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Learning to Cook at University

Date:24 April 2019
When all else fails, just go out to eat
When all else fails, just go out to eat

Not only have you been thrown out into the world and have to deal with a new environment, laundry, cleaning and university, you also need to start cooking for yourself (or accept your losses and spend most of your monthly budget on take-out).

Here are some general basic guidelines to help you along the way. 

Simple tips and tricks

  • Herbs are your friends - but they’re high maintenance friends. They don’t always mix well with each other.
  • Soy sauce, ketjap manis, vinegar and tomato ketchup, are surprisingly useful in recipes and the basis for a good sweet and sour sauce.
  • Pay attention to what you’re cooking and test how ready the food is every few minutes. I usually mess this up because I get carried away when watching Youtube videos and usually forget about my food until 30 minutes later.

How to find recipes

  1. Pinterest and Google are your best friends when trying to decide what to cook
  2. If you’re not quite the internet person and want an offline way of getting recipes, stores like Lidl and Albert Heijn have weekly recipes in their stores that you can take for free to give you some inspiration
  3. Have dinner evenings with your friends and make sure you’re not the one cooking (steal their signature dishes and pretend they were yours all along)
  4. I’ve generously outlined my signature dish at the bottom of this blog; if you’re interested, it’s a sweet potato curry

How to cook staples

this gives me anxiety
this gives me anxiety
Cooking rice

To be honest, I am probably not the best person to give you advice on how to cook rice since I have never successfully cooked my own rice. My main tip is to buy microwave rice since even I have never managed to mess that up.

If you insist on actually properly cooking rice here’s what friends have told me to do every time they see me struggle:

“Add the rice, then add water to the pan until it’s about two fingers above the rice and it feels right; switch on the stove and let it boil. When it’s boiling switch off the heat and let it steam for 10ish minutes (with the lid on). Don’t take the lid off until after the 10-minutes have passed.” Apparently, this is supposed to work consistently, and your gut will help you get it just right.

Pro: You can’t burn your rice this way. Cons: vague instructions.

Cooking pasta and potatoes

Fill a pan with water and let the water boil. When the water boils, add the pasta and some salt. Let the pasta boil gently for approximately 10 minutes. Test it in between.

You cook potatoes in roughly the same way. After the water boils, add the potatoes to the pan. If you’ve cut your potatoes into smaller bits they can be done in about 10-15 minutes. Test the texture with a fork throughout the process to get it right.

Error Message - Food Revival Management

dealing with the aftermath, not preventing it
dealing with the aftermath, not preventing it

Oh man, added one tablespoon of salt instead of the teaspoon you were supposed to. It’s all about the balance, you have few options here, all geared towards neutralising the salt:

  • Add more herbs until you no longer taste the salt. My go-to is to add so much chilli that my mouth burns and it hurts the day after. This way you don’t taste the salt anymore.
  • If you don’t feel like killing your taste-buds with a mix of overpowering flavours, add more vegetables and other non-salt/pepper/herb-related ingredients required by the recipe. The only con with this is that you’ll end up with A LOT of leftovers. But hey, now you don’t need to cook for the rest of the week.
  • Add sugar and vinegar and turn it into a sweet and sour dish. This way you don’t waste the food, don’t kill your taste-buds and you don’t end up with a 10-person portion (disclaimer: I’ve never tried this before, but it sounds like it would work)

Let your rice boil longer than it was supposed to, and now it looks like porridge? Obviously, you didn’t read the “how to cook your staples” section above, but no worries I’m here to help:

  • Make rice pudding. In a separate pan mix a cup of milk, a pinch of salt, some sugar, cinnamon and vanilla essence. Add the messed up rice and mix. This should give a reasonably tasty rice pudding for dessert
  • Suck it up, pretend its sticky rice, and eat

Burnt your food? The loss of food shouldn’t be your main priority - you may have ruined your pans, and worse, think of the effort it’ll take to do the dishes now.

  • If your priority is food and the only question on your mind: how do I save my food? Just scoop out the not so burnt bits or depending on what you were cooking, you can also cut off the burnt bits and eat what seems decent. Easy.
  • Now the real issue: the ruined pan.
    • Let it soak overnight and tell yourself you’ll clean it. Try to clean it a few days later, get relatively far before giving up and letting it soak some more. Repeat this process until the pan is clean
    • Use the money you’ve saved by not buying take-out to buy a new pot
    • For the die-hards who want to clean the pan in one go: use hot water and scrub intensely. According to Google, using vinegar, soap or baking soda while scrubbing will give you more effective results.

Marije’s generously given free signature dish: Sweet potato curry

  • 2 onions
  • 1 Sweet potatoes
  • 1 can Chickpeas
  • A packet of Fresh spinach
  • Green curry paste
  • Can of coconut milk
  • Vegetable stock
  • 500ml boiling water
  • Chilli (extra)
  • Rice
  1. Chop up the onions, and dice the sweet potato. Fry the onions first. When these are a nice golden colour, or not, add the sweet potato.
  2. Add the curry paste and mix that until all the potato bits are covered.
  3. Mix the vegetable stock in the boiling water. Add the vegetable stock mixture and the coconut milk to the pan. Mix and let simmer for approximately 5 minutes.
  4. Start making the rice. Follow the steps above or the actual instruction on the rice packet (both methods have failed me in the past so choose wisely).
  5. Add the chickpeas to the curry mixture.
  6. If you want to, you can start going crazy with the chilli and other random spices at this point. Or any other point really, I don’t have a fixed method, except that I always add the spinach last.
  7. Poke the sweet potato pieces with a fork to check if the consistency is right.
  8. Add the spinach. Poke at the potatoes to double check they’re done. If they’re done, eat.
how I feel when I cook #masterchef
how I feel when I cook #masterchef


About the author

Hi! My name’s Marije, and I study English Language and Culture. I’m half Dutch half German, but I grew up in Africa (starts thinking of suitable Mean Girls quotes to reference). When I’m not out, studying or writing something, I’m inside, wrapped in a blanket binge watching a new tv-show.


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