WIP: The Most Efficient Dish

Note: This article is not complete yet, which is why it has »WIP« (Work In Progess) in the title. I will be adding new sections every week and perhaps revise ones that are already online.

The most efficient dish isn’t a single recipe, but a process for making a warm, healthy meal with little effort every day. Since it’s roughly the same process every day (or however often you choose to apply it), the outcomes are similar in a way. – You always get a one-pot meal of boiled grains or pulses with steamed or raw vegetables and seasonings. – However, you can choose different ingredients every time, so it doesn’t get boring.

Now you might say: »Oh, this is just Richard’s way of throwing stuff in a pot and boiling it. Anyone can do that.« And you’d be right and it is good. This is so easy that it can be done by anyone and with the most primitive equipment. But you’d need to do this many times and make innovations, find subtleties and variations, in order to become very efficient. Because that can be tedious and I’ve already done it, I will share my findings in the following.

I’ll start out with a concrete instance of the most efficient dish and describe the innovations, subtleties and innovations below. One thing beforehand: the recipe contains two groups of instructions. The second group is timed, the first group not. You do the timed steps whenever the timer tells you to, and you do the untimed steps whenever you’re ready. Confusing? Let me try some advanced graphics:

 PREPARATION STEPS           TIMED STEPS

       put lentils +-----> + start: start cooking
                   :       |
                   :       |
       cut carrots +--+    |
                   :  +--> + 10 min: put carrots
                   :       |
        cut celery +--+    |
                   :  |    |
                   :  +--> + 20 min: put celery
garlic, seasonings +       |
                   :  +--> + 25 min: put cabbage
                   :  |    |
      wash cabbage +--+    + 30 min: turn off, eat
                           |
                           v time

The colons (:) mean »however long it takes«. So you cut the carrots, cut celery etc. at your own pace and drop them in the pot when it’s time. Of course you run into problems if the timer goes off before you’ve finished cutting carrots.

One last thing before I go into details. Mark this! I won’t repeat it below. All the measurements (volumes, times, weights) I provide are approximate. You need to adjust them to your environment and process.

Example Most Efficient Dish

Prep time: 35 min – Cooking time: 30 min

Ingredients

For one serving.

  • 125 ml brown lentils
  • 375 ml water
  • 1 carrot (cleaned)
  • 1 stalk celery (cleaned)
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil (cold-pressed)
  • pepper
  • salt (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 leaves savoy cabbage (cleaned)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (exact amount depends on saltiness)

Instructions

Preparation steps

  1. Put lentils and water in a medium saucepan. Cover with a deep plate. Start cooking on a medium heat.

  2. Cut the carrot into pieces of roughly the same size. Put the pieces on the plate.

  3. Meanwhile, cut the celery into chunks of the same size. Put the pieces on the plate (should be empty by now).

  4. Peel and crush the garlic.

  5. On the plate (after you’ve dropped the celery), mix the rapeseed oil, plenty of pepper, a little salt (if you didn’t use any for crushing the garlic) and garlic.

  6. Wash the cabbage leaves and chop them roughly.

Timed steps

  1. As soon as you’ve started cooking the lentils, set a timer to 10 minutes.

  2. When the timer goes off, drop the pieces of carrot from the plate into the saucepan. Set the timer to 10 minutes again.

  3. When the timer goes off, drop the pieces of celery from the plate into the saucepan. Set the timer to 5 minutes.
  4. When the timer goes off, take off the plate and transfer the chopped cabbage from the cutting board into the saucepan. You can use your hands for this. Put the plate back on and set the timer to 5 minutes again.

  5. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat. Add the soy sauce to the oil and seasonings on the plate and stir.

  6. Take the plate off the saucepan and put the contents of the saucepan on the plate. Stir. Take the plate to the table and eat.

Timer

You might be wondering what all this timer stuff is about. Is Richard trying to prove how miraculously quick his cooking is? No. The timer just makes the cooking more efficient. Normally you’d have to check: »Oh, how done are my carrots? Ouch, the plate is hot. Hm, takes some more time. Let’s wash a leaf of cabbage. What about the lentils now? Damn it, my hands are wet and dirty. Ah, where is the panholder again? Now I’ve lifted the plate, but I don’t have a free hand to hold the spoon. OOOOhooohoo! hfff, hfff, hfff, those lentils were hot.«

With the timer, once you’ve figured out how long lentils and carrots and other ingredients take to be cooked through, you don’t need to check anymore at all. So how do you figure it out? I’ll give you rough timings in the sections about ingredients below. You try them and adjust them as needed. Don’t worry if your vegetables end up a bit under- or overdone the first few times. The beetroot a bit crunchy? The bell pepper not nicely green anymore? You’ll know better next time. What you have to be careful with, however, are tubers, grains and pulses. Make sure those are cooked through before you take them off the heat, even if you have to overcook some ill-timed vegetable on top.

The last question is: what kind of timer? You could use your phone or your watch, but I’ve found these inconvenient. You have to unlock the phone all the time and setting the timer time on a watch is slow. I used to use a mechanical wind-up sort of timer that was small and had a tough spring, so that it would work even in my pocket. Mechanical wind-up sorts of timers are certainly quickest to set. If you’re more for digital, I recommend the ten-button sort like this. Don’t buy one of those with »+1 Minute«, »+5 Minutes« etc. buttons, because they’re clumsy when you have to set different times often.

Plate

Another important component of the most efficient dish is that a deep plate is used to cover the pot instead of the usual lid. This has a few advantages:

  • One fewer item (the lid) to clean.
  • You can eat from a hot plate.
  • The spices get warmed in the oil, which might improve the flavour. I haven’t verified this, though.

It also has disadvantages:

  • The plate might get soiled with what is cooking underneath, and when you set it on the table, the table gets soiled, too.
  • Opposed to most lids, the plate doesn’t have a nice, cool handle.

For me the advantages outweight the disadvantages. You have to decide for yourself. So, what kind of plate? Any deep plate/soup plate that covers your cooking vessel is fine. For example, I used Ikea’s DINERA for a long time. I’m not encouraging you to buy anything new, though. If you have a plate that works decently, use it. If not, look at a second-hand shop. If they don’t have anything, ask your aunt. I’m against this constant buying and throwing-away and tableware is something we would have enough of for ten years even if production stopped now. Nah, not sure about this, and I’m digressing.

Cooker

I have cooked this dish in a cheapo rice cooker, in ordinary saucepans on glass-ceramic and induction stoves and in two fancier Japanese rice cookers. What I want to say is that about any cooking device does the job. Use what you have and figure out the timings etc. I might write a separate article about cooking devices in the future. If you’re interested, write a comment below or send me an email.

One thing, though: most cooking devices retain heat for a while. So, to be most energy-efficient, you can turn off the heat five minutes before the end of the cooking time and your food will be cooked just as well.

This is not the end of the article. I was planning to publish more sections (and have already written some), but I’ve decided to suspend working on this website. You can, however, easily encourage me to write about any efficient plant-based cooking-related subject by posting a comment or sending me an email (address on the Overview page).

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