30 dishes to master before the age of 30

Pinterest is awash with recipes for cute hedgehog cakes that come out looking demonic, cookie bowls that emerge as puddles and decidedly un-geometric Rubik’s cube cakes. (Yup, you nailed it.) The problem for many of us, it seems, is when even the less ambitious dinner we’re attempting ends up blackened, congealed and fused to the pot. The basics are important.

We’ve all lived with that flatmate who added fish paste to mince because there was no fish sauce, prepared a breakfast of Frosties and milk topped with Nesquik powder (not stirred in beforehand– that would make too much sense), or boiled all the vegetables in one pot with the pasta. (But hopefully you didn’t marry them.) In honour of these inspiring individuals, we bring you 30 meals to learn to cook before the age of 30.

1. Stock
No, we don’t mean unpeeling the foil from your cube of mostly salt and dropping it into the pot. We mean proper stock, in all its scum-skimming glory. Read our handy guide to making chicken, beef or lamb, fish and crayfish stocks. Your risotto will thank you. (See point 23.)

2. Bread
You must know how to bake a good loaf, even if it’s beer bread. But this is a good staple and you can’t argue with a good potbrood.



3. Eggs
Frying them is entry level, boiling for intermediates, and for experts we reserve the swirling vinegar/boiling water poaching trick. A crazy-legged egg monster is usually the result, so on second thought, maybe just stick to microwave-poaching the suckers.

4. All the potatoes
Mash that’s creamy and smooth, roasties that are crispy outside and fluffy inside, and potato bake without chunks of raw onion… There’s a reason we love mom and dad’s comfort cooking so much. They’ve been perfecting these manoeuvres for years. While you work on your technique for future generations, try this quick and easy recipe for wedges and the perfect way to roast potatoes.

5. White sauce
Don’t you dare reach for a sachet. Shame on you. All it takes two tablespoons each of butter and flour in a pot. Make a paste and then add splashes of warm milk, stirring well after addition. Near the end, sprinkle in your seasoning (ground nutmeg or mustard) and grated cheese.

6. Grilled cheese
The basic rules are: bread (good), cheese (lots) and butter (more than is decent). Read this excellent article on the perfect grilled cheese to get the basics down, and then experiment with these 12 recipes.

7. Macaroni cheese
The most comforting one-dish supper ever. See some more easy ways to dress up your farfalle here.

8. Dhal
Not to be confused with Roald Dahl, who wrote about witches, chocolate factories and giant peaches, dhal is a lovely, comforting lentil curry.

9. French toast
The quintessential morning-after dish. Eggy bread browned on the edges can be spread with apricot jam, tomato sauce or even topped with brie and boozy berry compote (if you didn’t actually go out the night before and just want to fake a hangover).

Roast chicken

Roast chicken

10. Roasted chicken
Liam Tomlin, one of the 2013 Eat Out DSTv Food Network Restaurant Awards judges and owner of the relocated Chefs Warehouse in the new foodie zone of Bree Street, gave us his tips on how to make a perfect roast chicken.

11. Bolognaise
Seeing as these recipes are usually held close to the family chest, we recommend you call up your granny or uncle. Everyone has their little secret, like Worcester sauce, bacon or a splash of milk. If you don’t have family to fall back on, Jamie Oliver has an easy peasy take on it or go closer to home with Alida Ryder’s more summery recipe.

12. Caramelised onions
Don’t be fooled: these are not just mildly burned onions. No, sir. For proper caramelising, you must slowly cook the onions in a splash of oil and butter on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden brown. This can take up to 15 minutes, so pour a glass of something and relax. Once your patience wears thin – the aroma of frying onions is one of the hardest to resist – you can add a chopped clove of garlic and two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and cook for a further two minutes. Alternatively, make onion marmalade, which is even more jammy, sticky and sweet.

13. Braai broodjies
Otherwise known as kwaai braai paai. The braai broodjie was set as part of a challenge during the 2013 season of Ultimate Braai Master because it’s so tricky to get the filling melty and the outside toasted without saying goodbye to the roof of your mouth.

