What’s in Kim’s cupboard, and what can we make out of it?

I received a message yesterday from a reader who has had her tax credits cut off suddenly, and her ‘bank balance was zero’. Having been in that position myself, I decided to do the only thing I can do to help – and asked her to send me a list of what was in her cupboard, to see if we could get through the next week or so until the tax credits are sorted, by devising recipes from what she has available.

Here’s what she has to work with:

Red lentils
Green lentils
Bulgar wheat
Cous cous
Porridge oats
Brown rice
Chopped tomatoes x2
Passatta x2
Tinned chickpeas x1
Breakfast cereals to last a good 2 weeks!
1kg bag of Onions
4 carrots
Butternut squash x1
Cheddar cheese
Frozen shortcrust and puff pastry sheets x1 each
Frozen spinach
2packs of raw salmon fillets (79p reduced bargain!!)
Chicken breasts x3
Stocks cubes beef and chicken
Harissa paste
Soy sauce
Veg oil and olive
Chilli flakes and powder
Ground cumin and whole
Ground coriander
Garam masala
Bay leaves
Mixed spice

At first glance I can see a Daal here, a butternut squash and oregano risotto, a chickpea and spinach curry, a chicken casserole, carrot and cumin falafels, a green lentil bolognese, cheese and onion pasta, cinnamon porridge and a Harissa spiced salmon bake… Recipes to follow shortly! Anyone got any other ideas?

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

A Girl Called Jack is available to order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Girl-Called-Jack-Monroe/dp/0718178947

Categories: Recipes & Food


  1. After the cheese and onion pasta if she has any cheese left could make a cheese and onion filled pastry (maybe add some mushrooms to it?)

  2. I’d be tempted by a butternut squash and lentil soup, which is maybe more of a winter dish. The chicken and fronzen spinach could also be used with the cumin, corriander and other spices to make a tasty middle-eastern dry curry – pop it from the pan in to the pastry and bake it. Over here in Austria people often make a strudel using savoury ingrediants instead of it just being a desert. And it’s amazing!

  3. Does she have any money at all for odd bits or is this it?

    I’m seeing beginnings of a chicken and mushroom pie/pasty or a mushroom pasta.

  4. Diced butternut squash and carrot, sprinkled with oregano and roasted up in a hefty glug of olive oil. Grate some cheese on top when it’s done. It’s AMAZING with pasta but would probably be yummy with couscous as well.

  5. Salmon and spinach en croute using the frozen puff pastry. And she could use any leftover pastry and leftover veg, cheese, curry, pasta sauce, or whatver she has, to make savoury tarts or pasties.

  6. I dont know what it is called, but I once had spinach,& cheese wrapped in filo pastry (maybe with other ingredients like spices or onion etc) it was absolutely delicious

  7. with so many spices, use fewer ingredients. Spiced fried onions with rice cooked in a chickenstock cube would be a nice, tasty and filling meal and only 2 ingredients. Maybe a spash of passata if there was some left from a previous meal.
    Does she have any sugar/honey etc. With porridge oats a nice flapjack. . . or use cornflakes for a crispy cake. At times like this, cake is good.

  8. I’d say that this calls for a big pot of lentil & veg bolognese that can be portioned up for dinners/lunches over the course of a couple of weeks. lentil mixture with pasta one day, blitz a portion to make soup another day, another portion with added chilli served with the rice and grated cheese. Add curry powder, one of the chicken breasts and spinach to make into a curry.
    I’m thinking along the lines that the fresh veg won’t keep for 2 weeks, so use it now to make batches of stuff that can be frozen and used up over the next few weeks.
    The protein should be eeked out over as many meals as possible, so the luxury of a whole salmon portion per person would be reduced to 1 portion being used to feed 4. Maybe dice up one fillet and scatter over the puff pastry with a grating of cheese and a scattering of defrosted and drained spinach. Serve that with a couscous, harissa and grated carrot salad.

