25 Jun 2021
In our advice column, we offer a reader suggestions to amp up meals using instant fixes such as Prego sauce or Adabi packets.
My partner and I moved into our first place together during this pandemic. It’s been pretty good so far, learning to live with each other, plus it’s our first time living with anyone other than family. Recently my job was made redundant (I know) so I’ve taken on most of the chores, and I want to start cooking to save money. But… I’ve never really cooked regularly before this, so I takut to cook from scratch. I recently bought some packet mixes and jars of sauce to start.
Do you have any tips on how to make these mixes more, I don’t know, special? To make it my own, I guess? I have some Adabi packet mixes and Prego pasta sauce. It’s quite sedap, but I want to make it even more tasty for my partner. She deserves to have extra good food for all that she’s doing for us.
Thanks for any ideas you can give!
Dear Kitchen Noob,
First of all, kudos to you for wanting to cook, and for wanting to give your partner the appreciation she deserves. The pandemic has been straining a lot of households lately for many reasons, and I’m glad to see that you’re doing what you can to support yourselves.
Second of all, it’s a smart move to start cooking with ready-made mixes. Cooking from scratch can be super daunting, especially since we are bombarded with media that tells us that we should all be fantastically skilled cooks.
Packet mixes are great for saving money, as buying multiple ingredients to make one dish may not always be cost-effective, especially at the beginning of your cooking journey. Everyone has to start somewhere, so use these mixes to help build your confidence in the kitchen or to save time on busy days.
I’m assuming at this point that you have used the different mixes and sauces according to package directions. There are three main elements you can play around with to take your meals in different directions:
Instead of using the pasta sauce on spaghetti, try mixing it with peeled boiled potatoes. Add some grated cheese on top and place it in the oven at 200°C for 15 minutes to melt the cheese—this will give you a really hearty meal. No oven? No problem. Assemble the same thing in a pan, cover it, and put over a stove on low flame for about 10 minutes. The cheese won’t brown like it will in the oven, but it’ll still be melty and delicious all the same. Or you can also spread the sauce on toast, add some sliced cooked sausages, and have a mini pizza for a quick and satisfying snack.
You can take the pizza idea a little further with instant roti canai (we like Kawan brand). Line an oven-safe pan with 2-3 cooked instant roti canai. Mix up the pasta sauce with some plain cooked vegetables and/or proteins, and pour the mixture into the pan. Top with cheese if you’d like, and bake in the oven at 200°C for 15 minutes, or use the stovetop method.
Proteins and vegetables
This is where you can really focus on adding different nutrients into your meal. For example, the curry paste mix label might just say to add chicken and potatoes. You can instead use shrimp and tomatoes, or beef and green beans. You can even make it vegetarian by using a mix of eggplants, okra, and cabbage. Try out different vegetable and protein combinations and you’ll have a brand new dish every time.
Instant noodles are an amazing ready-made canvas to experiment with. Make sure to slice or chop the vegetables and proteins into small cubes or thin slices to ensure quick and even cooking. Either cook them plain in a separate pan, or boil them in the pot before adding the noodles (as the noodles take just a few minutes!).
Spices and herbs
Different spices and herbs can dramatically change the aroma and flavour of a dish. If your partner is amenable to food experiments, you can use this to figure out what combinations you prefer. Perhaps in your asam pedas, you can try using different herbs each time; laksa leaves, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, bunga kantan, even Thai basil leaves, to see what qualities these different herbs give.
One of our favourite tricks is tempering. What this means is to fry the spices in oil before the main part of the recipe. For example, if you’re cooking with a ready-made curry paste, fry a pinch each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and ground black pepper in oil before adding the paste and the rest of the proteins and vegetables. This will add more flavour and aroma to the final dish.
I wish you all the best in your kitchen adventures, and many delicious meals ahead for you and your partner.
Send in your cooking questions or cooking-adjacent life questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Eat Your Feelings’.
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