Lockdown Cooking: 7 Humble Dishes from Staples

muesli in a large glass jar

With most of us in lockdown or soon to be in lockdown, the more dishes we can make with what we have on hand, the fewer trips we’ll need to make to the grocery store. If we all make fewer trips to the store and elsewhere, we can all help slow the spread of Covid-19.

Fortunately, you can make very good food with very few ingredients. If you’ve stocked up on pantry staples such as oats, nuts, beans, rice and lentils, olive oil and a few other basics, then you have the bases for many simple, delicious, nutritious recipes.

muesli in a large glass jar
Half full or half empty?

1. Muesli

Basic ingredients: rolled oats, nuts, dried fruit, oil, sweetener if desired.

Muesli is granola’s more down-to-earth—but delicious—sister. I make mine on the stovetop with various ingredients I have on hand, and always with oats. It’s very easy. You toast nuts or seeds in a pot, remove them, then toast the oats, stir everything together, add some dried fruit and sweetener if desired and voilà—a delicious, nutritious breakfast of humble origins.

Go here for the muesli recipe.

2. Steel-cut oats

Basic ingredients: steel-cut oats, water, salt.

Steel-cut oats taste SO delicious. But they require about 45 minutes to cook. You can speed that up—and reduce your energy consumption—by starting them the night before you’ll eat them. Bring 4 cups of water, 1 cup of steel-cut oats and a pinch of salt to a boil. Turn off the heat immediately, cover. The oats will cook overnight. In the morning, simply reheat.

Go here for the full recipe.

3. Rice and beans

Basic ingredients: dried beans (black, cannellini or black-eyed peas are good choices), onion, garlic, hot pepper (if desired), salt, oil, rice.

When it feels as though the whole world is falling apart, take comfort in a pot of beans, served with rice. If you cook extra rice, you can later quickly make rice milk, fried rice or rice pudding. Or toss some rice into a pot of soup. I love having cooked rice on hand ready to become something else.

To cook fluffy rice rather than clumpy, boil the water first, then add the rice. Turn the heat to low and cover as usual.

Go here for not-to-spicy black beans.

4. Refried beans

Basic ingredients: pinto beans, fat, tomatoes, hot pepper (if desired), salt, spices.

The first time my daughter MK made refried beans for us, I said, “That’s all you do?” You cook pinto beans, mush them up in some fat in a pot and toss in tomatoes, hot pepper if desired, and spices and salt. SO good. Serve them with rice or tortillas.

I make these with fresh tomatoes. I like the taste of fresh better and I can get them without any packaging. But it’s okay to use canned tomatoes. The suggestions I write on my blog are just that: suggestions. If you don’t want to follow a recipe the way I’ve written it, great! Alter things as you like and that includes using canned tomatoes. The cans can be recycled and have a high recycling rate (go here for more on what gets recycled).

Go here for the refried beans recipe.

5. Chana masala

Basic ingredients: chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, lots of spices.

Similar to the refried beans, you can used canned tomatoes for this also. Remember, during the coronavirus outbreak, you may not get to a store. Pull your cans off the pantry shelf and use those. When summer rolls around again, you could roast and freeze or can tomatoes. But right now, it’s March and winter in the Northern Hemisphere and you need to eat something.

Oh, in case you’re wondering what the heck this is, it’s chickpeas in tomato-onion sauce. Tasty, delicious, inexpensive and easy to make. Serve it with rice or naan or both. As with most food I make at home, I’m often disappointed with this dish in restaurants, which is fine, because we won’t be eating in them for a while.

Go here for the recipe.

6. Dal

Basic ingredients: lentils, onion, garlic, spices, oil.

I make this Indian dish a few times a month but it varies according to what I have on hand. Sometimes I use small red lentils for a soupier dal, like this pumpkin dal. Sometimes I use the larger green lentils that hold up well to various vegetables, such as potatoes (OMG so good with potatoes) or cauliflower or both.

Go here for the basic dal recipe.

Pumpkin hummus and sourdough crackers

7. Hummus

Basic ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, garlic, olive oil. Add cumin and a bit of cayenne if desired.

Chickpeas are a zero-waste food group. If you’ve made the chana masala and cooked extra chickpeas, you can whip up hummus very quickly.

Have some leftover roasted or steamed vegetables on hand? Toss them in to add color and more vegetables to your family’s diet. Enjoy your hummus with fresh vegetables like carrots, celery and cucumbers, bread or crackers.

Go here for the basic hummus recipe.


In other news, I will take to Instagram Live weekdays at 4pm ET/1pm PT. I’ll show you what I’m cooking or making while stranded at my mom’s in Ontario, Canada. My mom may make an occasional appearance.

4 Replies to “Lockdown Cooking: 7 Humble Dishes from Staples”

  1. I leave steel cut oats in water overnight and they’re ready to eat — no 45 minutes cooking. A few seconds preparation time. A very liberating discovery I made when my store was out of rolled oats.

  2. My mom used to call it depression oats, and she did the same with rice. She brought it to a boil, covered it with a tea towel under the lid to absorb excess moisture, and let it sit overnight. The rice was perfectly cooked in the morning.

  3. Thank you for this list! I can’t think of a better time for people to focus in on their habits at home.

  4. […] Lockdown Cooking: 7 Humble Dishes from Staples ~ Zero Waste Chef || My kind of comfort food. […]

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