Since getting into cooking and enjoying learning about healthy eating and new ingredients, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of a well stocked kitchen.
In the first years or so of living together, Peter and I would meal plan our dinners and would shop for exactly what we needed; but for whatever reason (mainly due to the unpredictable nature of a vegbox), we’ve fallen out of the habit of meal planning and instead, I tend to make something up on the night, usually taking inspiration from my favs: Jamie Oliver, Deliciously Ella, Madeleine Shaw and Naturally Sassy.
And so, to make it easier for me to create a simple and healthy meal each evening, I tend to make sure that I have a good stock some key, staple ingredients, including beans, lentils, brown rice pasta, nuts, seeds and fresh herbs. All of which help to maintain the variety and simplicity in our diet.
To kick start this ‘inside my kitchen’ series off, here are three of my absolute favourite staple ingredients in our household:
1) Black Beans
Where do I start with these beautiful beans? I would say they are the ‘bean’ to my Oh. I often reach for a carton of organic black beans to accompany a bowl of roasted veggies and chicken. Quite simply, I don’t faff with them. I drain and rinse them and then add to a pan with a dash of tamari and more often than not, some chopped mushrooms and spinach, cooking until all warmed through. These little beans are just so versatile and work well in stews, as veggie burgers, or simply as a side unadulterated.
Why are they so popular with the ‘clean eating’ clan? Black Beans are a great source of protein and fibre, and help to naturally regulate the body’s blood sugar levels without causing spikes, which you often get from white starchy foods such as pasta and rice. They help to regulate and maintain our sugar levels by moving through our digestive system at a quicker rate than fats and slower than refined sugars. By steadying the rate of movement through our bodies, the protein and fiber help to steady the breakdown of food into component parts, including simple sugars. This better-regulated breakdown of food helps to prevent extremes with respect to simple sugar uptake from the digestive tract.
I’ve not yet tried dried black beans, but I know that if I were to, I would have to plan a bit more ahead to ensure my beans were soaked and ready to be added into a delicious meal. There are many arguments for and against dried beans, with the most convincing being that you retain more of the nutritious properties of the beans by soaking them. Also, by soaking and ensuring you rinse them thoroughly, you allow some of the ‘windier’ properties of legumes to be washed away, which… let’s face it, is a good thing!
Just like black beans, I always make sure that our bottom cupboard is well stocked with dry and ready to eat lentils. I often stock up on dried split red lentils in 2kg bags which tend to last us quite a while and due to their longer cooking time (approximately 40minutes or so), are perfect in one pot dishes such as curries, soups and vegetarian bolognese. You have to check the cooking instructions for dried lentils as some varieties require soaking in water prior to cooking.
For quicker meals on nights that we’ve been to the gym, I tend to crack open a carton of organic green lentils. These are so simple to use and go with pretty much anything, all you have to do is empty the contents into a pan and warm through, then drain and rinse. I usually mix in a dash of tamari, plenty of dried herbs and chopped sun-dried tomatoes to add a Mediterranean flavour.
Lentils are a great, inexpensive addition to our diet as they are nutrient dense and include a great amount of potassium, iron, calcium and vitamin K, as well as being rich in dietry fibre and protein. Among other health benefits, lentils are a ‘slow carborhydrate’ as they provide our bodies with steady, slow-burning energy due their high fibre content.
As you’ve probably worked out, I absolutely adore a good ripe avocado. They make a perfect accompaniment to sweet potato wedges and can satisfy the 4pm snacking itch by spreading on toast. Although I have to admit that they are a bit of a luxury item in our shopping, I will buy a couple which are ‘ready to eat’ and then will buy some cheaper ‘ripen at home’ avo to ensure that we have at least 8 or so to last us a couple of weeks.
Did you know that the avocado is a tree which is native to Mexico and Central America? I didn’t until this blog post! In recent months, I’ve seen several articles which suggest that the price of an avocado will rise due to an increase in demand from the UK, America and Australia, and also due to the El Nino effect which is altering the weather conditions for growers in the Mediterranean, causing a reduction in crops by as much as 30%.
Avocados are a great source of natural fats which are monounsaturated meaning that they are easier for our bodies to breakdown and help to lower our cholesterol, helping to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. They also high in antioxidants meaning that they help to protect our bodies from disease and free radical damage. This is an interesting post for more information about the benefits of avocado and their oils.
What key ingredients do you buy without fail in your weekly shop?