  9. Curry with the spices and chicken served with brown rice
    Or Butternut squash and spinach curry
    Salmon en croute with frozen spinach
    French onion soup
    Salmon cous cous spinach
    Chicken/lentil chilli using harissa paste/chilli with rice
    Carrot and coriander soup
    Mushroom risotto using orzo

  10. I would use 2 chicken for the casserole and save the 3rd for a curry. Or vice versa. Blackberries are in season picking wild for free, add sugar to taste and 30p crumble mix from Tesco. Can add oats to the topping mix to make it go further.

  11. I can see some salty porridge with butternut squash and harissa.
    Also vegetable stew cous-cous style with chickpeas served over bulgur, asian fried rice, chicken-cheddar-mushrooms pastries…
    I actually think there’s stuff for more than a week 🙂

  12. I’m thinking a spiced butternut squash, onion and carrot soup for lunches, with spinach and salmon puff pastry pie for dinner. A red lentil and carrot dhal served with brown rice could be another evening meal or a mushroom and tomato pasta bake topped with cheese.

  13. fried rice? abit of carrots, onions, mushrooms and soy sauce. diced chicken cubes for protein if you need but not really important. A lil chilli flakes for some heat, again not important if they don’t like spice. Garam Masala works wonders in place of soy sauce. Best thing about fried rice? It keeps a week in the fridge!

  14. As ‘Cmassonaus’ has already mentioned, butternut squash soup is dead easy and delicious.

    Cut squash into halves or quarters, brush surfaces with oil and bung it, skin, seeds and all into a medium oven until softened and slightly browned (40 mins to an hour).

    Chop up an onion and fry until softened. I love onion, so I would probably use two onions. A bit of garlic is also good, but isn’t on Kim’s list.)

    Peel and de-seed the cooked squash, mash and add it to the onion. Heat through in a saucepan together with around 1.5 litres of stock, made from water and two stock cubes.

    I stick my soup in a blender to get it smooth but I think you could probably manage without one given a fork and a bit of ingenuity. I like soup with bits in anyway.

    Season very well with salt and pepper. A few chilli flakes or a bit of powder (I would add very slowly and sample frequently – I’m always amazed at how strong chilli flakes are) gives this soup a bit of a kick if you find it too bland.

    • use nutmeg in the butternut squash soup. That is the way to go if you want the squash flavou to sing

  15. Salmon fish cakes made with roasted then mashed butternut squash and onion with an oat/chilli flake coating (maybe a few cornflakes if available to add to the crunch)

  16. Spinach & rice risotto using rice, orzo or bulgur. Doesn’t matter what kind of rice, can use the risotto method anyway. Or 1 carrot grated instead of spinach. A bit of onion if feeling frivolous. Kim needs to get the chicken in the freezer, preferably diced and put in portion packs to add a bit of meat to things as & when. Same for the salmon. Maybe freeze some of the butternut in small portions as well, it keeps well but not once it’s cut into. It’s a pretty good cupboard and will keep her going a while but I’d worry there’s not a lot of fresh veg here so she needs to use it wisely.

  17. I assume she needs things that produce left overs, so she can have lunch next day? Harrisa chicken and cous cous, with plenty of diced veg. delicious warm or cold next day.

  18. Oh, and a chicken ‘wellington’ using the puff pastry, a chicken breast, sweated down onion oregano and mushroom to make a duxelle. For extra colour, also include a layer if cooked and drained spinach, seasoned with salt and grated nutmeg …. serve with some green lentils cooked in a little chicken stock with organo.

  19. And here’s a recipe I have adapted slightly from Joy May’s ‘Vegetarian Nosh for Students’, a book I highly recommend if your cash is limited, even if you haven’t been a student for several centuries.

    Spicy Chickpeas with Spinach

    Tablespoon oil
    1 onion, chopped
    half a tin of chopped tomatoes
    dessertspoon of garam masala
    200 ml water + 1 stock cube
    400g can chickpeas (drain and rinse them)
    Spinach … hmmm …. I’d say a generous handful of the frozen stuff. Sorry I can’t be more specific.
    About a mugful of grated cheese
    Salt and pepper

    Heat oil in a saucepan. Fry onion until soft.

