Anyone Can Cook Anywhere
November 8, 2012 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Foodie living in a village. Help me cook from scratch.

I live in a rural part of South Africa and I can get to some nice grocery stores in town once a week. They have pretty good selections, but I rely on public transport so I'm limited to whatever I can carry home.

I do have a fridge and freezer and can find basic things (fruits, milk, flour, soup packets) in the village. No prepared food. If I want something like pizza - and I often do - I need to make it. I hate nothing more than reading a recipe and finding out it starts with like, store-bought pastry crust.

So, since I like food and have time to kill, I've been experimenting with cooking from scratch using mostly simple ingredients. I've been surprised and a little ashamed to discover how easy it is to make foods I once would have bought. I'm talking about comfort foods like pizza, pasta sauce, mac and cheese, cinnamon rolls, guacamole, butter chicken, etc. I also have done more complicated things like bagels and pretzels.

Mefites, what from-scratch recipes should I try next? What tasty foods can you make without hauling home a million Cooks Illustrated-esque ingredients? Help a girl out.

Also, I'd be happy to hear tips for making homemade tortillas. I'm pretty bad at it.
posted by Solon and Thanks to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get butter, because croissants are fun if time consuming. Quiche with shortcrust pastry is pretty straight forward.

Also, curries. Thai and Indian.
posted by kjs4 at 11:50 PM on November 8, 2012

Croissants (Tartine bakery recipe)? Tricky, but if you're already trying out bagels and tortillas, I think you could give it a go. Assuming you can buy butter..

Dips - even without a food processor, you can do these with a lot of chopping / mashing. Baba ganoush, hummus have only a few ingredients. Others depending on what is available...

Granitas. I mean, you could do icecream as well, but the results from handmaking it by having to stir it regularly as it freezes will be a bit hit and miss, whereas granita is supposed to be grainy in texture. Basically fruit, sugar and water.

Pasta - without a machine, you could try orecchiette or gnocchi. You can still make some of the flat pastas if you spend time with the rolling pin!
posted by AnnaRat at 11:51 PM on November 8, 2012

If you're up for it, I highly highly recommend Jack Bishop's cookbooks. Especially his Italian vegetarian cookbook.

Don't be put off by the vegetarian aspect per se, it would be easy enough to add meat to many recipes. The reason why I mention it in particular is that it's quite authentic Italian food and this means there is not a lot of ingredients involved; the recipes are really based around nice ingredients, brought together well. And there's pizza etc, obviously.

I cook a lot - and do all my cooking for the week, once a week. The thing I love about this book (and his other cookbooks too, to a large extent), is that planning meals and getting lists of ingredients is a snap, and the ingredients are almost all very accessible, things that keep well etc.
posted by smoke at 12:26 AM on November 9, 2012

Yup, can get butter. Assume I can get most basic ingredients; with a little searching I usually can.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:27 AM on November 9, 2012

Bread in general is a great suggestion as all you need is flour. The Fresh Loaf has more recipes and support than you could poke a sjambok at.
posted by smoke at 12:28 AM on November 9, 2012

Chili will work with any kind of meat, any kind of bean, and almost any kind of chile, plus optional tomatoes.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:37 AM on November 9, 2012

If you can get your hands on a copy of the book DIY Delicious, that has recipes for from-scratch mustard, jam, bread, tortillas, butter, yogurt, creme fraiche, marscapone, soda....

In fact - you say that you have been having trouble with tortillas. Corn or flour? And if you've been trying corn, would flour do? Because the corn ones from that book look like they could be a little fiddly - but the flour ones look way easier. (I have this book, but admit that I have not yet tried it.)

Better still -- a couple of the dairy recipes can convert from one to the other - meaning, if you make the yogurt out of the book, you can then use some of the yogurt to go on and make other things (a spoon of the yogurt can culture the creme fraiche, the creme fraiche recipe can be churned into the butter recipe....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:29 AM on November 9, 2012

One thing I enjoy making from scratch is refried beans. I use the Paupered Chef recipe for 90 minute no soak beans to make the beans and then use make refried beans by frying up some streaky backon, adding some garlic and onion, cumin and some chile powder and then adding the beans and gently frying them and squishing them. You can use any kind of beans you like really although I think blakc, kidney or pinto beans are traditional. I also greatly enjoy making pancakes (pancakes are amazing for breakfast or brinner) I tend to use self raising flour though rather than plain. Pancake's friendly neighbour yorkshire pudding is pretty great as well. My final thing is I really like to make my own stock, particularly chicken. Very easy to do (and very economical if you're using leftover roast chicken) and you can then use this in a whole load of other things - risotto, jambalaya, chilli, soups, gravy etc, etc.

