[Updated 7 April 2021]
A lot of us are striving to cook our own meals at home nowadays, especially during Ramadan this 2021! However, as we juggle our ibadah and daily responsibilities while staying at home, it can sometimes be tough to get your iftar meal on the table on time ? Which is why we're here to help with these kitchen tips and cooking hacks that will make it easy for you to whip up your iftar meals for Ramadan at home!
1.Opt for ingredient shortcuts or prep them ahead of time
When cooking, it's often the nitty-gritty prep work that can take up a lot of time. Things like peeling and chopping onions and garlic, prepping vegetables or slicing chili. After a long day of work, not everyone wants to go through that in order to cook their meal ? Which is why it's great to have options that remove this part of the process!
One way is to opt for shortcut ingredients that are available at the store - things like peeled garlic cloves (which you can find in the refrigerated section of your supermarket) or minced garlic (the kind sold in jars) can be a life-saver when you're just not in the mood for peeling. For onions, you can also opt for spring onions in place of regular onions which are a lot less of a hassle - simply slice or scissor the spring onions into your pan.
For those that still prefer prepping their ingredients from scratch, the other go-to method for home cooks is to prep them in advance. Set aside time on the weekend and prep ingredients that can then be kept in the fridge and used throughout the week. This includes peeling your garlic or making your own garlic, shallot or ginger paste - simply blend the peeled ingredients along with some water or oil, then store in a covered container in the fridge to use when you're cooking. If you won't be able to finish it all soon, you can also freeze the paste! Simply pour into ice cube trays and freeze until solid, then remove and store in a ziplock bag or container in the freezer. Then when cooking it'll be easy to remove a portion that you can chuck straight into your pan ?
For other ingredients like onions, you can also peel a whole batch and store them in the fridge (where they'll last about 10 - 14 days), or you can even chop them up in advance and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week.
2. Keep a stash of pastes and seasonings
It's important to remember that even if you're cooking your own meal, you don't have to prep every single thing from scratch. This is where items like ready-made pastes and seasonings can really help, especially if you're cooking local dishes! Nowadays you'll find all sorts of pastes that help remove a lot of the work, from fried rice seasoning packets to curry pastes to even things like soto, lemak cili padi and asam pedas paste ? You can find them on the shelves at supermarkets (usually near the condiments and seasonings aisle), and also in the refrigerated and freezer sections. All you need to do is prepare some additional ingredients (like rice, meat or chicken, etc.), but other than that you're good to go!
P.S. For Singaporean readers, you can also find pastes, seasonings and other similar ingredients online at some of these halal supermarkets with delivery services!
3. Keep dried, frozen and canned foods that can supplement your meals
Similar to the above, it's also good to remember you don't have to cook every single element of your meal. Sometimes it can be tricky to prep and cook the complete trinity of protein, carbs and veggies in time for iftar. So instead of cooking all of them, why not just cook one or two and supplement the rest? This is where having a stash of dried, frozen and canned food can save the day!
For example, maybe you can focus on cooking your rice and veggies, but for protein opt for frozen pre-cooked chicken that just requires you to heat them up in the oven, air-fryer or microwave. Or perhaps if you're making a pasta dish made with minced beef and spaghetti but you're missing some veggies - add frozen peas to your pasta sauce or frozen broccoli that you can just steam or microwave and have alongside with some salad dressing! Or if you've made chicken soup and are wondering how to bulk it up to a hearty meal without having to cook rice, toss in some dried lentils straight into the pot instead.
4. Meal prep or make freezer meals
Meal prep can be a saving grace for many. By devoting a chunk of concentrated time on the weekend, you can actually set yourself up with meals for the entire week! This style of batch-cooking has become a popular option for those who aren't able to cook during the weekdays due to work commitments.
Not a fan of repeating meals throughout the week? This is where your freezer come in. The freezer is definitely a cook's best friend - not only can you use it to store ingredients or frozen food, but it's also a great place to stash meals that you can simply pull out in the future on those days you don't have time to cook! You can choose to meal prep a big batch of meals and keep them in your freezer, but another option is to simply cook extra of whatever dish you're making for the day, then keeping the extra portion in the freezer (which, if wrapped and stored properly, can last up to 3 months or more!). Then you can pull out that portion in the future whenever you need to ?
5. Have a repertoire of easy go-to recipes that don't need a lot of ingredients
Sometimes it's not so much the actual cooking that gets taxing, but the mental load of deciding of what to cook day after day? While it's especially hard if you're cooking for your family or a group of people who may have different tastes, sometimes even if you're just cooking for yourself, it can be difficult figuring out what to make! That's why building a repertoire of easy, go-to recipes is vital. These recipes shouldn't require a lot of ingredients, can be made with your pantry staples, and are easy to do. Of course, they should be meals that you enjoy eating too!
The recipes don't have to be super sophisticated - it can be as simple as whipping up some pasta using sauce from a jar or making scrambled eggs to have on toast. For some, it may be making a roast chicken (the oven does most of the work!) or making simple fried rice flavoured with soy sauce and egg. The point is that for the days when you're not inspired to cook, you can still fall back on these staple menu items to get your iftar meal on the table.
