A lot simpler, but almost as good?

Last year my son headed into self-catered accommodation for his second year at university. Unlike his elder brother he’s not really taken to cooking, so we looked together on the web for “student chicken curry” videos. Well the very first one we came to started by frying fennel seeds. Way beyond what we were looking for IMO, and all the others were in a similar vein. Plan B was to try to make our own with cheap widely available ingredients, reducing the ingredient list as much as possible. I have to say that using just 5 ingredients, plus some salt and water, we produced a pretty good result. Much nicer and hugely cheaper than anything from a supermarket chiller cabinet.

Any other experiences of halving the number of ingredients to achieve a, say, 90% quality result?

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I’ve found that good quality Thai curry pastes are as good, or better than, making my own. I’ve also been pretty happy using Dona Maria mole paste for enchilada sauce.


I have a pretty good Friday night short cut south indian curry that works well with fish and veggies - its fast and easier enough not to be too affected by a trip[ to the pub before I start cooking.

Fry onions until they darken, add garlic, ginger, sliced chillies and fry. Ideally grind some coriander and cumin add to the pan with a pinch of turmeric (curry powder works but the freshly ground spices are better). Pour in a can or two of coconut milk and simmer (thin with a bit of water if needed). Add fish, chicken or vegetables and poach until cooked.

Quick recipes are one thing but I wonder if its better to teach a couple of techniques or base recipes than can be varied i.e. a base of minced beef, onion and garlic that can become pasta sauce, chilli, or cottage pie with a couple of additions. Or a roux based cheese sauce that can become cauliflower cheese, macaroni cheese, used with the meat sauce for lasagne etc etc.

Do you fry out (crack) the coconut cream before you add the spice paste if you are making your own…?

Most people don’t (you rarely see TV chefs doing this) and it really makes the difference as it’s essential to properly cook the the spice mix, if its not done the flavours don’t come out.

It takes some time and patience - and is a pain - and I only do it for special meals and when using David Thompson recipes.

You heat the coconut cream in a wok stirring it so it doesn’t stick. It thickens and the oil eventually separates out in to file and solids - this is it cracking.

Once its cracked add the spice paste and cook carefully until it becomes beutifully fragrant…its the key to the difference between good home made and average.

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I do simmer the coconut milk until the oil separates if I am cooking Thai style, using red panang curry. However, when I am making Chinese curry, I use Javin Brand yellow curry powder, ( also used for Singapore Noodles) I add coconut after the meat are in as well as vanilla yogurt to taste to counteract the bitterness of the Indonesian curry. Vanilla yogurt in the Javin curry is a tip I learned from a Chinese chef who runs a Vietnamese restaurant in Monaco back in 1972. I just caramelize onions, add garlic, ginger, brown chicken and pork cut into bite size pieces, add Javin curry powder to taste, then water to cover, come to a boil, simmer , add the thin part of coconut milk ( prefer the Choh Kah brand) , then when food is 75% cooked, I stir in the thick part of the coconut milk and the yogurt , simmer a bit more to blend the flavors.
Javin curry is mild, properly balanced coriander, turmeric, cumin, red pepper, ginger, all spice, nutmeg ) and is made in the USA. I usually prefer to add some red pepper as my family
like their food spicy.

Does self catered accommodation translate to he has access to a kitchen?
Asking for a friend. :slight_smile:

Not 5 ingredients but petty simple and the use of curry powder makes it easier and I much prefer this Malaysian curry powdet to ready made brands for Indian curries. It is readily available in Chinese supermarkets. The potatoes make it go further, so perfect for a student. I also use a stock cube for the chicken stock so don’t add much salt if any.

Malaysian Chicken Curry (serves 2)
4 chicken thighs on the bone.
1 medium red onion sliced
6 small waxy salad potatoes halved
1.5 tablespoons red lentils (rinsed)
1 tablespoon Malaysian meat curry powder (Adabi brand is the best I’ve found)
Half a cinnamon stick
1 star anise
chicken stock (about 400 ml, enough to cover the other ingredients)
neutral veg oil.

Brown chicken thighs on high heat in the veg oil in a saucepan and then remove. Turn heat to medium and fry the cinnamon stick and star anise for a couple of min. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add in the curry powder and cook off- add a little stock if it looks like the powder will burn. Add the potatoes and lentils ;ensure they are coated with the spice and onion mix. Add a little stock and turn up the heat , stirring to deglaze any sticky bits. Turn heat back to medium and add the chicken and remaining chicken stock. Cook on a low heat until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened.

