How to cook a healthy stir-fry
Stir-frying is a great route to fast, healthy cooking. Use a wok! Prepare food by cutting everything into whatever size necessary so that it will all be ready together. Stuff that cooks quickly can be cut into larger chunks than foods that take a bit longer. Onions and garlic are common to most stir-frys. Use any other vegetables, meats and nuts as you wish. Cut up meat into small thin slices. Make sure you dry everything off before throwing it in, or you will have red hot oil spitting out from the wok.
Heat some sunflower oil until very hot. Add vegetables, meat etc. and toss in the wok for a few minutes. Throw in some spices if you wish, such as cumin, ginger and ground coriander and stir/shake for a few minutes so nothing sticks.
If you like your stir-fries super crunchy, stop cooking at this stage. Sprinkle with soy sauce and a little sesame oil, or if you prefer, some bottled sauce, such as a good sweet-and-sour. If you prefer to make more of a sauce for a less crunchy stir-fry, add some water/stock to the wok and any other sauce you want to throw in.
Tinned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, pineapple and water chestnuts can be thrown in at the end. If you have cooked up some noodles, add them to the wok towards the end and stir in. Otherwise serve with rice.
How to fry in a healthy way
Generally it’s good to use oil from the region the dish comes from. So, for example, when you are cooking something from North Africa, olive oil is good. Sunflower, canola, or corn oil are compatible with practically all dishes because of their mild flavour. Other nut and seed oils, such as walnut or sesame, are good to use as flavouring at the last minute, but too strong to use as cooking oils. These are generally the ones that are only sold in small bottles.
For healthy cooking, it is important to make sure your oil is hot enough before you put the food in it. Otherwise you will get soggy, greasy food. You know the oil is hot enough when it starts to ‘steam’ or ‘smoke’ forming a type of heat mirage. This is sometimes hard to see, so you can test the temperature by putting a little of what you are cooking in the oil. If it goes bubbly around the edges, doesn’t stick and sizzles noisily, then the oil is hot enough. Don’t go overboard though, oil that’s too hot can start a fire!
When using high temperatures, canola oil is best. Sunflower oil is also reasonably good. Olive oil is better for slightly lower temperatures. These three oils are also the healthiest to use. If you use a deep fat fryer, use as little oil as necessary and when you are finished with it, throw it out when it’s cool and clean the fryer.
You don’t want to be re-using rank, re-heated oil, over and over again, which is not healthy. If it gets to the stage where some of the oil in your chip-pan is solidifying, you definitely need to chuck it! The solid bits you see have become hydrogenated, the very thing you want to avoid because it is so unhealthy and has been implicated in cardio-vascular disease. For healthy cooking, you must have fresh, clean oil. When you finish frying, always pat the food with absorbent kitchen paper to remove any excess grease.
How to make a soup, stew, or casserole
From a Moroccan tagine, to a chicken soup, to an Irish stew, with few exceptions, use this simple method to create your dish. Use a large pot. Heat a little oil, because you don’t want your dish to be too greasy. Soften the onions and garlic. Then add any other vegetables. This is to draw out their wonderful rich flavours, so they will flavour the whole pot and not stay locked in the vegetables themselves.
Then add any other ingredients, like fish, or meat, or beans. Coat them in the juices in the pot, brown the meat, or fish. Throw in your herbs, stock and seasoning and add water. To cook the dish properly, you need to add enough water to just about cover everything. For soup, add more. Cover the pot and simmer.(For casseroles, at this stage you simply place them in a hot oven to bake. Make sure you begin to make this dish with an oven-proof pot.) When the dish is cooked, if it’s too watery for you, take the lid off and allow the water to evaporate. This is called reducing.
How to make a pie
People think pie-making is difficult, because it involves turning on the oven. But it is so easy. Adding pastry to a dish is probably the quickest short-cut to making a dish that is ultra-delicious, especially if you use ready-made pastry sheets. For healthy cooking, use pastry that does not contain any trans fats.
Use a pot that is oven-proof. Follow the same technique as for making a casserole. Reduce it down until the sauce is nice and thick. Put the raw pastry on top and stick it in the oven until the pastry looks ready.
How to make a healthy roast
Roasting is easy, probably the easiest of cooking methods. You throw the stuff in the oven and go away and do something else. Not only is roasting non-attention seeking, it is also the tastiest way to cook, as all of the food’s flavour is retained and intensified.
Children, who detest boiled carrots, may love roasted ones, as my daughter does, because they are so tasty and so deliciously, naturally sweet when roasted. Provided you just lightly coat the vegetables with a good quality oil, this is a good healthy cooking method of making them more delectable for children.
The trick with roasting, is to roast your entire meal, otherwise you will end up standing over the hob anyway and that is a waste of time when everything can be put in the oven. For successful roasting, first heat up your oven before putting anything in. Then heat up your baking tray with some oil on the base. This is not just a meaningless cookery-book stipulation. There is a purpose —-hot oil stops stuff sticking to the baking tray. If your potatoes, or vegetables are wet, dry them well with a tea towel first (this also prevents sticking) and place them on the tray. Then toss in the hot oil until everything is well-coated. Then return the tray to the oven.
If you use the top, or bottom shelf, you may find that the food cooks unevenly and tends to burn on one side. The middle is good for most things. When your food is about half-way done, check it and maybe turn it, or spoon some hot oil over it for nice even basting. Leave until done. With joints of meat and poultry, the juices should run clear when they are properly cooked.
