Cooking in the Eye of the Storm

I’ve spent my entire life in the kitchen. I faintly remember the first kitchen I ever had: it was too small to comfortably fit multiple cooks, and yet that never stopped us. I’d stand on a stool my dad built for me, helping mum to make dinner, snapping asparagus for her as she prepared for a catering job, or helping her sort the produce she’d bought for local families at the wholesale markets. Later, it was the newer, bigger, lighter, bluer kitchen. These scenes may be idealised by the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and forgetting, but the wonder has never worn off. When I visualise home, it is this kitchen that I picture, and the people in it.

My relationship with food is a privilege, and this was never more obvious to me than after moving into a self-catered residential hall last year. Meeting people who’d never cooked anything more than pasta and jarred sauce was astounding at first, and although I soon dropped, and actively confronted, some of the more pretentious assumptions I brought to our cavernous, buzzing, communal kitchen, I came to truly appreciate the fact that I grew up in the kitchen.

There is a power young women often get in this space, perhaps over their peers. It is not necessarily a role they want (although I so badly did), but one that is forced upon them alongside the expectation that they’ll stay there. Although it’s incredibly important to fight these stereotypes, I also think we should be fighting for all children, of all genders, to learn to cook and be comfortable in a kitchen if they have access to one. These skills are so essential. Watching fresh-out-of-school boys burn spaghetti is amusing, but it is indicative of a lack of self-sufficiency that benefits no-one – not these young people, who are perhaps disproportionately men due to the patriarchal stereotyping we’re all exposed to, or their friends, partners or housemates. It’s essential that we acknowledge these patriarchal structures, and also the issues of class, race, language and culture that play out alongside them.

I will absolutely always love to cook, be in the kitchen, and spend time with my mum preparing food. Her cooking is a constant source of inspiration for me – she’s taught me that sometimes cooking for someone can express love and care just as well as any words can. For me, the kitchen is a space filled with both maternal comfort and a fierce sense of independence and adventure. There is a level of matriarchal tradition and reclaiming of the private sphere that I associate with this space. The kitchen feels like the still eye of the storm of my own life, but I think it is also central to society as a whole. It is all too easy to reject cooking for family and loved ones as stereotypical ‘feminine’ – but we need to encourage people of all genders to embrace cooking as a form of emotional expression and as a basic survival skill.

Vegetarian Chilli Beans

When I moved to Canberra the only foods I packed were a collection of spices and some frozen vegetarian chilli beans that my Mum had suggested I bring “just in case”. There’s nothing more nourishing – this is a meal I make whenever I get back to Canberra, before the hecticness of another O-week, or at times when I need comfort. The joy of this recipe is that all you need is a few tins and some spices, and the rest is adaptable – whether it was corn, silverbeet or sweet potato, I’ve never found a combination of vegetables that didn’t work.

Ingredients:

  • ½ tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, chopped
  • 1 chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp of paprika
  • 2 tsp of ground coriander
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of ground chili
  • 1 400-gram tin of diced tomatoes
  • 1 400-gram tin of red kidney beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup of dried green lentils
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp of tomato paste

Method:

  1. Boil the lentils in 2 – 3 cups of water for about 20 minutes, or until they are soft to bite. Set aside and drain.
  2. Sauté the onions in a large pan for approximately 5 minutes, until they are soft.
  3. Add the capsicum and garlic. Fry for an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Add in all your spices and stir through vigorously for about a minute.
  5. Stir through the tomatoes, tomato paste, red kidney beans, stock and green lentils, then simmer for approximately half an hour.
  6. Serve with rice, cheese and Greek yogurt.

Other ways to serve: as nachos, in a toasty, over pasta or on its own. If you’re feeling extra fancy, add some guacamole, a few wedges of lime, and sprinkle coriander leaves on top.