I assume you fry off the curry powder for a bit to release the flavour…? The mistake many people make is to undercook the spices which means they don’t release their aromatics.

I also have a uni aged offspring.

It’s far better to teach them simple, quick recipes that provide good results, because they might actually cook for themselves!

When they are older and have more time and money (so they can afford all the ingredients) …and interest in more complicated prep…then they can make the choice to upgrade.

Yes. And it’s way better than we have at home. In fact their entire house looks like it should be in a magazine. As does almost every student house in the entire city. And they have a cleaner.

Nearly 40 years ago I was in the same position and I recall that we were on first name terms with the local pest control officer, and there were mushrooms growing in the bathroom.

And guess who’s paying?? Not that I’m bitter. Really.

p.s. Yes, in the UK catered accommodation means that the little darlings get given breakfast & supper, and self catered means they’ll have a kitchen and a direct line to a pizza shop.


Thanks for the replies, but grinds of coriander, frying out coconut milk and cinnamon sticks are never going to be part of this student’s process! Anyway, we’re there on curry. I was just curious in more general terms about decent approximations of dishes using a stripped back approach. Over the Easter holiday we’ll be tackling Bolognese sauce, without chicken livers, milk, pancetta, carrot, etc. etc.

Exactly. In fact I was surprised by the lack of really simple stuff on the web. Sooooo…my sons have challenged me to knock up and post a couple of videos which might fill that gap. They’re both at home over Easter, so I’ll be giving it a go, with them on camera duty. Watch this space!

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Robinjoy, this may be kinda obvious, but I bought my nephew a sandwich cookbook and a panini press and it was a big hit. Add a crock pot cookbook and gee, who couldn’t make soup and sandwich dinner? (I really don’t know if he added the arugula - shredded brussels sprouts - fresh slaw goodies to his sandwiches. But at least he looked at pictures of veg.)

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Completely agree jammie, but I was really asking about paring back recipes, as much as asking how the lad was going to survive.

I know, and I side-stepped you. Sorry!

I guess I have a sinking feeling about your question. Spaces such as Cooking Light have endless variations on the FIve Recipes with Only Five Ingredients theme. But is that what you’re looking for?

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No one taught me how to make curry but I take a different approach - I fry the curry paste in the oil while I’m frying up the aromatics and stuff. Not sure how much of a difference it makes but it doesn’t add much work to the process so that’s how I do it.

I have taught mine straight-up basics- - scrambled eggs to begin with. That then led to omelets and quiche…and our current go-to on nights that we’re tired, it’s late, and we just don’t care – a riff on a Spanish tortilla – a package of prepared hash browns (I buy the ones in the refrigerator case), some sliced onion, some chunks of whatever meat we have – typically diced ham or crumbled bacon – an a half dozen eggs).

I’ve taught him to make a shortcut of arroz con pollo, tacos, fajitas, etc…and how to take a jar of Patek’s curry sauce, leftover veggies, some chicken thighs, and some rice, and make it into a meal. We’re working on crock pot meals and other time- and budget-friendly meals.

My proudest moment was when he asked me to teach him to make carbonara – the traditional way, and I have to say he outshines me at it. Kid can turn out a velvety carbonara while he’s texting…

His friends are impressed – he’s the appointed breakfast cook when his scout group heads on an outing, because he’s the only one who can make good scrambled eggs.

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Thanks for the feedback! I have fried the coconut cream until is separated, but I don’t think I stir enough (I’m impatient) because my curry pans are always a disaster. I think part of why my homemade curries aren’t as good is the difficulty finding some of the ingredients (kaffir lime is the main one). I went on a huge Thai kick a few years ago, and after a couple of months my partner admitted he doesn’t really like curry, so now I usually only make it for myself and don’t want to go through the trouble of making the paste for one or two servings.

About 40 years ago as well. Eight of us had a “short life” house in Sparkbrook, Birmingham - mushrooms in the basement, ice on the inside of the window as the condensation froze in the winter, but it was only £2 a week (and just around the corner from the pre-cursors of Balti houses). Heaven.

We cooked communally and all had to take turns. We had some good and some “interesting” food.

Agree 100% - its actually the reason a lot of Thai restaurants outside of Thailand are no good as they can’t get the right ingredients. It makes a big difference.

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