    Add tomatoes, curry paste, water + stock cube and chickpeas. Bring to boil and simmer for around 10 mins.

    Remove from heat, add cheese and allow to melt.

    Season with salt and pepper.

    Would go well with the brown rice or cous cous.

  20. Sorry, missed out the spinach! Assuming you’ve defrosted it, add to tomato, curry paste and chickpea mixture at the end of the cooking process, just to heat it through.

  21. Firstly I would grate the cheese it will go so much further that way and can be used to flavour lots of different meals.

    If she has any foods that are about to go off she would be best to make the meals ahead of time and pop them in the freezer ready to be just warmed up. Make sure that if you are using the oven it is full to capacity, so make as much as you can at a time and either put ready made meals in the fridge or freezer, it’s always good to save on power and you don’t want a high electricity bill to top things off.

    Use one of the salmon portions to make fish cakes. They could be stretched out by adding some of the lentils or bulgar wheat and carrots, eaten with some brown rice they would be lovely.

    Any odds and sods can be cooked up and turned into pies or pasties with some of the pastry.

    The Orzo could be used with some of the passata and spinach with one or half of a chicken portion added to make a tasty ‘pasta bake’.

    I would use a few of the onions, 2 of the carrots and half the squash to make a lovely savoury veggie stew, it would last for a couple of days and could have some of the red lentils added to it on the second day to thicken it and change the flavour slightly and maybe even the other half of the chicken portion I used above to add some meat.

    A fish and lentil oven bake would be tasty too with one of the chicken stock cubes and some mixed herbs. If if she’s trying not to use the oven, so save electricity cook the lentils in a pan in the stock and steam the salmon over the pan, either in a steamer or just on a covered dish.

    Finally how about a lentil curry, using lots of the spices and a mix of the lentils, served with brown rice.

    If she has any cash I would suggest buying a bag of apples, loose from a greengrocer would be the cheapest option or look out for yellow stickered bags in the supermarket, just so she has a little bit of fruit each day. Also a bag of Basics flour would mean she could make much more pastry or even a few flatbreads, which at a pinch you can make with just flour, salt, a tbs of oil and water.

    I hope she gets things sorted out, I’ve been in this position, it’s not good and it’s happening to so many people at the moment, thank goodness she has you to turn to.

  22. butternut squash and chickpea tagine with the harissa (or cinnamon and chilli) with couscous or bulgur wheat?
    red lentil and spinach curry/dahl with brown rice?
    use any left overs from this to make spiced pasties or turnovers with the puff pastry or use the pastry to make a spinach/cheese or spinach/mushroom tartlets – these could be good lunch/sandwich substitutes for a few days or fill you up when taken with soup

    soup – any combo you can do – red lentil/tomato, lentil/carrot, lentil/butternut squash – or at the end of the week a big soup from all veg leftovers? or use up all the onions left over in a slow sauted french onion soup (which would probably go lovely with some cheese/spinach tartlets)
    some sort of lentil/veg/mushroom bolognaise with lots of oregano in it?
    spinach and salmon ouzo pasta, with chilli flakes
    chicken casserole with stock, green lentils,onion carrot, bay and cumin

    if you are baking and have milk use the ouzo to make a dessert like rice pudding with sugar nutmeg and cinnamon, while the oven is on anyway- warm, filling sweet carbs might be a good comfort food (and sometimes we need these!)
    on the same note – if you were able to buy a cheap carton of apple juice you could soak some of the porridge overnight to make a sort of bircher museli with the cinnamon or other spices,

  23. Last night I made soup with a tin of tomatoes, 100g red lentils, oregano, beef stock, a carrot, half a tin of potatoes and an onion, which are all up there (except the potatoes)

    There was easily enough for 4 bowls, and if you don’t blend it could also be used as a sauce over cous cous or something.

