Some believe that food is better than sex. Whether you agree or disagree, between the two, it’s food that is the everyday necessity. Eating well also factors positively into almost every part of our lives, promoting a healthier body type, better sleep, more energy to exercise, and just in general a happier feeling of being truly nourished and satisfied (for our take on this, read our previous feature about the link between fast food and depression).
But then again, what if you don’t know how to cook or prepare your own meals? What if you’re stuck with the rich, greasy, overly sweet stuff because you don’t have much of a choice—because you’re busy working, because food establishments near your place serve unhealthy stuff, or because the healthier options seem generally more expensive?
It’s time to get out of the assumption that a man can’t eat healthy if he isn’t a professional chef. Rather, cooking even the simple stuff should be part of every guy’s repertoire of skills. Assembling a delicious meal involves creativity, resourcefulness, skill with your hands, and a healthy amount of hard work. Plus, you’d have more chances to charm the ladies—and, well, survive the apocalypse—if you knew how to do more than make instant pancit canton.
Let’s take this up a notch by asserting that cooking can be easy, convenient, fun, and a great way to keep in shape. Below is our list of recipe ideas, quick cooking hacks, and tips for any aspiring amateur cook who wants to eat well, save time, and learn more about the subtle art of cooking and preparing meals. Readers will attest, this is the perfect starting guide for the beginner/intermediate/super-lazy/super-busy chef. You might have us to credit if you wow an audience and you become the next biggest thing to Erwan Heusaff!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it’s important that you start the day on a full stomach and with a lot of energy. The trouble is, the typical Filipino breakfast involves a lot of fried elements, such as those in a silog meal. A few times a week, you can afford to lay off on the tapa, tocino, longganisa, and red hotdogs and switch it up a little. Your palate and your cholesterol levels will thank you for cutting down on the grease.
- Microwave omelet. Easy, tasty egg breakfasts don’t always have to be about cracking them into a hot pan. Try scrambling one or two in a microwave-safe mug or a glass bowl. Get creative by adding toppings like grated cheese, chopped bell peppers, spring onions, a little cooked bacon or ham (heck, even meat from yesterday’s ulam will work); season with a touch of salt and pepper. Then microwave on the HIGH setting for 30-60 seconds, or until the egg springs back when you poke it with a fork. Alternatively, you can also serve eggs with sliced avocados. It’s a great alternative to butter, which is so much richer in saturated fat.
- Overnight oats. Another breakfast option that you can get creative with is overnight oats. The night before you eat, fill a clean jar and complete the basic recipe: ½ cup rolled oats (NOT the instant kind) and 1 cup of milk (can be cow’s milk, soy milk, or almond milk). After you pour the milk over the oats, it’s time to go crazy with any additions that you want to make: a teaspoon of brown sugar or stevia, a pinch of cinnamon, a spoonful of peanut butter, and an assortment of your favorite fruits (we recommend bananas and/or berries). Tightly screw the jar’s lid and chuck the jar into the refrigerator to steep overnight. The next morning, open the jar and stir it all around—and then you’ll have a breakfast fit for a king. Alternatively, you may also replace oats with muesli, which is a lot healthier because it contains seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and several varieties of whole grains.
- Banana pancakes. Want a yummy pancake breakfast that cuts down on the carbs? This two-ingredient method requires minimal effort, probably even less than using instant pancake mix. Simply mash one large ripe banana, beat two eggs, then whisk it all together before ladling it into a hot pan ¼ cup at a time. The adventurous eater can add a drop of vanilla extract into the batter, while the healthy eater can top these pancakes with a little honey and a handful of their favorite fruits.
- Greek yogurt with honey. For breakfast that demands even less effort, grab a cup of Greek yogurt and drizzle it with a teaspoon or two of honey. This will also go well with a sprinkling of almonds, pumpkin seeds, or toasted sunflower seeds. Greek yogurt contains twice the protein of plain old yogurt, so it’s a great choice if you really want to jack up your protein consumption. If you go to the supermarket, you’ll also discover that Greek yogurt is as easy to obtain as classic and fruit-flavored yogurt, and the prices of offerings from conventional, imported, and local farm-owned brands are pretty reasonable.
- Whole wheat toast with low-fat chai butter. Everything’s better with just a touch of butter, so try sprucing up a couple of slices of whole wheat toast with a flavored low-fat butter that tastes just like spicy chai tea. Beat a couple of tablespoons of butter with a teaspoon of honey, a pinch of fresh grated ginger, and a pinch of cinnamon. Spread over your toast, then enjoy a taste that’s comparable to that of breakfast toast from a ritzy restaurant!
