggs in my cupboard. Alas, Covid-19 has shown us all, that when everyone's cupboard is bare, even those things are hard to find!
Dried beans and pulses, as well as the tinned ones, tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, preserved fruits, dried fruit and vegetables, pickles, tinned fish like salmon and tuna...all the things we usually imagine will be our fallback position in tough times, also suddenly were unavailable.
Lesson learned, right?
The month of June 2020, will be all about meals from nothing. Hopefully, we can discuss how to stock our pantries well, and even pleasurably, even when things really do go pear-shaped. Because, who knows what our real 'normal' is going to look like in the future.
Please chip in with your own favourites as we go along.
Hint No. 1 - herbs and spices
I try to always have some unusual herbs and spices, and a few little 'luxury' items on hand, even in the toughest of times.
Kombucha is a new 'luxury' here, and whilst I don't brew my own (yet!), I do have an obliging friend who provides hers in exchange for fresh herbs.
The addition of exotic spices, too, can make the plainest of ingredients into something delicious.
Last night I made my quick version of Dhal Makhani...a super lush and creamy lentil and red bean soup/stew. I have a few ways of making this according to what I have around. Here's the first one.
Dhal Makhani in four sentences

Saute a pinch of fenugreek and cardamom seeds, then added a chopped onion. To that, add a tin of drained red kidney beans, and a tin of drained and rinsed lentils. Add a teaspoon of minced ginger and garlic, ground cumin and turmeric, and a half a teaspoon of chilli powder. Toss in the equivalent of about half a kilo (1 lb) of tinned tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato juice, chopped fresh tomatoes or even condensed tomato soup.

Simmer for a while, stir through a couple of spoonsful of cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese or coconut cream, and serve with gluten free naan bread and a glass of Kombucha.


Apologies to the purists who would have me hung, drawn and quartered for not making this dish in the authentic manner.
Hint no. 2 - work with what you have and be creative

We had a very thrown together meal another night, as the fridge was looking a bit empty. I'm trying to stretch my shopping days by one each week, so I will shop Tuesday for example, when normally I'd shop on Monday.

We had a smallish tin of red salmon which I buy at Aldi, and which is so inexpensive for the quality, it's ridiculous. We had some limp rocket (arugula), a quarter of a small pumpkin, and another tin of Aldi lentils...also so inexpensive, even if it's just for the convenience of having the tins on hand for this situation.
I mixed the salmon with two eggs, two slices of bread cubed minutely, the limp rocket (arugula), and some seasoning, and moulded them into patties.
I cubed the pumpkin and roasted it, then mixed it with the drained and rinsed lentils, and a smidge of juice from a Lemon and Cayenne Pepper juice I bought at Woolworths (single serve) and which was so tangy I couldn't finish it as a drink! It worked magnifico as a salad dressing though.

I found a few stray pistachios hiding up the back of the pantry, and shelled and chopped them.

Then I dusted the salmon patties in potato flour, which gives everything the most fantastic crisp coating ever, and pan fried them.

Well, the meal got the biggest thumbs up from the troops and once again shows what you can do with what appears to be very little, by maintaining your stockpile of tinned pantry staples and a few unusual flavours.
Hint no. 3 - think laterally
Thinking laterally can really help sometimes.
Many cuisines are born out of sheer necessity and availability of produce (or lack thereof), so don't be afraid to substitute.
Cream in savoury dishes, you can substitute with milk, cream cheese, coconut or other nut milk, yoghurt, powdered milk, evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk), potato flakes, cornflour or arrowroot mixed with a little water, butter or margarine, or even mashed potato to add richness.
Now that we eat gluten free, we realise that lots of bread and pasta products can be replaced with gluten free crepes, dumplings, pancakes (hotcakes) and scones (biscuits), puffed tofu (Inari), Asian rice noodles, and even very thin omelettes if it's to be used as a wrap for other things.
Vegetables can often be substituted and interchanged at will, and can also replace bread and pasta in many dishes. We have toasted slices of Sweet Potato (Kumera) to have spread with avocado for breakfast for example. And Moussaka is much like Lasagne, but with Eggplant (aubergine) used instead of pasta between the layers. I've also made lasagne using crepes, zucchini ribbons, thinly sliced pumpkin (butternut squash), and thinly sliced potato. Not to mention, spaghetti or other pasta instead of the lasagne sheets. A layer is a layer is a layer, right?
I'll continue to share more ideas this month, but please, tell me your favourites too.


  1. Fabulous ideas. I never buy cream but if I need it for a creamy dish, I use 2 parts of skim milk powder to 1 part of water blended together.

  2. Great tips. I remember making a meal when there was "nothing in the fridge" that ended up becoming a favourite. It had korma paste, a ton of lentils, half an onion, and a quarter portion of mince and not much else. Working with what you have can produce amazing results.

    1. So true Jodi! Often the case I've found. Lentils are your friend in lean times too. Mimi xxx

  3. Mimi, at the beginning of the pandemic my hubby bought baked beans every time he went to the shops. I never eat baked beans so he had better start using them up soon 😉 I think it is important to only buy or grow what you know you will eat and of course to work menus around what you have on hand.

    1. Sage advice there Nanna Chel. Seasonal produce is always the way to go. Mimi xxx

  4. We use left over mashed potato or pumpkin in cakes or in gnocchi. Gnocchi is so easy and quick to make and then a simply sauce can be made from any veg. Add some chopped bacon.

    1. Agreed Jane! Gnocchi is gourmet these days! A plate of gnocchi set me back $28 in a restaurant once. What the??

  5. Lately I have been trying to waste nothing. Several times I have used limp veg and made fritters. Basically a pancake batter with lots thrown in. I bought several tins of pulses and such and am making sure I use them. Last week I converted leftover pumpkin into a red curry soup. A new favourite was born.

    1. So often the case Suzan. Our new favourite is Aldi Butter Chicken sauce (the one with the dry spice in the lid), with a couple of tins of lentils thrown in. Delish.


I love hearing from you! I always respond to comments, so don't be shy! Mimi xxx