14. Butternut soup
This soup is super affordable and easy to make. Roast the butternut first for a sweet, caramelly depth and add a dash of ground cinnamon or cumin for some spicy warmth.

Jackie Cameron's butternut soup

Jackie Cameron’s butternut soup

15. A basic sponge cake
The basis of any celebration cake, a simple sponge should be in any baker’s arsenal. Here’s a recipe for a guilt-free angel cake, which is like biting into a ‘soft, white cloud’. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can graduate to more complex confections, like this sesame yoghurt cardamom cake.

Sesame yoghurt cardamom cake

Sesame yoghurt cardamom cake

16. Pancakes
A good friend once shared his pancake recipe for making at a new love interest’s house. Under the method he wrote, “Make pancakes. Get naked”. We suppose the reverse could also work.

17. Fluffy rice
Once you cook your rice in the microwave you’ll never go back. Pour one cup of rice, two cups of water and pinch of salt in a glass dish, bowl or even jug and put in the microwave for 12-15 mins. No boiling over; no burning. You could put a lid or plate on top once it’s finished to let it fluff up with steam. Stir with a fork afterwards, never a spoon.

18. Quiche or omelette
These eggy dishes are the saviour of all end-of-the-monthers. Slightly soft tomatoes? Check. Ageing mushrooms? Check. Wilting spinach? Check. Chuck in some eggs and a heel of cheese and you’re winning. This one-pan beans-and-egg dish is also worth a try.

19. Caesar salad
We do respect this proper, old-school Caesar salad with its tangy, mustardy dressing and slivers of parmesan, but watch your lettuce tendencies.

20. Roasted veggies
A no-brainer: chop them roughly, drizzle with olive oil and salt, and apply to a hot oven. Don’t ever be fooled into buying those roasting trays of veggies at supermarkets, though. Hillbilly carrots and cabbage are hiding beneath the thin veneer of cool courgettes and peppers.

21. Lasagne
The secret to a decent lasagne is in the layering of good ingredients and lots of love. You need tasty bolognaise (see point 11) or roasted vegetables (point 20) and a good white sauce (point 5). Then you have to be methodical while layering and try not to eat all the cheese that’s waiting to go on top. Some argue that lasagne is better when it’s more ‘set’ the day after. If you have any leftovers, that is.

Gordon Wright's lasagne

Gordon Wright’s lasagne

22. Pork sausages
Leaky sausages are one of the kitchen’s true tragedies, so prevent the bangers from bursting by poaching them gently before browning in butter. If you want to explore your options, check out these six ways to cook bangers.

23. Risotto
You first need to master proper stock (see point 2). And then: study up on how to cook risotto like an Italian.

Mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto

24. Steak on the braai
Jan Braai turns up the heat and gives advice on how to braai the perfect steak. Drop your fork and put your hands in the air.

Braaied steak

Braaied steak

25. Burgers
Yes, you will need to use your bare hands. Yes, it will feel squishily amazing. Try this recipe for gourmet cheeseburgers.

26. A curry
Every South African needs a good curry recipe under their belt. This one for bunny chow adds even more cred.

27. Stir fry
Please don’t buy a bag of frozen vegetables and pour them into the pan all at once. (We’re looking at you, sad gits in McCain adverts.) It’s a delicate thing, adding fresh stems in the right order and cooking just long enough to retain the snap. (Here are some tips and recipe ideas.)

28. Stew
Hearty, beefy and boozy. What’s not to love?

29. Carbonara
Chorizo or bacon packs a flavour punch in this simple dinner staple. As much as we all love an excuse to pour cream into anything, this is a lovely, light version of carbonara that uses yoghurt instead.

30. A fish dish
At some stage you might have to serve dinner for other people that isn’t from a can or Mr Delivery Menu. That’s where elegant yet affordable fish comes in. Try this baked fish with a lemon zest and parmesan crust, über simple pan-fried fish with tzatziki, or classic battered fish and chips.

Giorgio Locatelli's cod in sea salt

Giorgio Locatelli’s cod in sea salt

You can already cook all of these things? Congratulations! You’re officially a grown up. (But that doesn’t mean you can’t still sprinkle Nesquik into your breakfast milk. Please just stir it before adding your Frosties.)

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