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Cooking 101: Recipes and Kitchen Essentials

Easy-to-fix dishes from experts and a list of must-have kitchen tools

Moving into an apartment, whether on or off campus, can be exciting, the first real taste of what it’s like to live on your own. There’s the fun stuff, like decorating, and the not-so-fun stuff, like cleaning the bathroom and paying bills. One of the more daunting challenges is what to cook for dinner night after night.

Keeping body and soul together with canned soup, packaged ramen noodles, and frozen dinners gets old quickly. But preparing healthy, inexpensive meals isn’t nearly as hard as you might think, no matter how rudimentary your kitchen skills. And knowing what must-haves are essential and mastering a few easy dishes is incredibly satisfying.

So take heart—help has arrived. We reached out to three Sargent Choice Nutrition Center (SCNC) nutritionists (and accomplished cooks), Rachel Reynolds (SAR’13), Lauren O’Brien (SAR’10,’12), and Elizabeth Treiber (SAR’13, SPH’18), for some simple, budget-friendly, healthy recipes (best of all, there’ll be enough for leftovers). We also include some SCNC recommendations for must-have kitchen tools.

Below are three videos with easy-to-follow steps for making baked chicken nuggets, quinoa tabbouleh, and tofu tacos, as well as a slideshow (above) featuring the staples our experts say every kitchen should have.

In the video above, BU Sargent Choice Nutrition Center nutritionist Rachel Reynolds prepares a healthy take (baked, not fried) on a culinary classic, chicken nuggets, and shows you how to make two easy nonfat yogurt–based dipping sauces.

Baked Chicken Nuggets

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs
½ cup grated low-fat or reduced-fat Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut chicken breasts into 1½-inch pieces. In medium bowl, mix together bread crumbs, cheese, thyme, and basil. Mix well. Beat egg. Dip chicken pieces into egg, then coat with breadcrumb mixture.

Place well-coated chicken in a single layer on a cooking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Makes 10 servings.

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
Combine 1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt, ½ cup of honey, and ¼ cup of Dijon mustard in a bowl. Mix well.

Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
Combine 1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt, ½ cup of crumbled blue cheese, and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar in a bowl. Mix well.

In the video above, BU Sargent Choice Nutrition Center nutritionist Lauren O’Brien prepares quinoa tabbouleh. A great source of whole grain and protein, quinoa replaces the bulgur wheat traditionally used in tabbouleh. “It tastes even better the next day,” promises O’Brien.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

1 cup dry quinoa
1¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 large English cucumber, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
⅔ cup chopped flat parsley
½ cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions thinly sliced

Add salt to water. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. To cool, spread out quinoa on a large-rimmed baking sheet; let cool.

Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with remaining salt and pepper.

Transfer quinoa to a large bowl; mix in ¼ cup dressing. Add cucumber, tomatoes, herbs, and scallions to bowl with quinoa. Toss to coat. Drizzle remaining dressing over. Makes 8 servings.

In the video above, BU Sargent Choice Nutrition Center nutritionist Elizabeth Treiber prepares tofu tacos. Using popular spices such as cumin, cayenne, and chili powder, Treiber adds plenty of flavor to crumbled tofu, which is a great source of protein in place of meat.

Tofu Tacos

1 (16-ounce) package of tofu, crumbled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons chili powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
½ lime, juiced
½ cup crushed tomatoes
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
10 (6-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
2 cups shredded lettuce
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
¼ cup salsa

Over medium heat stir-fry tofu, oil, onion, and garlic in a large skillet for about 5 minutes.

Add the chili powder, paprika, cayenne, cumin, salt, lime juice, and crushed tomatoes to the skillet and stir. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Cook for another 30 seconds. Spoon mixture into serving bowl.

Spoon the tofu mixture into taco shells. Top the mixture with lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and salsa. Makes 10 servings.

Find more nutritious, easy-to-prepare recipes from Sargent Choice Nutrition Center here. Find information about enrolling in Healthy Cooking on a Budget, a one-credit class offered by FitRec and Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, here.

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Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

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