This guide also showcases healthy food and is suitable for diabetics and those with other health conditions. Some people with irritable bowel syndrome will struggle with this level of fibre. Originally written with cooking for large groups in mind, but useful for home cooking too.
Tips and tricks
- You are not using flavour from meat (or added in flavourings from processed food) so you need to use more flavourings in the form of good veg stock, spices, herbs etc.
- Avoid processed and packaged food if possible as they will often contain dairy, meat, eggs and gluten or wheat products. Cooking from scratch gives better flavours and is often cheaper, but does involve more organisation and forward thinking. Some pre-packaged food is just fine – check the ingredients. Save money on cheap staples such as beans by buying them dried from the bulk stores and Indian shops and spend more on the flavours.
- Stews/casseroles/curries/dhals etc are the easiest types of food to make for large groups rather than trying to re-create the traditional “meat and three veg” plate of kiwiana.
- I recommend cooking vegan and gluten free meals and adding cheese or eggs on the side, then you only need to make one main dish.
- To ensure you get enough protein and fibre at each meal you need to use pulses, nuts or seeds in every dish. Pulses are the cheapest and the easiest to use in large quantity, but over the course of a few days, aim to mix up the selection for variety (and for nutrition).
- You also need leafy green vegetables in some quantity each day. (this does NOT include salad!) Aiming for the equivalent of ½ – 1 cup cooked greens per day. (This includes all the cabbage family, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, silverbeet, Asian greens, mustard greens, beet tops, brussel sprouts etc). These greens can be cooked into the main dish or served as a side vegetable. It is good to serve salad as well at most meals, but salad is mostly for taste, texture and colour – not for nutrition.
Pulses include all lentils, beans and peas. Peanuts are also pulses, but come pre-cooked.
They are extremely nutritious and high in protein, fibre and complex carbohydrate, so you will fill people up for a few hours.
The best way to cook them for large groups is to remove the FODMAPs. These are the substances that make people feel bloated (and fart a lot – not great socially!)
If you soak them overnight, rinse them well, cook them and then rinse them well again, this removes about 94% of the FODMAPs and they will be more easily digested.
You can buy tinned beans, but they are more expensive and even rinsing them well won’t remove all the FODMAPs. I caution AGAINST tinned beans unless you really have to.
People who are used to eating beans don’t need this, but when cooking for large groups, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
The minimum time for soaking most beans is 3-4 hours, especially if you soak in boiling water. Best is overnight (8-10 hours). Small lentils (such as red ones) can be as little as 1 hour (and you can cook these without soaking, but you won’t remove the FODMAPs if you do).
Kidney beans are the only exception. These MUST be soaked overnight and cooked extremely well or they contain a toxin that can make people very unwell. I recommend using tinned kidney beans if you are not sure, or substituting with pinto, borlotti or black beans.
Cooking beans is a bit of an art. Many books will give you the cooking times for different beans, but my experience is that they cook in their own good time. They are rarely done in less than an hour and can take up to 2 hours but often they “turn” fairly suddenly. I recommend tasting them every 15 mins after 90 mins and stopping when they are just right. (Softish but not mushy). Because different beans take different lengths of time to cook, it’s best to cook different varieties in different pots, but you can just put up with one being a little overcooked while the slower variety finishes off.
Whole lentils will only take 20 mins or so to cook after soaking.
Split lentils are the exception. These have had their outer, fibrous shells removed so they cook much quicker. You can’t rinse them after cooking, so give them a number of good rinses beforehand. You can soak them beforehand and reduce the cooking time to only 10-20 mins.
This includes the common “red split lentil” you can buy in the supermarket as well as split mung dhal from the Indian store.
Many people advise not adding salt until the pulses are over half cooked or they will become hard. I don’t find this makes much difference, but you can choose to wait before salting the water.
You can use pulses to make any stew curry or casserole, you can also mix them with a nut or seed butter to make hummus, make a thicker mixture and produce burgers and patties, dry them out and turn into crumble toppings etc. They are very versatile.
Stocks and flavours
This is one area to spend a bit extra. Massel veg stock is available in many supermarkets and is high quality, vegan, gluten free, MSG free, dairy free etc. It is really good and not massively expensive if you can find it as a tub rather than cubes. Organic stocks such as Rapunzel are also good. (Marigold is good too, but preposterously expensive!) If you can’t find veg stock locally, you can order from Auckland or Wellington. For large group catering you WILL need a large quantity (about 4x168g tubs) of good veg stock to do a week of vege cooking.
Herbs and spices are key. If you have fresh herbs from local gardens, please use – especially in salads, but don’t buy them otherwise for bulk cooking – too expensive. If you only have access to a small list then I would recommend large volumes of the following:
- Italian herbs
- Ground nutmeg
- All spice
- Black pepper
- Mild curry powder
- Garam masala
- Cayenne pepper
- Large jar of minced garlic and minced ginger (get the ones without lots of preservative)
- Small packet of chilli flakes (for the people who love hot, to add!)
Good extras to have around for increasing flavour at the end:
- Cumin seeds
- Small black mustard seeds
- Curry leaves (can be frozen if bought in advance)
- Poppy seeds.
- Gluten free marmite
- Tamari soy sauce (gluten free)
- Nutritional yeast (you need to know how to use this)
And for nutrition have some of the following to add as toppings, mix into stews etc:
- Sesame seeds
- Linseeds (also known as flax seeds)
- Sunflower seeds.
- You can use pumpkin seeds but they are more expensive, so use sparingly.
Make your own!
A vegan “cheese” sauce for bakes etc is pretty easy. Use unsweetened almond milk (avoid soy as too strong a flavour and oat because not gluten free), oil (instead of butter) and rice flour as the thickener. Flavour with herbs, veg stock, paprika, cayenne and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add tahini towards the end if bitter. Mix in nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” flavour.
Always use 100% wholemeal wheat flour if not gluten free and brown rice flour or ground almonds if GF. AVOID refined white flour.