“You don't have to spend a fortune to create really delicious food,” says Donal Skehan.
Taking a look at his jam jumble crumble tart, his rich comforting meatballs or tasty Moroccan chickpea burgers, it’s hard to disagree with the popular Irish cook. And he learned how to make the most of a basic pantry from someone with years of experience: his grandmother.
"My grandmother is one of the most frugal self-taught cooks you will ever meet,” says Skehan.
"She raised my mum and her six siblings with very little income but that never stopped her from producing wonderfully elegant yet inexpensive meals. Her long-ingrained home-making skills, using inexpensive materials and simple methods, are some the greatest kitchen tips that have been passed on to me. There is a whole army of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles up and down the country who possess and use these skills without giving them a second thought. Many of them may have been brought up in households with tight budgets, where watching the pennies was part and parcel of daily life.”
And simple budget-friendly recipes are good for beginner cooks too. “I'm a self-taught home cook and I believe that anyone can cook up a storm in the kitchen and become a kitchen hero,” says Skehan.
In season two of his TV show Donal’s Kitchen Hero, the popular Irishman focusses on budget-friendly dishes and making the most of what you’ve got in the pantry.
"My recipes are all simple to follow and don't require any complicated kitchen equipment so even those with very few cooking skills can be encouraged to try their hand at them. For those who love to cook regularly, I'd encourage you to try out some new ingredients, such as offal, or underused cuts of meat. I hope all the recipes will inspire you to try a new approach to cooking - one that is hugely satisfying for your appetite as well as your wallet".
His approach has three main prongs: use basic ingredients – you can make great meals with pantry staples; buy cheaper cuts of meat; use up your leftovers.
To get you started, here’s a sample of what Skehan is cooking up in the show (watch Donal’s Kitchen Hero weekdays at 5.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33, with season two starting Friday, April 3).
“I love these little Moroccan veggie burgers – they have a great, nutty flavour,” says Skehan. These chickpea burgers, which make the most of pantry ingredients, are a great alternative to meat. “Tins of chickpeas are great to have in your store cupboard. They're simple and they're cheap and you can use them for hummus, too.” If you don’t have tahini, you can use smooth peanut butter instead. And another tip for Skehan – you can also make the mixture into little bite-sized balls, “which go great with drinks for a little nibble”.
"This is proper comfort food with a little bit of veggie action in there too," says Skehan. This uses an easy version of white sauce, is a great way to use up leftover bits of cheese from the fridge and adds veggies for extra nutrition. You can use any mixture of cheese for this - blue cheese, parmesan, cheddar, whatever you have. Just make sure it’s grated fairly finely, so it melts in the sauce. You could also use leftover pasta from the fridge here too. Likewise, if you don't have wholegrain mustard, you could easily use Dijon or whatever mustard you have to hand.
“I love fried rice and you can really pump it up with healthy vegetables when you make it at home. I've used leftover cooked ham in this version, but you can really add whatever you like to it,” says Skehan. (And tune in to Donal’s Kitchen Hero to see him make another favourite in the ‘leftover rice’ pantheon, nasi goreng).
The meatloaf a really simple recipe – it’s pretty much a case of throwing everything in and whizzing it up. It’s also good to use up leftover stale bread. “It’s true unashamed comfort food and should be celebrated for being just that. You can make one big meatloaf and serve it in slices or I sometimes like to make mini ones and serve each sitting proudly on top of the spicy bean stew.” The bean stew is great to serve as a side with other dishes too.
“If I was to name one recipe that is ideal food therapy, it’s this. There is something extremely relaxing about rolling the meat into little balls and plopping them into a boiling, rich, tomato sauce,” says Skehan of his rich tomato Italian meatballs with pasta. “This meatball dish is proper family home cooking and I really love it.” He uses sausage meat, because it’s cheaper, but says you could make the meatballs with mince if you prefer.
You can use whatever jam you have on hand to make this heart-warming tart. “This tart is a real lifesaver; it uses solely kitchen staple ingredients and is very easy to assemble,” says Skehan. “It's a wonderful combination of a tart and a crumble all in one, and the best thing is, it uses all the same pastry.”
This Irish recipe is a great way to use up leftover bread or cake. It was eaten by the poor of Dublin in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it was very cheap because it was made by bakers from their stale cake or bread stocks.
Watch Donal's Kitchen Hero, with Ireland's Donal Skehan, weeknights 5:30pm on SBS Food Channel 33, then on SBS On Demand.