  24. Lentil Sheperds pie with butternut squash topping
    Use red lentils, stock cube, chopped toms/passata, onions & carrots for sheperds bit & then top with mashed butternut squash
    nom, nom, nom

  25. I always cook rice and red lentils together (kusherie), preferably with a stock cube. This can then be topped wih a vegy sauce (normally tomato) for one night and then becomes burgers the next (needs an egg to bind it) or just re-heated up.

  26. Orzo pasta salad using onions spices the chopped toms even half the chicken breast would do the next day cold for lunch. Cous cous the same. Using it to make a “risotto” out of the items in her cupboard.harrisa is fab for flavouring things to jazz up soups or stews. Salmon and chickpea cakes with soy and chilli. Chicken and chickpeas tagine using the harrisa and cous cous. Red lentils cooked up and made into patties using the mushrooms and spices. Try porridge with mixed spice, take a walk see if if any apple trees in your neighbourhood or neighbour’s growing rhubarb or plums to make a compote to put on top of porridge. There are many things you can get for free if you know of anyone growing fruit or veg . If not like jack said cinnamon porridge is lovely. You can even make a veggies crumble using the oats and cheese, play around with those spices. You have a fab cupboard and good luck with tax credits people I, too have been victim many times waiting for them to pay what’s owed.

  27. Salmon en croute! And with the left over pastry, some blackberry tarts, after the lovely weather we have been having the blackberry bushes are full of yummy fruit!

  28. Last night we had a splendid dinner out of not much, though we had dried mushrooms: poured lots of boiling water over the mushrooms to reconstitute them a bit. Then, we used that mushroom water to cook rice in, later adding some cooked beans into the mix. The mushrooms we sautéed in a little olive oil and threw in a bit of thyme at the end (she could use oregano).

  29. From the amount of replies this post has garnered, no doubt some of these suggestions will be repeats:

    Red lentil and tomato soup

    Savoury vegetable crumble (combination of whatever veg. is leftover at weeks end in a spicy tomato sauce with a cheesy oat topping)

    French onion tart, serve with bulgar wheat and grated carrot salad

    Kitcheri – spiced rice and lentil dish (protein rich) pretty tasty for something so simple

    Butternut and carrot ‘tagine’ with cous cous

    Green lentil dahl with rice

    Stir fried rice with mushrooms, onion and spinach

    Orzo with ‘arrabiata’ sauce

    Brown rice patties made up with oats, fried onions, spices and ideally one of the remaining veg (eg: carrot, spinach or mushroom) little cheese. Serve with bulgar wheat and carrot salad.

    Orzo and spinach ‘orzotto’

  30. The website stone soup has some good recipes, and tips for adapting them for using what you have. This page
    has recipes for butternut squash and chickpea salad, butternut squash houmus and butternut squash curry.
    Not a recipe, but sprouting some of the lentils will produce some fresh ‘greens’, highly nutritious, versatile and will make them go further.
    ‘how to’ here
    and lots of videos on youtube
    Also, I forage for what’s in season. Apples and blackberries now, I’m also eating dandelion leaves – raw (young ones only raw as they can be bitter) steamed or added to a stew or a stir fry.
    The second flush of nettles is due about now and can be used to make a pesto or soup. Again, there’s lotsof information on youtube.

    • Sprouted lentils! Good idea, would go well in stir fry or a grain based salad. Will take a couple of days to get sprouts though.

      Thanks for the tip about the ‘second flush’ of nettles too, must go get some.

  31. She could make Koshari, an Egyptian blend
    of rice, lentils and short pasta ( she has Orzo).
    Boil each one separately, mix together with a
    little cumin warmed in olive oil
    Traditionally topped with a spiced tomato sauce
    ( tinned tomatoes, chile, splash wine vinegar)
    and blackened fried onions.
    Very filling, tasty and fits in with her store cupboard.