Appetizers and Salads
Appetizers are the great equalizer when you need to entertain guests, or when you need to bring something for a potluck dinner. The following are appetizer and salad ideas that are sure to impress your visitor, are much healthier than chips and dip, and are easy even for a beginner to prepare in under thirty minutes.
- Bruschetta. Honestly, there’s little more that’s needed for this recipe than a loaf of French bread, a clove or two of peeled garlic, diced tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped basil leaves (if you want to get fancy, the slicing term is called chiffonade). Slice the baguette diagonally, and toast the slices in a toaster oven until they’re just about golden brown. Leave them to cool a little bit. In the meantime, make a simple vinaigrette out of the olive oil and vinegar, toss with the tomatoes and chopped basil, then season with salt and pepper to taste. As soon as the toasted slices cool down, season them with garlic by scraping the edge of a cut garlic clove on the toasts until a thin yellow sheen appears on their surface. Finally, top each slice with a spoonful of the topping you prepared.
- Melon with prosciutto. We’re obviously big fans of two-ingredient recipes with five-star looks and taste. To assemble this popular Italian antipasti, slice some ripe melon and some prosciutto from the deli section, then wrap one chunk each of melon with a strand of prosciutto; stick everything together with a toothpick. No really, that’s it. That’s literally all you need to do.
- A simple version of this healthy Mediterranean dish can be done using a 400g can of chickpeas (garbanzos), 1/3 cup or a little more of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon or at least 4 pieces of calamansi, and a tablespoon or more of rock salt to season. Blend everything and serve with pan-toasted flour tortillas or carrot sticks, or use as a sauce for ulam like grilled chicken.
- Ensaladang talong. Learn to grill your eggplants like a pro by holding them with tongs right above a stove’s flame for a few minutes or until the skin starts to char. Peel the skin off when they’re cooled. Chop about two of these eggplants; toss them with one diced tomato and one diced red onion; dress everything with a sprinkle of white vinegar, along with sugar, salt, and pepper; and it’s done!
- Tuna kilawin. Simple tuna kilawin, or ceviche, is an easy and refreshing appetizer. You only need to make sure you get chunks of the freshest fish, preferably sashimi-cut. Slice the fish into cubes and marinate in the fridge for an hour with a mixture of lemon or calamansi juice, sugar, salt, chopped red or green chili, and sliced red onions.
- Garlic yogurt sauce. This is a sauce that can be used easily as a dip, or savored with grilled chicken or pork. Whisk a cup of plain yogurt with two finely chopped cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of white vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a teaspoon or two of rock salt. You can even dress up whatever you’re eating this all-around sauce with by adding a sprig of parsley or fresh mint.
- Bean sprout salad. The simple appetizer of seasoned mung bean sprout salad, or sukji namul muchim, is a staple in Korean BBQ restaurants. Recreating it at home involves cleaning a batch of mung bean sprouts (togue), blanching them (dunking them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and cooling them with ice water immediately), and then tossing them in a simple salad dressing of salt, minced garlic, and roasted sesame seeds.
Lunch and dinner entrees should be delicious and satisfying, and at the same time encouraging of a hearty appetite. The following are suggestions to dress up an ordinary meal, dress down a dish that’s known to be very oily and salty, or add surprising new dimensions of flavor to the taste of a savory ulam.
- Steak or pork chop salad. Don’t know what to do with the extra bistek or grilled pork chop growing cold in your fridge? Dice the meat into bite-sized portions, heap into a generous serving of greens and sliced vegetables, and toss with your favorite salad dressing. Other possible add-ins include apple slices or orange wedges for a vinaigrette dressing, and hard-boiled egg slices for Caesar dressing.
- Beef fried rice. Another option for those bits of tenderloin is to reheat them, and to sauté them in a skillet with cooked brown rice, some peas and carrots mix, an egg, and a splash of soy sauce. This will make for an all-in meal with lots of taste and texture. For contrast, you can even add bits of pineapple or basil leaves chopped into very small pieces.
- Roast chicken or grilled chicken pasta salad. There’s also a way to recycle leftover grilled chicken, or scraps from that rotisserie chicken you bought from the supermarket. Flake the chicken; add to a serving of a pasta like elbow macaroni or fusilli (spirals); throw in some chopped celery, sliced onions, and sliced seedless grapes; and dress with a vinaigrette. Pro tip: make your own tasty dressing with white vinegar, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of freshly squeezed orange juice.
