college cooking: the essentials

Update: this is also a really great resource!

In a few short weeks I’m going to graduate college and become an Adult with a Job. It’s really weird to contemplate–I feel like I’m going to have to relearn how to be a person in so many ways. And I spent so much time learning how to cook for myself as a kinda-vegetarian college student with limited funds and no car!* I feel super lucky (and a bit surprised!) to have a job right out of college…it definitely wasn’t what I expected when I signed up to get a linguistics major. I guess it’s just weird to grow up??

But back to the subject at hand. Here are some of my best tips for eating well in college…as, you know, a tribute to my four years of cooking experiments:

Ingredients that you want to have around: 

  • sea salt: It seems sort of silly to own two different kinds of salt, but coarse sea salt is the best! I put it on the bottom of the pan when I make focaccia (also super easy, here’s a good recipe), but it’s great for anything you don’t want to over-salt because you can see how much you’ve put on already. Also, put it on top of your cookies when they’re almost-baked–they will be TRANSFORMED into the most delicious food on earth.
  • yeast: Okay, this one’s not a must because making anything with yeast takes time. I’ve never made traditional bread for that reason, but I like having yeast around for making the aforementioned focaccia and also fresh pizza dough. Kneading bread dough soothes my brain like nothing else, and every time I have to let dough rise I geek out about the chemistry involved because I’m a nerd. I RECOMMEND IT.
  • chilis in adobo sauce: I keep a jar of these little peppers and their delicious, delicious sauce in my fridge at all times. I first bought them to slice up and add to chili but I also put the sauce in quesadillas sometimes. For a while there I was eating smoked-gouda-and-adobo quesadillas, which might be an affront to the state of quesadillas but was definitely tasty. YDY?

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  • green chile: My girlfriend would probably tell you to get green chile instead. She’s from New Mexico and I swear she knows how to eat this with everything–in quesadillas, breakfast sandwiches, with beans, in breakfast burritos…
  • soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil: All you need to make a bare-bones stir-fry. I didn’t really make stir-fries until this year–my life as a vegetarian was very sad for a long time, okay–but if you have some rice and leftover vegetables and maybe an egg, all you need to do is put it all in a frying pan with a splash each of soy sauce and rice vinegar and a little sesame oil and you’re golden. What was I doing with my life before, honestly.
  • garam masala: If you don’t know (I didn’t for a while), garam masala is an aromatic blend of Indian/South Asian spices. I always used to see this at the end of curry recipes and think, eh, I can leave that out. Here’s a tip for you: don’t do that! It makes curry and stuff taste subtly different and so good. (It’s also excellent on popcorn.)

And some general cooking/shopping tips: 

  • You can roast pretty much any vegetable. Any. Vegetable. I’ve roasted squash, kale, asparagus, radishes, sweet potato, brussels sprouts, cauliflower…anything roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt is instantly bomb.
  • Related: go to the farmer’s market if you can find one nearby! The grocery store I go to is cheap, but their produce isn’t very good, and you’re likely to find a better variety of more flavorful stuff at the farmer’s market. If you don’t know what something is, don’t worry–you can probably roast/sauté it!
  • You need a knife sharpener. When my girlfriend and I moved in together I didn’t sharpen my knives for months because we didn’t have any utensils. (I have a similar story about the corkscrew, and the oven mitts, and so on…) But you want sharp knives! You’re less likely to slip and cut yourself with a sharpened knife and it makes a noticeable difference in time spent chopping.
  • It’s definitely worth it to get a rewards card at your regular grocery store. There’s a gas station attached to my grocery store so my card actually gets me gas discounts as well as sales, and it’s always nice to be able to hand that to whoever drove me to the store!
  • Also, if you love iced coffee: you can make your own cold brew at home with just a bowl and a strainer. This has changed my LIFE. It’s so cheap and also makes less acidic coffee than my old drip coffeemaker did.

*Because my girlfriend will complain: I do have regular access to a car, it just belongs to my girlfriend. She drives me everywhere and I’m very thankful!!

Feature image via my own Instagram. Yes it was delicious.

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