    Sent from my iPad

  32. Oh, she has no vinegar, just leave it out,
    nice sprinkle of Chilli flakes should do it

    Sent from my iPad

  33. By sitting down and looking carefully at the list I could probably feed a family easily for a week if not more. Pity I did not see any eggs. One thing is sure is that she is not going to starve until everything is sorted out.
    Keep at it.

  34. Wow, what a lot of replies. Most things I thought of have been mentioned already. Good luck with the tax office Kim, don’t let the blighters grind you down.

  35. Onion soup, fish cakes (using pureed chickpeas instead of mash, proportions about 1/3 fish to 2/3 puree), salmon salad (lots of green lentils cooked and steeped in olive oil, chopped onion and chili flakes, 1 carrot cut into ribbons, topped with 1 cooked and flaked salmon fillet), pissaladière (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pissaladi%C3%A8re, loose the anchovies and olives) w/ puff pastry and very thin onion rings plus Oregano, sweated in olive oil, bulghur with spinach, soy sauce and caramelized onions (based on this: http://www.dinneralovestory.com/quinoa-a-love-story/ substitute one finely diced fried chicken breast for the eggs, harissa instead of sriracha), stock cube dissolved in hot water to help with cravings/hunger pangs, broiled mushroom caps filled with spicy red lentil puree, chopped mushroom stems and herbs as a topping for Couscous, chickpea fries (thick(!!) chickpea puree seasoned with cumin and salt, spread thickly onto an oiled baking tray and left to firm up, cut into fry-type strips and fried in olive oil for 1-2 minutes, flipping a few times (adapted from http://www.dinneralovestory.com) with some sort of ketchup made of passata cooked with cinnamon, bay leaf and nutmeg (any sugar or honey would help).

    Oh, and coat cubed chicken breasts in porridge oats or Cornflakes before frying to stretch portions, same with salmon.
    good luck, let me know if anything works for you 🙂

  36. French Onion soup basically only needs onion, a bit of sugar (which is not on the list but maybe there is some in the bottom of the breakfast cereal box?), veggie stock and time. Ideally, you’d also add some White Wine but you can totally leave it out and still be left with a very lovely soup.

    Good luck, Kim! Hang in there!

  37. 4tbsp bulgar wheat per person, 4 floz (120ml-ish) water per person, ground coriander and chilli to taste, probably twice as much cumin as coriander, boil the water, add everything else (and some chopped onion if you can spare it) cover it reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Not the most nutritious thing in the world but tasty and filling. Hope things improve soon.

  38. I make a vaguely mexican recipe… I’d usually throw in smoked paprika and garlic, but use whatever spices you have on hand that your gut tells you will work… you can do this with or without the tomato sauce, as you may have run out of tomatoes by now. Make up the bulgur wheat according to instructions. How much you make depends on how long you want it to last, it’ll keep well and get better with a reheat. Take a tin of pulses – your chickpeas, but you could probably also do this with lentils. Fry and onion in a little oil. Add cooked chickpeas (or lentils) to the pan. Fry a little and mix in a crumbled stock cube (or half if your palate runs to less salty flavours). Mash down to a paste – it should be a little bit like refried beans and wont look pretty, but will taste good and be nutritious. Add some chilli and any other spices you feel are right, or have left at this point. Serve the bean mixture over the bulgur wheat, preferably with a few spoonfuls of spiced tomato sauce… which you can make with a tin of tomatoes or the passata, some chilli, maybe some harissa, maybe a spoonful of vinegar if you have any and a sprinkle off a stock cube if you haven’t got any salt. I made this the other day and it lasted me for about three days lunches and a dinner with one tin or pinto beans and a large cup full of dry bulgur wheat and a can of tomatoes for sauce.


    Harissa, lentils, can of tomatoes or passata (optional – it will be nice without if you’ve run out), a carrot or two, cooked and blended (or mashed) with some stock makes a wonderful soup.

    Good luck! : )

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