Bags of Taste cooking classes

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.


Ginger fish and stir-fried beans

You will need: measuring spoons, 1 small pan with lid, ideally around 6″/15cm in diameter, for the rice/fish, and a frying pan or wok for the veg.

For the fish:

  • 1½ tsp minced garlic (3 large cloves)
  • 4 tsp finely shredded ginger (11g)
  • 150g rice (125ml)
  • 300g white fish fillets
  • 2 stalks spring onion
  • 2–3 tsp soya sauce (to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the beans:

  • 250g frozen green beans
  • 1½ tsp minced garlic (3 large cloves)
  • 1½ tsp soya sauce
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp veg oil (NOT olive)

First put the rice into the small 6″ pan and wash your rice thoroughly until the water runs clear (otherwise it will be sticky). Then add water to cover 1″ above the surface of the rice (alternatively, drain all the water with a sieve, and add back 400ml of water). Into this water add the minced garlic, fish sauce and 1 tsp of the soya sauce.  Bring it to the boil and then allow to boil, uncovered, whilst preparing the ginger and spring onions.

Peel the ginger with a spoon and finely shred it into thin strips – as fine as you can.  Measure out how much you need using measuring spoons, sort of jamming it in there so you get about the right amount. Chop the spring onions finely too.

When the level of the water in the pan and the rice is about the same, and there are holes in the top of the rice, carefully lay the fish fillets on the top in a single layer. Scatter first the ginger and then the chopped spring onions on top.  Put on the lid and put the heat down as low as it will go. Make a note of the time.

Cook for a further 7 minutes and when the time is up, turn off the heat. DO NOT OPEN THE LID until you are about to serve it – do not peek!  You shouldn’t open the lid for the first 7 minutes, and keep it closed for another 5 minutes after turning off the heat. When your beans are done and you are ready to serve, drizzle the fish on the top with 1 tsp of soya sauce (or to taste) and 1 tsp sesame oil, then serve.

While the fish and rice is cooking, fry the frozen beans. In the wok or frying pan, on a medium-high heat, heat the oil till it is hot. Add in the minced garlic and fry until it is just going golden brown (do not let it burn as it will go bitter). Throw in the green beans, still frozen is fine, and stir around vigorously. Keep stirring and frying. Add in the soya sauce and the sesame oil between stirs.  Keep frying until they are as cooked as you would like them (if you want it more cooked you can add a bit of water so they steam to get softer). Serve with the fish and rice.

Turkish guvech (vegetable stew)

You will need: 1 large pot with lid for the stew, one smaller one for the rice, veg oil, salt, black pepper

This is a recipe that uses many different kinds of vegetables.  The ones that are most necessary are onion, pepper, and potato. Pretty much everything else can be swapped around, so if you have no aubergines but have courgettes, you can double the amount of courgettes or swap it for another veg like pumpkin, canned white beans, okra or mushrooms. You will need about 3–400g of extra veg on top of the onion/pepper/potato base.

You can also add some chicken or lamb chunks to this dish if you wish.

  • ½ medium onion or 1 small one
  • 1 large potato or 2 medium – 200–250g in total
  • ½ large red pepper about 80g
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ veg stock cube
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • ½ can (200g) chopped tinned tomatoes (in the summer you can use fresh: it will taste great!)
  • 1 cup/250ml water (approx)

Other mixed veg:

  • 1 small carrot (60g)
  • 100g green beans (flat or thin) (can be frozen; if frozen add after 15 mins cooking)
  • 100g courgette
  • 100g aubergines

Optional herbs:

Couple of sprigs of chopped parsley, coriander, or ½ teaspoon dried oregano or basil, whatever you fancy (we included dried oregano and fresh parsley)

Chop your onion and red pepper into chunks and put it on to fry in 1–2 tbsp oil.  Peel your carrot and grate it, put that into the pan with the onion and red pepper. While it is frying, peel your potato and cut into large chunks about 2cm/1” square. Toss this into the pan too. Stir it a bit more.  Add the salt, and the half tin of tomatoes, garlic, veg stock cube, tomato puree, paprika and any herbs you are using, and the cup of water.  Bring to the boil.

While this is boiling, chop into large chunks and add any other veg in, hardest first. So if you are using pumpkin then do that first. When they are all into the liquid (which should almost cover the veg), bring it to the boil and cover the pan.  ut the pan on to simmer and simmer the whole stew on low heat for 45 mins (or bake in the oven), stirring occasionally.  If it gets dry, add more water.  Open the lid after 45 mins and if it is too liquid, turn up the heat until enough liquid has evaporated. Serve with rice, bread or pasta.