- Pork chops with apples. Cooking your standard pork chops with apples will give the dish an interesting flavor—both in terms of sweet, sour, and savory notes, and in terms of the pop of color your dish will end up having. When done cooking your pork chops, take them off the pan and sauté apple slices in the oil residue. Serve everything on its own, with a helping of vegetables, or a filling portion of rice.
- Baked salmon fillet. If you can fire up the oven, then baking omega 3-rich salmon fillets should be a snooze. Marinate the fillets in a shallow dish with enough lemon juice to cover them for 1 hour in the fridge; top with Italian seasoning and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and bake in a preheated oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes, until deliciously flaky.
Desserts and Snacks
Even if you’re eating healthy, there should always be room in your tummy for dessert or a small snack. Assemble these snacks and sweet treats to curb your sugar and salt cravings, and get through your diet without feeling deprived.
- Grilled pineapple. Obtain the freshest, ripest, most fragrant pieces of pineapple you can get, chop them into rings or bars, and grill them on the stovetop. We recommend basting them with a sauce of melted butter, honey, and a few drops of Tabasco sauce (it won’t end up that spicy!) while they turn tender and deep golden in color.
- Frozen grapes. Again, here’s a “recipe” that turns ten seconds of human effort into something tasty. All you need to do for this one is to pop sweet grapes—such as the red or black seedless variety—into the freezer for a few hours until they’re frozen solid. When you sink your teeth in, you’ll be treated to fruit with the texture of a popsicle.
- Dark chocolate bark. No one will say no to chocolate, and the dark variety with less milk and less added sugar has a lot of health benefits. A dead simple way to make healthy DIY “candy bars” is to melt a bar of dark chocolate and a teaspoon of coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds. When it has melted, mix in additions like nuts, dried fruits, raisins, coconut flakes, muesli, or even broken-up pretzel pieces. Pour these onto a flat, greased surface and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the chocolate solidifies, then break into candy bar-sized pieces.
- Flavored popcorn. We know you’ll miss crunching if you cut back on potato and corn chips, so switch them out with the healthier alternate of popcorn cooked on the stove. In a large pot or saucepan, pour some raw, dry popcorn kernels in, and add just enough canola or vegetable oil to cover each kernel. Cover with the lid and cook for about 4-5 minutes; it’ll be so fun to see each yellow kernel turn into a white fluff one by one. For seasoning, you can toss the popcorn with a little butter, curry powder, parmesan cheese, or even truffle salt.
As a bonus, we’re also including three drink options that should easily wash lingering, greasy tastes out of your mouth. They’ll definitely be much healthier than sugary-sweet commercial drinks.
- Cold-brewed coffee. Cold brewing is a slow method of yielding very strong, full-bodied, and unsaturated coffee without the added acidity caused by heat. Simply mix 1/3 cup of your favorite coarsely-ground coffee with 1 ½ cups of ice-cold water in a pitcher, and leave to steep overnight (6-8 hours). In the morning, strain the coffee in a French press or through a sieve lined with a coffee filter until you get the concentrate. For iced coffee that tastes just as good as the commercial coffee shop variety, mix equal parts of concentrate and cold water in a glass filled with ice; you can also add milk to make a cold latte.
- Infused water. If you don’t want a sugary taste at all, but still need a palate cleanser to accompany your meal, you don’t have to go further than honest-to-goodness cold water. Throw a slice or orange of lemon into a pitcher to change the taste a little. Alternatively, a mix of cucumber slices and a few sprigs of mint will cool you down in this weather. If you’re missing the fizz of sugary soft drinks, consider infusing a glass soda water instead.
- Honey lemon “tea.” We take this cool idea from the basketball anime Kuroko no Basuke, in which the athletes eat lemon slices soaked in honey to replenish their energies. For an energy-boosting snack or drink, slice one lemon, remove the seeds, and alternate layers of slices with honey until the honey completely covers the lemons. After four hours, you can actually eat the slices on their own, or add the honey-lemon syrup into some hot water to make tea.
Some Last Tips on Preparing Meals for Yourself and Your Loved Ones
We’ve listed these easy recipes or meal ideas in the hope of inspiring you to cook or prepare your food more. Some of these are easy to eyeball, but if you want very exact measurements or don’t feel confident about a particular technique, Google and YouTube are your friends.
Don’t be discouraged if you make mistakes. Often, the ruling principle of a chef is: if it’s in the pot, there’s a way to fix it by adding a little more seasoning, or diluting with a little water or oil—though, of course, this principle doesn’t apply to things that are baked in the oven. And even if it doesn’t exactly turn out the way you like the first time, just adjust things to your taste, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
That said, have fun upgrading your skills as a chef, and cooking up a storm for yourself and your loved ones!