The stereotype that students can't cook is not true, according to my experience. Having left university and moved away from home, I am now cooking recipes with names like Shivid Polow, Sai Mai Lo and Rajma - all of which I picked up from Student Halls.
The main reason why a lot of students say they can't cook is simply because they are unprepared. It's often a matter of learning the basics before moving out--things like boiling rice, grilling chicken, steaming veg. Budgeting is another important issue. Although most students assume that they can't afford to eat well, in reality it's because they're not prioritising well. Splurging on an expensive night out could be reason why there's little left for the food bill.
For me personally, the biggest problem was not budgeting or learning the basics, but knowing what to cook. You'd think six years of Food Technology classes would teach me more than how to store food, what temperature to cook food to and how to perfect a Swiss roll sponge, but by the end of it I really wasn't left with many ideas about what to cook for dinner. This is where my flatmates came in handy, particularly my international flatmates.
In many cultures, meal times are a big part of familial and social life and therefore most of my flatmates dedicated entire evenings and weekend to cooking meals for their friends. By joining in with the Nigerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and British students I'd lived with over four years, I've picked up quite a selection of new recipes. Some, like the ones below, have already become staples.
Blueberry and chocolate pancakes
Pancakes have always been a favourite of mine. In second year, I copied a flatmate's recipe by adding fresh blueberries and milk chocolate chunks to the batter. If you haven't already tried this, you're missing out. The blueberries burst into the mixture as they're cooking and really flavour the pancakes. Because you're using chocolate chunks, it works well with a thick batter. I use a Jamie Oliver recipe (3 large eggs, 115 g plain flour, 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder, 140 ml milk, 1 pinch salt) with two tablespoons of sugar.
Tom Yum Soup
A Malaysian friend made this for me when I had a few vegetables and a few pieces of chicken left in the fridge and didn't know what to do with them. This is a tangy, yummy runny soup which is usually spooned over rice. Tom Yum paste or Tom Yum stock can be found in Asian and international food stores. Slice up the vegetables into medium chunks and fry for 10 minutes (I usually use one onion, one large potato, two tomatoes, two carrots and one courgette). Add the Tom Yum Paste and about 500ml of boiling water. Then add boneless chicken or prawns. Cover and cook until the vegetables are soft and the chicken or prawns have poached through.
(Quick) Shivid Polow and vegetable stew
Shivid Polow (or dill rice) is the Persian way of jazzing up ordinary basmati rice. My half-Scottish-half Iranian housemate use to make this by coating the bottom of the rice cooker with oil and adding a pinch of salt to the rice. Once cooked, mix a handful of fresh dill (stems removed) through the rice with a fork. Persian dishes are no 15 minute meals, but if you want to make the authentic version of Shivid Polow, click here.
The vegetable stew is made my dicing and frying one onion, two garlic cloves, one courgette and one small peeled aubergine. Add one tin (400g) of chopped tomatoes, a few squirts of lemon juice and some salt and pepper to season. Cook until the vegetables are completely soft and spoon over the Shivid Polow.
Sai Mai Lo
Last year my Chinese flatmate taught me how to make this tapioca dessert, which is similar to rice pudding. You pour 100g of tapioca pearls into 250ml of boiling water and stir until the tapioca becomes thick and transparent. Drain the tapioca through a sieve and run it quickly under cold water. Heat 250mls of milk in a pan (some recipes use coconut milk) and add a heaped tablespoon of sugar. Pour in the tapioca, stir and tuck in. She would sometimes add half a can of red kidney beans too. Only try that if you're open minded...