Meal prepping and batch cooking are more popular than ever. After all, the cooking hack allows you to prepare and cook all your meals for the coming week, scooped out and organized in reusable containers and glass jars for every meal of the day.
“The idea is really to redistribute the time you spend cooking and keep it for the weekend when you are less rushed and stressed out,” Keda Black, author of “Batch Cooking,” explains of the reasoning behind meal prepping.
But saving time is just one of the many good rationales behind batch cooking. By prepping meals in advance, you’re able to control your budget by shopping just for what you need for the upcoming week—which means less waste and less frivolous spending. Plus, you’re more encouraged to eat in a more healthful way, eschewing greasy burgers and fries for Swiss chard-loaded tarts and vegetable couscous.
“It gives you peace of mind because you know there is a meal planned for every day with not much preparation left to do (that means all the shopping is done also),” Keda says. “Although it can be nice to improvise every day, it is not always compatible with active lifestyles.”
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Keda’s cookbook provides all of the necessary components to help you get started. “Batch Cooking” is organized by season, providing meal plans that can be tackled in just two hours every Sunday. The book is replete with 13 menus, shopping lists, and a guide to alter the meal plans for the season or for dietary requirements. For a winter week, a two-hour cooking session might yield a one-pot pasta with cauliflower, cheddar, and rosemary; broccoli flan with salad; cream of vegetable soup; vegetable curry with rice; and baked apples coated in pomegranate seeds.
So, how to get started, and what should you have on hand? Keda suggests that “it’s always good to have pre-washed fresh herbs to lend a boost of last-minute freshness to any dish. Weekend stewed or roasted meats give lovely leftovers that can be reused as part of other dishes during the week. Cooked rice, cooled in the fridge, makes the best fried rice. Root vegetables, peeled, sliced, and coated with oil, salt, and spices keep well in a bag in the fridge, so they are ready to roast when you need them.”
And while the foundation of batch cooking is certainly the ingredients, there’s one thing you must pick up before you get into the height of meal prep: reusable containers. Keda is adamant about making sure to stock up on containers to keep everything organized, whether you’re bringing Tupperware into work for lunch or grouping prepared foods and ingredients to make things as easy as possible once you get home for the evening.
Ahead is a week’s worth of winters recipes and meals, prepared in the batch cooking manner, from a hearty beef stew that’s repurposed into a next-day salad to crispy croque monsieurs and shortbread biscuits.
Recipes excerpted with permission from Batch Cooking by Keda Black, published by Hardie Grant Books November 2019, RRP $24.99 hardcover.
Fruit, vegetables, and herbs
1. Advance Preparation
Clean the leek by cutting off the roots and splitting it in two lengthways (start at the green end without going right to the bottom) then rinse in cold water. Then cut into sections. Peel the carrots and cut them into sections if they are large. Clean the turnips and cut into large quarters. Peel the onions and shallots. Chop 2 onions. Clean the potatoes and place in cold water. Wash and spin the salad leaves. Wash and drain the herbs, then snip off the leaves. Rinse the celery. Rinse the cabbage and cut into pieces.
2 . Beef Stew
THE MEAT AND VEGETABLES: Put the meat, a third of the turnips and carrots, the leek and the celery into a large stewpot with cold water. Store all the other vegetables.
THE BOUQUET GARNI: Add 10 peppercorns, an onion studded with 2 cloves and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 3–4 hours, skimming regularly. Allow to cool. Drain the meat and vegetables, keeping the stock. Store the stock. Store the vegetables and meat.
3. Persillade and Lemongrass Sauce
PREPARATION: Blend together or chop by hand 2 shallots with the parsley and coriander leaves, setting aside a few herbs. Divide this mixture in 2.
THE PERSILLADE: To half of this mixture, add a little salt and pepper, a dash of lemon, a little mustard and cover with olive oil.
THE LEMONGRASS SAUCE: Blend the other half of the mixture with the tender heart of 4 sticks of lemongrass, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons sugar. Add 2 tablespoons sunflower oil and 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
Grate (shred) 250 g (9 oz) Comté. Chop two shallots. In a saucepan, sweat with 30 g (1 oz) butter and a pinch of salt over a fairly low heat for 7–8 minutes: the shallots should become transparent but not begin to color.
5. Croque Monsieur
In 20 g ( ¾ oz) butter, sweat the 2 chopped onions with a pinch of salt over a medium-low heat for 12–15 minutes: the onions should be tender and slightly golden. Add a pinch of sugar and a dash of soy sauce. Allow to cool.
6. Shortbread Biscuits
Put 200 g (7 oz) butter in a large bowl, work with a spatula until very soft, add 90 g (3 ¼ oz) sugar and a pinch of salt, beat again. Add 300 g (10 ½ oz/ 2 ½ cups) sifted flour and the finely grated zest of the lemon. Mix to form a dough without working for too long. Spread by hand to a thickness of about 2 cm ( ¾ in) on a baking tray (pan) lined with baking parchment or in a buttered mould. Flatten the surface with a jar.
THE VEGETABLES: Discard the fat that has congealed on the surface of the stock. Bring to a boil. Immerse the potatoes in this. After 15 minutes, add the carrots, cabbage and turnips, then cook for 10–15 minutes.
THE MEAT: Take out the vegetables, put the meat and vegetables that were cooked with the meat into the stock to reheat them. Set aside a third of the meat and freshly cooked vegetables. Keep almost all of the stock, except for 4 ladlefuls for serving.
SERVING: Serve the meat and vegetables with a little stock, some persillade (keep some for Tuesday and Friday), mustard and gherkins.
Place half the salad leaves (keep the other half for Friday) in a bowl. Then, cube the remaining meat and arrange on top of the leaves. Add diced gherkins, halved cherry tomatoes, cold cooked vegetables and 150 g (5 oz) diced Comté. Season with the persillade (keep a little for Friday). Serve with bread.
THE STOCK: Heat up almost all the remaining stock (keep back 2–3 ladlefuls). If necessary, thin with water and dissolved stock cubes to obtain about 1.2 litres (40 fl oz/4 ¾ cups). Add the saffron threads.
THE RICE: Put the cooked shallots into a frying pan (skillet) or saucepan. When they are warmed through, add the rice and stir until coated. Add 120 ml (4 fl oz/ ½ cup) white wine, allow to evaporate over a medium-high heat. Add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring until each ladleful is absorbed. After 20 minutes, the rice should be al dente. Add 2 tablespoons créme frâïche, half the grated (shredded) cheese and some chopped flat-leaf parsley. Stir and serve.
Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet (usually 4 minutes in boiling salted water). Drain and rinse in cold water. Reheat the remaining 2–3 ladlefuls of stock. Serve the noodles on a base of stock, with the lemongrass sauce and remaining herbs.
THE ONIONS AND BREAD: Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF/gas 4). In a frying pan (skillet) reheat the caramelised onions, then take them out. Brown the slices of bread in batches in the frying pan with a little butter (for a lighter version, toast them under the grill).
THE SANDWICHES: Make sandwiches with the slices of ham cut to fit the bread, 2 slices in each sandwich, some grated (shredded) Comté and onions. Put in the oven for 5–10 minutes, but keep an eye on the cooking. Serve with the salad seasoned with the remaining persillade (or oil, lemon and salt).
Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF/gas 1). With a knife, mark (without really cutting) the sections of the shortbread. Bake for 45 minutes–1 hour depending on the thickness: they should remain quite pale in colour. Allow to cool, then cut the biscuits along the marked lines.