5 things I learnt from Mum in the kitchen

I am incredibly lucky to have a mother who knows her way around the kitchen and is not afraid of slaving over a hot stove to get the flavours she wants out of any ingredient. How many people today are willing to ‘tumis’ (keep stirring) raw chili paste with oil over a hot stove for 2 hours?

However my mother did not have that luxury growing up and had to learn everything the hard way – trial and error. With a couple of cooking classes at the local community centre thrown in, courtesy of my father.

So here are just 5 nuggets of wisdom I learnt from her, that she learnt from all her years in the kitchen.

1. Buy what’s in season

Image by Kenski1970 (Flickr)

It’s fair enough that due to globalisation, you can find just about anything any time of the year, but what’s in season at your local area will have a smaller carbon footprint getting to market and will always be at its yummiest.

So why fight Mother Nature? Even in the tropics, where the weather is almost constant, there are fruits and vegetables that are extra special because they ripen and are at their best at certain times of the year. Try to remember when those times are and you’ll always be looking forward to something different every month of the year. Your menu will never be boring!

To find out what fruits and vegetables are in season in Australia, check out the guides on SBS Food, MarketFresh or Harvest Trail.


2. Keep a well-stocked pantry

Herbs, spices, condiments and sauces help pull dishes together, so a well-stocked pantry is vital in ensuring you can whip up a great meal anytime you want.

Image by Biggie* (Flickr)

In my pantry, I have an arsenal of things to whip up some great southeast asian eats and am constantly trying to add to it. What herbs and spices you stock depends on the type of cuisine you prefer to cook at home – here are pantry staple lists for Italian, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Thai and Chinese cuisine.


3. Pre-prepare ingredients whenever you can

Of course you can buy lots of pre-made stuff, but where’s the fun in that? Wouldn’t you rather know exactly what’s in your food? Pre-preparing ingredients you use a lot in the kitchen ensures you save a little time and you know exactly what went into it.

We do a lot of stirfry at home, so minced/chopped garlic is a regular ingredient we use in the kitchen. To save time, I learnt to peel and whizz up huge batches of minced garlic to store in olive oil when I have time on the weekend. This keeps for weeks and means I always have minced garlic on the ready for any dish I am looking to cook up.

In fact, I learnt how to peel garlic in less than 10 seconds, thanks to the glory of Youtube and SAVEUR magazine.

The same can be said for lots of things: do you use stock a lot? Make huge batches, boil them down to make concentrate and freeze it.
Or spring onion? Wash, dry and chop them into a container for the week.
What ingredient(s) is a regular in your kitchen?


4. Wash as you go

dad loves washing dishes... by vrot01 (Flickr)

For those among you with a dishwasher, thank your lucky stars.

For the rest of us, we either force our partners (or kids) to wash up or we resign to doing the pile of dirty dishes ourselves. But faced with a mountain, it’s hard to bring yourself to suck it up and roll up those sleeves.

So fill the sink with hot soapy water and wash your kitchen tools and/or pots/pans as you go. Do it immediately or while something is simmering away. Suddenly washing up won’t seem as daunting.

Serene Journey has 6 other fantastic tips for cleaning your kitchen as you go.


5. Use leftovers

All rights reserved by Heather Bowman

Image by Heather Bowman (Flickr)

Waste not, want not, right?

The truth is Australians throw out 4.45 million tonnes of food every year. That translates to be around $5.2 billion being binned for nothing. If we reduced the amount of food wastage, the environment would be better and there would be more for the world’s population (distribution is another issue).

So while you work on ensuring you buy just enough for the day/week with a meal plan, what can you do with leftovers?

My mum taught us to save it for tomorrow’s lunch. When you’re working through the day, it might be tough to break your concentration to hunt for something to eat. Bringing in a meal of leftovers is an easy and cheap way to ensure you eat healthy and don’t spend more than you need to.

Too much sauce or liquid from stew make a great base for a flavourful noodle stirfry. Too much cooked rice kept in the fridge can be whipped up into fried rice (Malay or Chinese style, or pineapple) or bibimbap (the perfect leftover meal). Too much roast chicken or steak can be a stirfry, burritos, salads, etc. You just need a little imagination. Here are some ideas to get you started.


Of course my mum taught a lot more, but I attribute my survival of those first months away from home as a teenager and keeping the SO happily fed to those five golden rules.

What nuggets of wisdom did you learn from your mother?