How To Eat Well In A Time of Lockdown
By Sarah Huang Benjamin
Apr 14, 2020

How To Eat Well In A Time of Lockdown

Eating well is the quickest way to lift the spirits when everything starts to get to you

Like many of you all around the world, I’ve been staying home in a way I never have before. With lockdowns enacted in many countries, the options of going to a restaurant for a meal, or popping out to the grocery store for fresh ingredients is now harder. Still, a girl’s got to eat. And eating well is the quickest way I know to lift the spirits when everything starts to get to you. Well, what does eating well even mean?

1. Add A Dose of Healthy to Stay Well

Well, eating healthy is a start. Eating food that nourishes your body is one way to take care of yourself. But don’t forget to eat food that nourishes your soul too – food that makes you smile, food that makes you and your loved ones feel special, even if it’s the simplest dish. Sometimes a boost of wellness is as simple as making your own quick herbal teas, like a warm and toasted barley water. Or, a light and lifting green bean tea. I made 10 of the most popular herbal teas you can find in Chinese medicine shops. Here's my 2-step recipe to get thirst-quenching barley water - 

  • Toast 2 cups pearl barley grains in a dry pan on a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the grains are evenly toasted and brown all over.
  • Simmer the toasted barley in 1.5 litres water for 10-15 minutes, until you have a lightly fragrant tea. Serve hot or cold.

See how to make all 10 herbal teas here

2. Cook Your Kind of Easy Comfort Food

Sarah's One-Bowl Steamed Lor Mai Gai, or Chicken Glutinous Rice, recipe here

I’ve found myself doing two things in the kitchen during this lockdown period. Let's get to the first- cooking easy comfort food, the kind of dish that comes together without much effort. If you’re following an easy recipe, like one of my One-Pot dishes, feel free to make your own substitutions and improvisations based on what you have.

If you're looking for a mid-day treat to rid a dull stay-home day, get some slices of bread, butter, milk, eggs and a couple more ingredients to make an easy One-Dish Gula Melaka Bread and Butter Pudding. Or, if you're inclined to something savoury like a comforting bowl of glutinous rice oozing with chicken and mushroom juices, I made a One-Bowl Steamed Lor Mai Gai, or chicken glutinous rice. My recipe includes condiments like soy sauce, ginger, garlic and some wine (that's optional of course). You may not have all of them in your pantry, so make it your own by experimenting with different ingredients. 

Now when looking at lazy cooking, it's extremely useful to include the freezer as part of our pantry- you'll see then that cooking becomes easier. For example, freeze small portions of meat in separate bags or containers, so you can take them out to thaw quickly for anytime hunger strikes. I've found that minced meat is particularly useful, and it can be used in ways you wouldn’t expect. If you try making traditional Japanese beef niku udon with minced beef instead of sliced beef- you'll find the soup gets even beefier, since mince can stand up to longer cooking.

Sarah's One-Pot Vegan Tom Kha Mushroom Soup, recipe here

If you’re not a huge meat eater, you’ll be happy to know that alternative protein sources like beancurd and tempeh freeze well too. Though tempeh comes out of the freezer good as new, the beancurd undergoes what I think is a magical transformation. As the water in the beancurd freezes, it expands and creates these cavities in the tofu. When you add it to a sauce or soup, those holes absorb so much flavour. Frozen beancurd isn’t the same as fresh, but it’s possible even better! Many flavourings can be frozen easily as well. Kaffir lime leaves, a powerfully aromatic herb that features a lot in Thai cuisine, freeze perfectly. Chillies, especially small, fiery ones, can be kept in the freezer for whenever you need a hit of spice. My One-Pot Vegan Tom Kha Mushroom Soup uses these herbs to lift a deeply aromatic coconut-milk base, and all you need to do is put it all in a pot, with mushrooms, and simmer. 

3. And Cook Something New

Hainanese Chicken Rice, recipe here

But it's not all comfort food, with more time at home now I find myself wanting to experiment and try out new, ambitious recipes. Are you the same? Sometimes, that can simply mean trying dishes we’ve always wanted to, but somehow just never did. And this doesn’t mean having to go around town looking for fancy ingredients. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try out making bread. All you need for a basic loaf are flour, water, yeast and salt. 

  • Make a soft and puffy Indian Naan here 
  • Make a doughy, chewy Flatbread here

Meanwhile, you can always jazz up the usual staples of rice and noodles anyway. Don't limit yourself to fresh ingredients- stock your pantry with condiments like soy sauce, chili oil, vinegar, fried shallots, kombu seaweed, dried shiitake mushrooms and bonito flakes. And don’t forget spices, like cinnamon, cloves and star anise. Chances are, you already have most of them in your pantry, somewhere.

Between just those few ingredients, you can create dishes from a variety of Asian cuisines. You could try making a plant-based pho with rice noodles, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, kombu and dried mushrooms, for example. Think about what your favourite things to eat are, and figure out how you can stock up your kitchen accordingly.

The key is to think about how you can practise and improve your technique with basic ingredients that you can keep on hand at home. There is a world of cooking adventures out there, so get online or dive into some cookbooks and get inspired. Take it from me, there are few things more satisfying than pulling off a kitchen triumph like that! And if you don’t succeed on the first try, this lockdown is the perfect opportunity to perfect your craft.

4. Try To Keep Food Waste In Check

With lesser trips to the supermarkets, we're beginning to think about our food more meaningfully. One extremely easy, daily thing you can do is to freeze vegetable off-cuts and peels to use the next pot vegetable stock, or turn leftover rice into a delicious fried rice dish.

Finally, I know that in a time of great difficulty, it may seem frivolous to be talking about recipes. But feeding yourself and the people you love is the most basic act of humanity. Cooking and eating food that gives us joy is the ultimate reminder that life goes on, and it can go on well as long as we take care of ourselves.

What are some things you're cooking at home? How are you staying healthy, happy and perhaps even, accomplished in the kitchen? Tell me in the comments below or message me on my socials . 

Sarah Huang Benjamin is a chef and food writer based in Singapore. Check out her personal blog at www.kitchenhoarder.com . Follow her culinary adventures on all socials at @sarahhuangbenjamin .

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