I'll be damned if I can make tortillas properly though!
posted by eb98jdb at 5:35 AM on November 9, 2012

Have you tried to learn to cook local food from one of the locals?
posted by empath at 5:43 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Suzanne McMinn at Chickens in the Road has some great basic recipes for bread, rolls, pizza dough, pizza sauce, etc. She lives in the wilds of West Virginia so she does it all from scratch.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:11 AM on November 9, 2012

Thanks for the awesome recommendations so far! Already inspired me to whip up some chili. Not sure why I hadn't thought of that.

Empath: yes, I can cook the local cuisine. The staple food is maize porridge, usually with some gravy or meat at lunch/dinner and maybe some vegetable sides on Sunday. It's tasty! I'm not asking for ideas out of a disregard for the local food or a lack of things to eat, I just like the challenge and variety that comes with learning new recipes.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:25 AM on November 9, 2012

I can tell you how to make tortillas. But you're going to need lard.

Here's an excellent recipe and tutorial.

Now the recipe talks about rolling the tortillas out like pie crust.

I learned how to make tortillas when I was a kid in Arizona, we rolled the dough into balls and slapped them back and forth in our hands until they were the right thickness. I think this works the dough a bit and makes that wonderful chewy texture.

Roll them out first, but try the slapping method and see what you like.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:34 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Instead of buying partially hydrogenated lard, you can render lard yourself which is both more delicious and healthier.
posted by Ery at 7:32 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation. Things I enjoy making that have only a few ingredients:

- Hollandaise sauce for eggs florentine/benedict/asparagus.
- Irish stew (skip the guiness; red wine base works great, no bullion or stock needed)
- Philly cheese-steaks (I've been hand-slicing the steak on the bias, easier than I thought it would be)
- Bolognese sauce
- Gougeres, if you can get the cheese
- Fresh mexican food (salsa, guac, tortillas, meat, sour cream)
- Paneer for indian curries
posted by zug at 7:34 AM on November 9, 2012

You might approach this from a collection perspective, either in cookbooks or blogs. . I see that folks above have linked to The Pioneer Woman and to Homesick Texan blogs. Both of those have lots of recipes for basic stuff. I also like The Frugal Girl's blog. She makes her own breads (rolls, hamburger buns, english muffins, etc) and her own yogurt, granola, etc.
posted by CathyG at 7:46 AM on November 9, 2012

What you need is not more recipes, you need a shopping trolley! You can get about three shopping baskets into one trolley., the South African Ebay has some listings but you might find one in your neck of the plains.
posted by parmanparman at 8:40 AM on November 9, 2012

For comfort food, pot pies are easy to make and much more delicious home-made than the kind you buy. You can make pastry crust now? And you know how to make soup, perhaps? All you're doing is putting soup ingredients, plus thickener, inside your pastry crust.

Along the same line of thinking, dumplings come in a vast variety depending on the culture (pierogi, momo, pelmeni, just to name a few) and many are not difficult to make although it can be time-consuming. A simple dough is rolled out thin and cut, your filling is put inside, squeeze it shut, steam/fry/boil, eat. The tricky part is getting your wrapper the right thickness and ensuring they don't open during cooking, but that comes with practice. Don't worry if they don't look pretty, if you picked ingredients you like to eat (this part's flexible) they will taste good.

Curries come in many varieties and are also flexible to your preferences. They can whip up fast and taste good with pretty much any protein and many grains.

Improving your repertory of sauces and condiments is always worth it, too. If you can make roux, hollandaise, salsa, etc, you can accessorize any meal!
posted by epanalepsis at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2012

Also, it seems not worth mentioning, but my life improved greatly when I figured out how to make good salad dressing.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2012

I love this post. It's exactly my challenge when I'm at my farm, at the opposite end of the globe. I spend much more money there than I do at my home in the city, and I really want to adjust this. It's so absurd, in the middle of farming land!
Where I live (on the farm), I can make or buy basic products, like milk, vegetables, fish and meat. It actually takes hours of driving, and petrol, but it is possible. So what I cook has to be based on what I find, rather than on recipes. We eat a lot of salads. We love finding mushrooms and edible plants. We try to make the meat intake more like a decoration than the main staple. I'm pushing for having poultry on the farm, it's such good nourishing food, but my family hates the idea of killing someone we know. We might actually compromise by setting out game. We have a lot of natural game, like deer and ducks, as well as some fish.
Back in the day, when my grandparents were alive, they had a top-notch stud there. And the unlucky results were sold to butchers. Thus my cynical approach, but since I was the only one who knew, my siblings and cousins feel I'm evil. Getting the stud up an running again would be a full time job, which I am not ready for quite yet.
posted by mumimor at 5:12 PM on November 9, 2012

we rolled the dough into balls and slapped them back and forth in our hands until they were the right thickness

That is the proper way to make tortillas. Mine always come out with holes in them, and if I try to roll them out they stick.

I roll them between two pieces of foil and drop that in a pan to cook for a bit before peeling the foil off, then drop them back in the pan to finish cooking.
posted by yohko at 6:18 PM on November 9, 2012

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