One of my favourite shows a few years ago was called ‘Ready, Steady, Cook!’ It basically entailed cooks (and chefs) getting random ingredients and seeing what creative gems they could come up with. It showed me just how versatile most ingredients are – we just tend to get stuck in a bit of a rut, and just make the recipes we know. And we really do – I read somewhere recently that most people don’t cook more than a dozen recipes. They simply can’t be bothered, or don’t get around to it. But for me – that’s where the fun begins!
Like many New Zealand families, holidays for us are often camping, or staying at a bach somewhere. It’s such a Kiwi tradition, and one we’ve grown to love as a family.
Whenever we go away, I bring out ‘the orange crate’ – a box of staple pantry foods that I simply add to or take away from, depending on the trip. There are some foods that come everywhere with us – salt, pepper, a few herbs and spices, soy, honey, tomato sauce, mustard, oil, balsamic vinegar, worcester sauce, a tin of fruit, a tin of beans – but the rest can vary enormously, depending on time of year, whim and who’s packing!
When I’m away (wherever we might be) I often foods I wouldn’t normally have – so quite often, the contents of the orange crate can be quite arbitrary! Whatever we have though, I can usually make something with. It’s actually one of my favourite games – have a look in the pantry, and see what you can come up with!
After a busy few weeks, we went to one of our favourite places in the world – our neighbours’ bach in Tairua in the Coromandel. Thanks to Annie and Steve’s kindness and generosity, for the price of the lawn being mowed or the occasional IT support from my husband Trev if they need a hand, we’ve been going there for years.
For us, Tairua holidays represent comfort, relaxation, fun and special family times. The kids learned to ride their bikes there years ago (it’s flat, whereas where we live is very hilly, so it was much easier), we often take the boat so get great fish, and the kids know it like their own back yard, so they happily do their own thing while Trev and I do the unthinkable – just chill.
Because the bach is meant as a place for relaxation, it’s also got a very minimal kitchen. It has just two hob elements, none of my usual gadgets, and and old, but very serviceable oven. This means that even if I wanted to, I can’t do my usual and end up with half a dozen dishes on the go – it’s simply not kitted out that way.
Because I’m still on crutches, I can’t go shopping without help (nightmare), so Trev was put on grocery duty. He knows to go seasonal for vegies, and he came back with a good mix of things – including a whole pumpkin. They are super-cheap at the moment, and are often a staple at home over autumn and winter, where I use them for a range of recipes, including soup, cakes, pies and muffins.
However, a quick look at the orange crate revealed that I didn’t have most of the items needed to make any of these things (bless him, it didn’t occur to him that I wouldn’t have packed the blender or food processor for a 2-day bach holiday), so it was time to get creative. I was going to stuff it. The question is – what with?
My staple for this kind of thing is often mince; however I hadn’t catered for a whole pumpkin during the packing. A quick raid of the fridge and the crate revealed the following: onions, a tin of black beans, carrots, a block of feta cheese and some greens.
It was the black beans and feta that clinched it. A few of the aforementioned herbs and spices were all it took, and in just under 2 hours (plenty of time for a couple of beers, a game of pool in the garage and for me to be soundly beaten at Snakes & Ladders), we had a filling, delicious and very popular vegetarian dinner that was cheap as chips, and, apparently, has now become a family favourite. I’ll play with the base ingredients, as I never have the same ones twice, but for a first time, this was a roaring success. And – most surprising of all for my meat-eating lot – it’s completely vegetarian.
Goes to show – with a bit of imagination, anything’s possible!
Full recipe can be found here.