It’s hard working round an unfamiliar kitchen. In an Airbnb, it can be even trickier – you get all the worry of using someone else’s stuff without the benefit of them being there to show you how to use it. In Hamburg, I’ve had the additional stress of needing to relearn using an electric hob and my host’s often “eclectic” approach to setting up a kitchen, which includes decorative and expensive Le Creuset mini-casserole but excludes a baking sheet or a large pot with a lid.
What she did leave, besides an inexplicable amount of tinned fish, was a generous stock of pasta, rice and spices, with an invitation that we help ourselves. In need of something comforting, filling and mindful that I’m on a budget until we find us a home and me a permanent job, I turned to the ever-resourceful and inspiring Meera Sodha and her excellent weekly vegan recipes for the Guardian. Her wild-rice Kitchari led me to a rather more stripped-back recipe which combines storecupboard basics and some german additions to good effect.
When improvising in an unfamiliar kitchen, it’s useful to remember the following:
- If you don’t have a kitchen scale, try not to panic. Lots of measuring jugs have weightings for rice, flour, sugar and cocoa on the side, and you can often eyeball rice and pasta by remembering that 250g is half a packet or so. For this recipe, over- or under-estimating amounts isn’t going to significantly harm the outcome as Kitchari, being a biryani/Kedgeree sort of thing, ranges from the dry to the soupy in texture. As they say in German, wass muss, das muss (“What will be will be”, approximately).
- The directions for pan usage are general for most recipes. So if a recipe instructs you to use a large deep frying pan but you only have a saucepan, don’t worry. You’ll just need to remember that cooking times might vary slightly – e.g. if you’re cooking in a frying pan instead of a saucepan, cooking times might reduce and vice verse.
- Kitchens are what they are but as ever, a well-sharpened knife makes all the difference. I travel with a knife sharpener if using an Airbnb for an extended period, and find it makes all the difference. Just remember to warn the owner you’re planning to do it!
- If you don’t have a lid for a pot, wrap an-appropriately-sized plate in foil (to prevent too much direct heat) and use that. If cooking rice, slip a clean tea towel under the lid to create a good seal:
Adapted from this recipe by Meera Sodha, which is vegetarian as I’ve suggested but easily made vegan without the accompaniments. Serves 8-10 (or 2 ppl for 4 meals!)
200g lentils (I used basic green lentils)
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
0.5 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground cumin (weirdly hard to find in Germany, where it’s known as Kreuzkuemmel, as it’s often mixed up with Kuemmel – Caraway – but available in Asian food stores)
0.5 tsp hot chilli powder
0.5 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
650 ml vegetable broth, from stock cube or powder (you can use plan water in a pinch)
6 peeled potatoes, chopped into 1-inch chunks
Yoghurt (dairy-free/vegan if that’s your jam) and creamed spinach to serve
- First prep your lentils. I hot-soaked mine (brought up to the boil in cold water then turned off and left) for 20 minutes until they were noticeably softer, because they were cheap green lentils and I never know if they need soaking or not. They ended up pretty pappy and soft but I kind of dig that. If you don’t, and your lentils don’t need soaking, you’ll be fine mixing with the rice for step two.
- Wash and drain your rice a few times until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in fresh cold water while you prep the veg.
- When ready to cook, add your onions to a medium heat and cook for around 10 minutes until golden-brown and very soft. Add garlic and cook for two minutes, turning up the heat until starting to go golden.
- Add your tomatoes, crushing them as you add them to the pan using your hand. This means pour the tomato from the can to your hand and squidge it before throwing it in, DO NOT PUT YOUR HAND IN THE PAN (you’d think I wouldn’t need to make this clear, but apparently not). Swirl around then add the potatoes. Bring to the bubble then reduce the heat to medium for around 10 minutes while the sauce reduces and to give the potatoes a chance to start cooking. Once the sauce is reduced and looks a bit thicker, stir in your spices and salt.
- After another minute, add your rice, lentils and stock, stir well and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of pepper at this point if you like.
- Once at a good bubble, cover and reduce the heat as LOW AS IT WILL GO. Leave the lid/plate/whatever in place and leave it well alone for 20 minutes.
- After twenty minutes, remove from the heat and leave alone for a further ten minutes. During this time the rice will keep cooking in the steam created and the bottom of the pan will get a lovely crunchy golden bit called the tadig.
To serve, spoon onto plates and top with creamed spinach and yoghurt. It’s also lovely with a fried egg.