P.S. Check out some easy meals you can prepare for your family at home!
6. Make one-pot or one-pan meals
This is a good place to segue into our next point - making one-pot or one-pan meals! These refer to a dish that's prepared in its entirety in one pot or pan, rather than having to cook different things separately. It's a fuss-free way to prep your iftar meal without having to deal with a ton of washing up afterwards. A quick search for one-pan dishes online will yield an endless variety of recipes (made on the stove or in the oven), so search out the ones that appeal to you. To get you started, check out this recipe by As Easy As Apple Pie for baked chicken and potatoes.
7. Prep ingredients that are versatile and can be used throughout the week
If you're not keen on repeating meals throughout the week (a common complaint when it comes to meal prepping ?) but still want to prep ahead of time on the weekends, another tip is to prep cooked ingredients instead of whole meals. The aim here is to prepare a few specific foods that are versatile enough to be used in different ways during the week.
A popular ingredient that works well with this method is roasted chicken (or you could buy a rotisserie chicken too if you have access to it!) that's then shredded or diced. You can then use the chicken in various different meals during the week, such as in stir-fries, to make quesadillas, to add into soups, or to make sandwiches. For those that really want to maximise every bit of their roasted chicken, you can roast a whole chicken on the weekends, shred and keep the chicken in the fridge, then use the bones to make chicken stock that would be great for making soups or other broth-based dishes!
Another versatile ingredient is the humble boiled egg. Boiled eggs can last a week in the fridge and can be used in a variety of recipes - from simply being eaten on its own or for making egg sandwiches (good for sahur!) to making sambal telur, or as a part of nasi lemak or in gado-gado, cooking a batch of eggs at the start of the week can be a great way to set you up for meals.
8. Meal plan or keep an eye out for inspiration
As mentioned earlier, it can get taxing to decide what to cook day-to-day. Besides have a repertoire of go-to dishes, meal planning can be a great tool for those who like to take the guesswork out of everything and plan in advance. It's also a great option given the current circumstances where most of us are limiting our trips to the grocery so we're not out so often. Meal planning helps you know what ingredients you'll need and what quantities to have to cook your meals! In addition, meal planning actually gets easier for Ramadan since you'll only be planning two meals a day (or only one if your sahur meal doesn't require a lot of preparation!). If you've never meal planned before, it basically means to just map out what you'll be cooking every day of the week in advance - you can note it down in a list on your phone or using pen and paper. By meal planning, you can adjust what your cooking plan to match your schedule - if you know you have a busy day coming up, then you schedule in something easy to cook or make sure you make enough the day before for leftovers.
Meal planning isn't for everyone though - some people prefer a more flexible approach that lets them get more creative in the kitchen. If that's the case, then what you can do is keep your eye out for inspiration! Often times we get our ideas for what to cook from social media, the shows we watch, or the cookbooks we read. By consuming this content, it can not only help us push our creativity in the kitchen and give us new ideas to cook and find new recipes and dishes to love and make a staple in our household.
9. Dress up your ready-to-eat meals for the days you just don't feel like cooking
No matter how adept you are in the kitchen, there will always be those days where you just don't feel like cooking ?It's perfectly normal! And when that happens you can always choose to order-in, but if that's not your preferred route, you should have ready-to-eat meals on-hand so you can still have a meal. Whether it's things like instant noodles, ready-to-eat food (like the kind sold by Brahim's!) or canned sardines, it's always convenient to have it in your pantry for those particular moments. While having instant food is not always ideal, what you can do instead is to upgrade it so you're getting more nutrients in than you would otherwise! For example, if you're having instant noodles, add some chopped veggies (like bok choy or choy sum) into the broth as well as some protein (be it eggs, some cooked chicken or beef or anything else).
10. Use cooking equipment that can make your life easier
This sounds like an obvious statement, but one that can be applied in a few ways! The first is that it may be worth investing in appliances that can make your cooking process a lot easier if you don't have them yet - things like an air-fryer, a blender, a slow-cooker or a food processer.
The second is that it doesn't have to refer to just appliances - even kitchen tools like a Microplane grater, a sharp knife or a cast iron pan that can be used both on the stove as well as the oven can be game-changers that make things run smoothly in the kitchen!
The third is that it's a worthy reminder to use the equipment you have to their full potential! For example, did you know that you can use your rice cooker not just to make rice but to also whip up one-pot savoury dishes, Japanese pancakes and more? The point is, you may already have items in the kitchen that could help you prepare your iftar meals a lot easier, so be sure to use them!
Striving to get home-cooked meals for iftar this Ramadan is a great goal, especially since we're staying home given the current circumstances! And while it can sometimes be hard to do this when we have a lot on our plate, we hope these cooking hacks can help you become more efficient in the kitchen, which will also free up time for your ibadah and other pursuits ? Happy cooking!