So, you’re in a pretty tough situation – or at least, you’re probably going to be in one at some point in the future. The generally overwhelming nature of moving abroad for uni is something everyone who decides to do this has to deal with, so let’s not add to all of that the struggle of not being able to feed yourself because the epitome of your cooking skills is making some scrambled eggs or opening a can of tuna.
This isn’t about cooking being easy or difficult; it’s about the fact that it doesn’t need to be difficult. Here are a few easy (and not completely unhealthy) recipes and food ideas to get you going if you’ve just moved. This food isn’t only edible when you’re abroad, though, so be sure to mess around with a few of these recipes no matter where on the globe you reside, you won’t regret it.
Oh, and one last thing before we get to the list – do note that I’m no expert chef, but rather someone who is simply on the same barely afloat boat, so if I happen to give any cooking advice every once in a while, please take it with a grain of salt.
And now, finally, the list
1/ Pasta in all its forms, and all its glory
For all things carbs, this is your new culinary best friend. Learning to cook yourself some pasta (if you don’t know how to already) really isn’t rocket science, and will take you at most 2 tries to perfect, at which point it’s just steady sailing from there. And trust me, the sheer diversity of pleasantly not-bad dinners you can prepare with pasta is incredible.
You can add some ready-made pasta sauce which you can find in jars at the supermarket to give some flavour (some great options are bolognese, pesto & basilico), or you could go a bit plain if you don’t have any sauces yet, and simply melt some butter or cheese on your pasta. With some salt and pepper, it’ll still be a pretty decent option. If you’re feeling particularly confident, though, you can always make your own white sauce or some proper mac n cheese, which while are still pretty damn easy to make, I wouldn’t recommend if it’s your literal first time cooking pasta.
For specific recipes, here’s one for the white sauce, and for mac n cheese I honestly just make some white sauce and add shredded cheese to the pot, though I’m sure there’s probably a better way to do it.
2/Stir fry everything
This might seem more like a rule of thumb than a specific recipe, but that really makes it even more important. If you have some food in your fridge or pantry, no matter what it is, there’s a pretty high probability that you can make stir fry out of it. Okay maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but throwing some mushrooms and frozen veggies on a pan for a few minutes to serve next to an otherwise pretty bland meal is something you will grow to be very thankful for.
As you continue to perfect the art of stir frying everything you can possibly think of, you’ll begin to learn some tricks to it and ways you can up your game even further. One example is how mushrooms taste a lot better when you use butter not oil, and squeeze a lemon onto them while cooking. That’s not to mention that there are some full-on stir fry-based meals, which we’ll be getting into right now.
3/Stir fry noodles
If you’re a fan of Chinese but your budget isn’t too thrilled with the number of times you’ve decided to eat out this month, this one’s for you. All you need is some cooked noodles, soy sauce, standard spices like salt and pepper, a mix of (frozen) veggies and your choice of protein. If you’re lucky, you might even come across “stir fry noodles” in the supermarket, which will often involve just a minute of microwaving to get them ready to throw onto your pan.
For the actual cooking part, with some vegetable oil on a pan, throw in your veggies and give them a good 3-4 minutes of cooking. Follow that with your protein, and then your noodles. Finally, you add your soy sauce, some sesame oil if it’s easily accessible to you (not the end of the world if it isn’t), and your spices (salt & pepper will do, but you can always experiment with other spices like turmeric to make things a bit more interesting). You can also obviously experiment with whatever else you’ve got at home – I tried adding some sweet chili and I truly did not regret it.
Oh, and for the protein, it’s really up to you what to choose. Pre-cooked chicken or meat chopped up into little cubes, some variation of vegan chicken or meat, tofu, or shrimp – it all works fine. Whatever is easiest for you to prepare (or buy) go for it.
This one is a great option if you want a full meal that can last you a couple of days in the fridge, and is really one of the easiest (and tastiest) things you can cook if you’ve got some leftover rice. You can find the specific recipe I use here, but something to note is that you don’t need to use the exact same ingredients all the time. This stands true for fried rice, stir fry noodles, and probably a lot more recipes you find online – if you’re missing spring onions or sesame seeds, your rice will still be fried, ad you will still be full when you’re done eating.
Remember, you’re a college student and this isn’t Master Chef, so make do with what you’ve got and always be thankful that you’re having a proper dinner that isn’t instant noodles.
One of the reasons I love this meal so much is how fancy it sounds despite being so easy to make. You’ll need salmon, a lemon, and some butter (obviously), but also some olive oil and parsley/oregano if you’ve got any. All you need to do is spread out some olive oil in a Pyrex/baking tray, and put your salmon inside, skin facing down. In a bowl, melt some butter, squeeze a lemon onto it, and add some salt & pepper (and maybe some onion and garlic powder if you’re feeling extra spicy). Mix the sauce and drizzle it onto the salmon, making sure to get it all covered. Chop up another lemon into slices and place them on the salmon, and also add your parsley or oregano if you’ve decided to use some.
Finally, cover the Pyrex/tray with a piece of aluminium foil, and throw it into the oven for around 20 minutes at 180 degrees. Check if the salmon is fully cooked by poking it with a fork when it’s done, and leave it an extra 5 or 10 minutes if it still feels a bit raw.
And that’s it! Serve with some rice and a salad, and you’ve got a 30-minute meal that actually tastes like food.
6/Tuna Pasta Salad
Super simple, barely any prep – the most effort you’ll be putting in here is to make the dressing, which really isn’t that much of an issue anyway.
All you’ll need is your cooked pasta, a can of tuna, and the following ingredients for the dressing: (Greek) yoghurt, mustard, lemons, honey, salt & pepper, and olive oil. You could also add some turmeric, cumin and paprika, and you’ll be more than good to go. Mix it all in a bowl, and enjoy.
7/Baby Spinach Salad
Do not be fooled by yet another fancy name – this is just a very regular salad. Only reason I’m including this is to remind you that you need to eat your greens every day, so you better not use uni as an excuse to not get your vitamins >:)
For the actual salad, this is what I’ve been making everyday for the past month and it’s pretty good so I’ll just share it.
You start off with a base of greens; I go for baby spinach or Rocca, but whatever kind of edible leaves you find at the supermarket will do. After washing your greens with some vinegar, and rinsing with water, we begin adding the actual salad ingredients. This might come as a shocker, but these include tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers. All revolutionary, I know. You can always spice things up with some cherry tomatoes, avocado or quinoa, but if you’re not really a salad person, baby steps.
Next up, the dressing. For my daily salad I usually go for olive oil, mustard, sweet chili, salt & pepper, cumin, turmeric and black seed (7abet el baraka). It really doesn’t matter what exactly you add for the dressing as long as it makes the salad more appealing and hopefully healthier. Some almonds, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds will also make for some great and healthy additions to your salad, but I think that’s really about it.
And, that’s a wrap. If anything on this list feels a bit intimidating if you’re just starting out, I’ve been “cooking” for around a month and I managed to learn each of these meals in 1-2 tries, so it really isn’t that difficult if you give it a go. Don’t be afraid to make some dumb mistakes sometimes, because there really is no pressure since you’re only feeding yourself, and really, just don’t expect things to always work out. My first (and as of now last) attempt to cook chicken resulted in a lot of smoke, a fire alarm and ringing ears for a couple of hours, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re still learning. That’s your uni’s job 🙂