Teen leaving the nest? Give them a taste of home with these recipes

Ease your child’s start at university with tasty low-budget recipes that are easy to make

Last week, I experienced something I’d been dreading since my daughters came into the world: my first-born leaving home for the first time. I’ve experienced such a mix of emotions. Of course, I’m incredibly proud of Reet for doing so well in her exams and getting into the university of her choice, but I’m also sad that I’ll see her less often, nervous about how she’ll feel and worried about how she will cope.

Having children leave the family home is a rite of passage for all parents, whether they are starting a university degree, moving in with a partner, or leaving their home town for a job. It’s put things into perspective for me, too, making me realise just how my parents must have felt when I “flew the nest”.

Moving away from family teaches a teenager so many important life skills – a first foray into the independence they’ll need to develop to handle everything life throws at them. For many, it will be the first time they do their own laundry, manage their own finances, shop for their own food and, of course, cook for themselves.

Romy Gill, with her daughter, Reet.
‘Moving away teaches a teenager so many life skills’: Romy Gill, with her daughter, Reet. Photograph: Courtesy Romy Gill

Some teens will be more confident in the kitchen than others – they may have been cooking alongside their parents from a young age, taken cookery lessons, or simply have a passion for creating and eating delicious dishes. For others, the idea of cooking may seem like a chore, a necessity for fuelling the body and mind, rather than an exciting and rewarding activity. Whichever category your teen falls into – or if they’re somewhere in between – a few good, basic recipes can make all the difference. We all know how important it is to stay well-nourished, not just for a healthy body, but for a healthy mind – particularly vital for university success! By showing then that they can cook delicious, nutritious food easily, quickly and more cheaply than buying junk food or ready meals, you’ll be setting them up for a lifetime of success, and giving them a great starting point from which to build even greater confidence in the kitchen in years to come.

With that in mind, I’m sharing three of my favourite recipes that are great for the university years – recipes that require simple ingredients and equipment but that create fantastic results. The first recipe I learned early on in my life and is very low budget, the second is ideal for batch cooking and freezing, and the third is great for students looking to impress a friend or partner. I hope your own university student children will enjoy the new challenge of cooking something different!

My first recipe: roti

Flat breads played a huge role in my early life, whether eaten with chutneys as a snack, or as part of a main meal. We ate all different types of flat bread when I was growing up: parathas stuffed with spices and other ingredients; deep-fried flat breads like poori, which puff up into ball shapes; and, of course, roti. Also known as chapatti, we used to make them fresh daily in India. This was the first recipe I learned from my mother. While she would cook them over an open flame, she taught me to make them this way as a child so I didn’t burn myself. These are perfect for university students, as they can be eaten as a side dish for curries, alongside soup, or as a wrap with the filling of your choice. Makes 8

atta (chapatti) flour 300g, plus extra for dusting (use plain or wholemeal flour if atta flour is not available)
water 200ml
rapeseed or sunflower oil 1 tsp
ghee or vegetable oil to brush

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle. Pour in a little of the water, bringing the flour together as you do so. Continue to slowly add the water and combine until you form a dough. If you use plain/wholemeal flour, and depending on the consistency of the chapatti flour, you may need more or less water than stated, which is why it is so important to add the water slowly.

Knead the dough in the bowl for 5-6 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Brush the top of the dough with a little vegetable oil, cover with a tea towel, and leave to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized balls. On a lightly floured board or work surface, roll each into a disc about 3mm thick and 7-8cm in diameter. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.

Place a dry frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot, dry fry one of your roti for about a minute on one side until bubbles form on the top. Flip the roti and cook on the other side, pressing the dough lightly with a piece of kitchen towel, for another minute or so, until it starts to rise. Repeat with the remaining roti.

Lightly brush each flat bread with ghee or oil and wrap in a clean dry tea towel or kitchen paper to keep warm before serving. If you have leftovers, they can be frozen to enjoy later.

To batch cook: onion paste

The most important part of many Indian dishes is the base. Here “gravy” refers to a base, rather than a sauce for a Sunday roast – something to which you can add your choice of meat, fish, paneer or vegetables, and something you can easily make in a large batch and freeze in portions, using it as a base for a range of Indian dishes when you want to. Makes 500g

rapeseed or sunflower oil (or ghee/butter) 100ml
red or white onions 600g, roughly chopped
ginger 60g fresh, peeled and chopped
garlic 1 large bulb, peeled and roughly chopped
tomatoes 2 tins, chopped
chilli powder 2 tsp
salt 2 tsp
garam masala 3 tsp
turmeric 1 tsp

Heat the oil, butter or ghee in a large, deep saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring to prevent them from sticking or burning.

Stir in the tinned tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then blend the paste with a hand blender until smooth. Once completely cool, divide into 6 portions and freeze in suitable containers.

When you’re ready to use, defrost one portion of onion paste and cook with 250g of meat, fish, one pack of paneer diced or around 400g of any vegetables of your choice. You can also add 100ml of cream, coconut milk, or yoghurt if you prefer a creamier dish.

Impress your friends: easy butter chicken

This is a recipe I taught to my daughter, Reet. It’s one of her favourite recipes to cook and share with friends as it’s simple and delicious, but tastes very decadent! With all of the ingredients simply mixed in a casserole dish and cooked in the oven, it’s also light on washing up and great for those who are short of time. Serves 3-4

chicken breast 500g, diced into 2cm chunks
tomato purée 50g
single cream 200ml
salt 1 tsp
caster sugar 2 tsp
chilli powder or flakes 1 tsp
tandoori masala (available from supermarket world food aisles) 2 tsp
garlic 6 cloves, peeled and grated
ginger 15g fresh, peeled and grated
cashew nuts 50g, ground
oil of your choice 3 tsp
coriander 2 tsp, ground
lemon ½, juiced
water 200ml

Preheat your oven to 180C fan/gas mark 4. Place all the ingredients in a large and lidded casserole dish, and mix until well combined. Cover with the lid, and place on the middle rack of the oven and cook for an hour. Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes, before serving with rice or flat breads as you wish.

Romy Gill is a chef, food writer and broadcaster. Her book, Zaika: Vegan recipes from India (Orion at £20), is available for £17.40 at guardianbookshop.com

Romy Gill

The GuardianTramp

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