Eat Hackney has been up in Stokey at the community hub that is St Paul’s church hall to meet Bags of Taste. This is a new not-for-profit organisation run by Alicia Weston, who is the force behind the fundraising Parkholme Supper Club. Alicia has plenty of experience teaching people to cook, but with Bags of Taste she and her volunteers have set themselves the challenge of delivering tasty and nutritious meals which cost less than a pound each. Having tasted the students’ Chinese ginger fish and stir-fried beans and Turkish guvech (vegetable stew), Eat Hackney can report that the project is flying….
The night before each class, Alicia, co-director Lisa Neidich and a team of volunteers bag up the food so that each student has all the ingredients to replicate the recipes again at home. In the classroom, Alicia demonstrates how to make the dishes, and then the students cook in pairs at the beautifully organised work stations, each pair assisted by a sympathetic Bags of Taste volunteer. At the end of the class, the students buy the bags of food – vegetables, fish and sachets of oils and spices – for £3. From this they can concoct two healthy meals for two people.
Alicia’s idea is that buying the food encourages students to use it, and reinforce their cooking skills. They are not put off by by expensive ingredients – everything is on a small, financially manageable scale. And Alicia gives sourcing advice so students can buy ingredients cheaply on their own.
This is the antithesis of the school of cooking that dictates that fancy ingredients are essential. But the food is packed with flavour – the ginger fish is light but tangy, and sesame oil gives the beans a Chinese twist. “I hate green beans,” says student Ingrid, eating the meal she has cooked at the end of the class, “but these are great. This is more vegetables than I’d usually eat in a WEEK.” The students are clearly responding to the practical but imaginative take on budget cooking favoured by Bags of Taste: one has already gone on to teach cooking classes to the group herself, and all report that they are saving money as well as cooking and eating much more healthily. Three cheers to Bags of Taste from Eat Hackney! And here’s how to make your own super-affordable ginger fish and stir-fried beans and Turkish guvech.