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You’ll want to cook them time and time again


Whether you’re looking to save money or time, allocating a batch-cooking power hour (or two) a week could be the perfect way to break a fast-food cycle.


Great for ensuring that you always have a healthy meal to hand, putting all your energies into one set-aside slot can restore some calm to the most chaotic of kitchens and schedules. And, as a bonus, it means that you won’t have to contend with a sink full of dirty pots and pans every evening either. 


Whether done once a week, or even once a month (depending on how ambitious you’re feeling), batch-cooking also streamlines your shopping list and makes the most of your freezer space to help cut down on waste and stop surplus ingredients from gathering and festering at the back of your fridge (we’ve all been there).


The investment that pays off; here are the batch cooking basics that you need to know, as well as the best batch-cooking recipes for every taste and budget.


Which meals are good for batch cooking? 


Meals that can be easily scaled up in terms of volume are particularly great batch-cooking contenders. Think soups, stews, pies, casseroles, chillies, curries, lasagnes and lentil-based dishes. 


What can I batch cook and freeze? 


If you’re planning on putting some of your pre-made meals into the freezer, a word of caution – not all foods freeze well. Examples include fried food, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables that have a high water content, such as lettuce and cucumber. 


It’s also worthwhile, in our experience, investing in some good quality airtight containers to portion up your meals in. Don’t forget to label them though because when frozen, everything tends to look the same.


To keep the risk of a dodgy stomach to a minimum, always follow NHS guidelines on how to store, defrost and reheat food.  


What can I batch cook for lunch?


Here are some great batch-cooking meal ideas from some of our favourite healthy eating authors. From curries to mediterranean diet recipes they will have you looking forward to your lunch hour even more.

Squash and Lentil Curry with Thai Gremolata, by Melissa Hemsley


“This makes a huge batch, perfect for freezing portions for a rainy day. The flavour bomb comes from the topping, which is inspired by Italian gremolata, but here it’s made Thai-style with lime, basil and coriander. Don’t skip it!”


Vegetarian

Feeds six, takes 40 mins

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp ground cumin or 1 tsp seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander or 1 tsp seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp ghee or oil

1 large butternut squash (about 1.2kg)

400g split red lentils, rinsed

400ml tin full-fat coconut milk

1.5 litres vegetable stock

2½ tbsp tamari

Sea salt 


CURRY PASTE

4 garlic cloves

2 onions, halved, or 3 shallots

1 lemongrass stalk or peel from 1/2 lemon (no white pith)

1-2 fresh chillies or chilli flakes, to taste 1 thumb of ginger, roughly chopped


THAI GREMOLATA

1 handful of peanuts or cashews

2 garlic cloves

Juice and zest of 2 limes

1–2 fresh chillies, to taste, seeds included if you like

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 big handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stems

1 big handful of fresh basil or Thai basil, leaves and stems, plus a little mint if you like (leaves only for the mint)


METHOD

Toast the peanuts or cashews for the gremolata for a minute in a large, deep-sided saucepan until golden and set aside.


Make the curry paste by blitzing the garlic, onion, lemongrass, chilli and ginger in a food processor – it doesn’t need to be totally smooth. 


Add the spices to the pan you used for the nuts and let them toast for a minute, then add the curry paste and the ghee or oil and fry gently for five minutes. 


Meanwhile chop the squash into 2cm chunks. I don’t bother peeling it, just remove the seeds, which you can toast or roast for another recipe. 


Add the squash and lentils to the pan with the coconut milk and stock. Give it a stir, then pop a lid on and let simmer over a medium heat for about 25 minutes or until the squash is tender. Stir every five minutes or so, being careful that the lentils don’t catch on the bottom of the pan, and adding more liquid if it looks dry or if you like it soupier. Season with tamari and a little salt. 


While the curry is cooking, make the gremolata. Add the toasted nuts to the food processor (no need to wash it out from earlier) with all the other ingredients and pulse until just chopped – it should be drier and chunkier than a pesto and full of flavour and tang. Serve the curry with a good dollop of gremolata on top.


Tip: swap the squash for other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, swede or celeriac. And if you can’t find lemongrass easily, buy extra and keep it in the freezer.


Waste not: this gremolata is a great excuse to use up coriander and basil stems, as well as half a leftover onion or scraps of spring onions or chives. If you don’t use it all here, it’s great on roast veg, or in a noodle stir fry.


Extracted from Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £22 hardback)

Photography by Philippa Langley

Aubergine and lentil lasagne, by Dale Pinnock


“This is a lower-carbohydrate version of the old classic. I have left out a white sauce here, as many of the recipes for a vegan white sauce are pretty fiddly. By all means, if you find one, feel free to top this dish with it. I have also left the option of a vegan cheese open. In an ideal world, a good-quality nut-based cheese would be perfect, but if this is hard to find, use whatever you can get in your local supermarket or health-food store.”


Vegan

Serves four 

INGREDIENTS

1 large red onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Olive oil, for sautéing

1 large courgette, diced

400g can green lentils or Puy lentils, drained

400g tomato passata

2 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)

2 aubergines, sliced lengthways into 5mm (¼in) slices

100g vegan cheese, torn or crumbled

Salt

Rocket salad, to serve


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).