The Sunday roast is an institution in our house and is so easy once you develop the habit. I chop seasonal vegetables into chunky slices. In winter, I mix a selection of root vegetables on a baking tray and coat them with olive oil, black pepper and fresh herbs, or glaze them with honey and cinnamon and nutmeg. On another tray, I do potatoes (which I half-boil beforehand, drain and shake in the pot, so they will have a nice crunchy crust at the end). In warm weather, I roast a different mix of vegetables, such as aubergines, courgettes, red and yellow peppers and a sweet red onion.
How to make a tart
Put the pastry on a greased ovenproof dish or tin. Bake it a little in the oven, so it doesn’t go soggy from whatever you put on top of it. Then put on your topping and return to the oven until everything is done. If the topping is going to take a long time, cut it up very small, or par-cook it separately first, so the pastry doesn’t burn.
How to make an omelette
Omelette is one of the simplest things in the world to make, but many people don’t know how.
Make sure your oil is hot enough. Just use enough to coat the pan. Pour in your beaten egg and tilt the pan until the egg covers the base. Then, with a knife, gently start pushing the edges of the omelette towards the centre, allowing the liquid bits to take up that extra space. Do this until all the liquid is cooked and the omelette is set. Then fold it, remove it from the pan and it will continue cooking on the plate, solidifying those last gooey bits. For deeper Spanish, or Italian omelettes, finish by placing under the grill untill done.
Omelettes are the original, fast-food, an essential dish in any healthy cooking repertoire. If you can make an omelette, you can eat well, even when you are pressed for time.
How to flavour a dish
The main mistake people make with flavouring, especially when they are slavishly trying to follow a recipe, is that they never use enough herbs and spices. For some reason, most recipes are mean with the amount of these ingredients they tell you to use, but it is these very things that give your dish its deliciousness.
With fresh chopped herbs, it is hard to put in too much. There is nothing more awful than a bowl of soup with a few mean sprigs of parsley on top. I throw in herbs by the handful when I can. They are power-packed full of vitamins and are an essential ingredient for healthy cooking. And in terms of delectability, they also make all the difference between a mediocre and a great dish. With very few exceptions, it is always better to have fresh herbs than dried. However, fresh herbs are not always available and of course then dried ones are perfectly adequate.
I don’t use salt in most of my dishes (if you like salt, try to use sea salt or low sodium salt). This is because I always use plenty of herbs, spices and black pepper, which add so much flavour that nobody ever notices the absence of salt. Salt is not a problem in itself. We all need a little salt in our diet. The problem is, that unless you are literally baking your own bread everyday, and never eating anything that comes from a factory, you are already getting more than your healthy intake of daily salt, so you shouldn’t add to it in the dishes you make yourself. When the food industry stops over-salting everything they produce, perhaps then I will return to the ubiquitous pinch of salt.
If you understand what basic herbs and flavourings to use for different types of cuisine, then you will always be able to create delicious meals out of whatever food you have to hand. If in doubt, use whatever is native to the place the rest of your ingredients come from. Below, I list some of the main ingredients you might choose from, to create a dish from a particular part of the world. These ingredients form natural groups which make up the building blocks of a meal. If you understand the different groups, you can look at what food you have in stock and see if there is a group that you can create a meal from. The lists are by no means exhaustive and many of them overlap.
Soy sauce/ Sesame oil/ Seaweed/ Cumin/ Ginger/ Coriander/ Beansprouts/ Water chestnuts/ Bamboo shoots/ Baby corn/ Miso/ Rice/ Cook with sunflower or canola oil
Coconut milk/ Peanut butter/ Cashew nut/ Lime juice/ Soy sauce/ Sesame oil/ Fish sauce/ Coriander/ Ginger/ Cumin/ Curry powder/ Baby corn/ Mange tout/ Rice/ Cook with sunflower or canola oil
Curry powder/ Coconut milk/ Ground almonds/ Tomato puree/ Yogurt/ Cream/ Chick peas/ Lentils/ Rice/ Naan, chapati bread/ Cook with sunflower or canola oil
Olives/ Cumin/ Coriander/ Garam masala/ Cinnamon/ Harissa sauce/ Tomato puree/ Chick peas/ Tahini/ Lemon juice/ Aubergine/ Dates/ Sultanas/ Couscous/ Pitta bread/ Cook with Olive oil
Chilli powder/ Kidney beans/ Corn/ Cocoa/ Peppers/ Tomato/ Avocado/ Lime juice/ Tabasco sauce/ Tortillas, taco shells/Cook with sunflower or canola oil
Dijon mustard/ Butter/ Garlic/ Cream/ Parsley/ Bay leaf/ Lemon juice/ Gruyere or brie or artisan cheeses/ Leaf salad and fresh baguette with each meal/ Cook with olive oil or sunflower oil or butter
Basil/ Oregano/ Fennel/ Rosemary/ Mint/ Parsley/ Peppers/ Chickpeas/ Lentils/ Pasta/ Fish (anchovies, squid, swordfish, flounder)/ Garlic/ Tomato/ Parmesan/ Mozzarella/ Cook with olive oil
Feta cheese/ Goat’s Cheese/ Olives/ Pitta/ Natural Yogurt/ Cook with olive oil/
Cumin/ Chilli/ Garlic/ Nutmeg/ Cloves/ Lemon/ Watermelon/ Cassava/ Maize/ Rice/ Sweet potatoes/ Beans/ Tomato/ Yams/ Plantain/ Okra/ Black-eyed peas/ Groundnuts/Molasses/ Cook with groundnut oil or corn oil or canola oil or sunflower oil
Nutmeg/ Allspice/ Vanilla/ Honey/ Maple syrup/ Ginger/ When cooking,
use an oil, such as sunflower, that won’t overpower the delicate dessert