"You need a base." I told my flatmate this with raised eyebrows. She'd just finished telling me that sure, her home-delivered ready-to-eat paleo meals were expensive, but she'd spend that much on normal groceries anyway…at which point I started spluttering disbelievingly.
Groceries in New Zealand are rumoured to be expensive, and it's not that I think they're cheap exactly, but I don't find them as outrageous as many others seem to. I also eat well – organic where possible, whole foods, happy meat – and I don't go hungry (trust me, I don't go hungry!) but I don't ever spend all that much unless it's a big stock-up shop.
I don't know why this is, but I have my suspicions. To begin with, I don't eat much meat. I was a vegetarian for around four years, and the habits formed then have stuck. I also like most food, know how to cook most food (or am prepared to experiment), and I have a trusty base to see me through almost everything.
Bases are big in lots of cultures – think of soffrito, mirepoix, the 'holy trinity'*. Mine comes from no particular culture, and is just a collection of stuff I like. In my fridge you'll always find onion, garlic, capsicum, and more often than not kale or spinach. In my pantry there is always at least one tin of tomatoes. When I don't know what to cook, I start by gently sautéing the fresh veges, then add the tomatoes, then whatever else I've thought of while I'm doing that. Once cooked down a little, the mix can be used for baked eggs, chickpea stew, as a sauce for pasta, with sausages cooked in it for a bastardisation of this Jamie Oliver recipe (he specifically says it's far better to use fresh tomatoes than tinned, but sometimes you have what you have, Jamie) and countless other dishes. I change up the flavour with herbs and spices – very little doesn't work with this.
Anyway. So, I have a base, and it makes my life simpler and cheaper when it comes to cooking. My flatmate eats mostly Paleo-style meals, and while my opinion on the Paleo diet is neither here nor there**, I will say it's not the most liberal diet I've ever seen. My flatmate also doesn't eat tomatoes, so my base is out. Fact of the matter is, though, that she needs a base. Everyone needs a base.
I decided it would be a good challenge to come up with a base for her – a list of ingredients that she should aim to have at all times, so when she doesn't know what to cook she can grab the usual stuff and just begin. It had to be tasty but also relatively benign, so it could take other flavours well. And, of course, it had to fit in with a Paleo diet and tomato aversion.
The tomato thing was the hardest bit of this, amazingly. The amount of dishes I use tomatoes in is quite over the top. The most-frequently uttered sentence in our flat this last week was me saying, "Ooh, how about…no wait, tomatoes." I didn't like tomatoes when I was a kid, but my children aren't going to have that option. Odds are they won't realise until they're five or so that one can actually cook without tomatoes.
So I thought, and I considered, and a couple of nights ago I turned to her in a fit of inspiration and said confidently, "Cauliflower."
"Cauliflower?" she questioned, wrinkling her nose uncertainly.
"Cauliflower," I confirmed. "That's your base."
To be continued.
*A Cajun flavour base that I just learnt about right now – but have instinctively used many a time.
**Well, it's me, so of course it's here. Paleo is based on bad science and is far too restrictive for most people to follow long-term. That said, what other people eat is up to them, and if eating Paleo makes one feel good, they should go for it.