In a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil, along with a good pinch of salt, for about 10 minutes until softened.


Add the courgette and continue to sauté for another four to five minutes until it begins to soften.


Add the lentils, passata and mixed herbs, if using. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 20 minutes until the mixture has reduced down. What you are aiming for is a thick, rich ragu sauce, similar to what you’d find in a traditional lasagne.


Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, gently fry the aubergine slices in a small amount of olive oil for five minutes on each side until softened.


Spoon a layer of the lentil ragu into the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Cover with some of the aubergine slices. Repeat until the lentils and the aubergine slices are used up. Top with the vegan cheese, then bake for 20–25 minutes until golden brown at the edges and the cheese is bubbling.


Serve with rocket salad.


Extracted from The Medicinal Chef: Plant-based Diet by Dale Pinnock (Hamlyn, £20)  

Photography by Faith Mason

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup, by Dale Pinnock


“This simple soup is packed to the hilt with flavour. You could really throw together any vegetables here, but this classic combo works the best, in my opinion.”


Vegan

Serves four

INGREDIENTS

1 large red onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large red peppers, cored, deseeded and chopped

5-6 large plum tomatoes, quartered

Olive oil, for drizzling

200-300ml vegetable stock

Salt and black pepper


For the garnish (optional)

Handful of basil

Pinch of red chilli flakes


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas Mark 6.


Place the onion, garlic, red peppers and tomatoes in a roasting tin and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper and toss together well.


Roast for about 30 minutes until all the ingredients have softened. Make sure you stir everything a couple of times during roasting. The tomatoes will break down a great deal during this process, creating a rich sauce.


Transfer the roasted veg to a blender and add enough stock to come halfway up the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Garnish with basil and red chilli flakes, if using, to serve.


Extracted from The Medicinal Chef: Plant-based Diet by Dale Pinnock (Hamlyn, £20)  

Photography by Faith Mason

Last of the Summer Rooftop Party Cannellini Bean Stew, by Nina Parker


“I made this recipe for a late September rooftop party at my wonderful mate Casty’s house. It is a Tuscan-style zuppa (soup), made even more special with my classic chilli oil with crispy shallots. To bulk it up, you can throw in some conchigliette pasta or vermicelli too. It’s pretty light using ricotta but is also delicious with just a squeeze of lemon juice if you want to keep it vegan. I usually chop everything quite small and the same size which always speeds up the cooking time.”


Vegetarian and gluten-free

Serves two

INGREDIENTS

6 tbsp olive oil

1 white onion, diced

1 medium carrot, roughly chopped into small pieces

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped into small pieces

4 garlic cloves, diced

200g butternut squash, roughly chopped into small pieces

100ml white wine

1 tbsp tomato purée

900ml hot vegetable stock

250ml cooked cannellini beans

½ tsp ground cumin

A bunch of sage leaves

Sea salt and black pepper

Zest of a lemon and the juice of half

3-4 tbsp ricotta cheese


METHOD

Set a large saucepan on a medium to high heat and add four tablespoons of the olive oil. Cook the onion and celery for three minutes before adding in the diced garlic, cooking that for 1 minute. Then add in the carrot, squash and tomato purée. Mix everything together, pour in the white wine and allow the flavours to infuse and the alcohol to cook off for two minutes. Pour over the hot stock, bringing the pan to the boil and then down to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes or so until all the veg is cooked through.


While the veg is cooking, set a frying pan on a medium to high heat and add the remaining olive oil.  Then add the sage leaves to fry for about one or two minutes until the sage is crispy. Stir the cannellini beans and cumin powder into the soup and season with salt, pepper and the lemon zest and juice. You can blitz a little of the mix in a blender if you want to thicken it, but I leave mine chunky. Serve with the crispy sage on top, a dollop of ricotta and if you have it handy, some chilli oil.


Extracted from Saucy: A Cookbook, Only Saucier by Nina Parker (Nina Food, £15)  
Photography by Kate Metzner

Braised Chicken Cacciatore, by Brynn McDowell


“There is something so rustic and traditional about this dish. It’s hearty and full of wonderful, earthy flavours.”


Serves four

INGREDIENTS

454g chicken thighs, bone-in

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

227g mushrooms, sliced

2 tbsp tomato paste

794g can crushed tomatoes, drained

2 (Roma) tomatoes, cut in half

160ml red wine

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp dried basil

1 tbsp dried thyme

170g can black olives, pitted


METHOD

Lightly season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Then, in a large Dutch oven or oven-proof pot, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Once warm, add the chicken thighs and brown for five minutes on each side. Remove them from the skillet and place them on a plate.


In the same skillet, add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent – about five to six minutes. Add the garlic and sauté while stirring for 30 to 45 seconds.


Add the bell peppers, mushrooms, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, tomatoes, red wine, oregano, basil and thyme to the pot. Bring these ingredients to a strong simmer, and add the chicken thighs back to the pot. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone. Add the black olives and simmer for 10 minutes.


Reprinted with permission from The Mediterranean Diet Made Easy, by Brynn McDowell (Page Street Publishing Co 2020, £17.99)

Photography by Brynn McDowell