Lockdown Throw-down: Be Your Own Quarantine Top Chef

I hesitate in front of my pantry staring at cans of dried food as I wrestle with the shifting mood swings of my appetite. Despite undeniable gratitude for my current access to healthy sustenance, I’ve struggled to balance my recalcitrant relationship with food. As research reflects, our appetite is intimately connected with our emotional and mental states. At a time of heightened anxiety, it is understandable that our appetites are hampered. However, with some extra time on my hands I decided to investigate ways to reframe and revitalize my relationship with food.

Food is not only a staple of our survival, it is an essential way to give and receive love. I’m reminded of how food sits at the center of our narratives, reconnecting us to culture, family, and nature through sensory experiences that have shaped us from childhood. Once I started to truly understand that good, wholesome food not only fortifies my biological and psychological capacities but is also a gateway to connect to the communities and places I miss most, I started to cook as a practice of self-healing. 

Nothing warms my heart (and stomach) more than a warm, flavorful dinner. For those of us able to procure groceries and ingredients during this time, here are some easy yet satisfying dinner recipes from some of my favorite cultures around the world: 

Chana Masala 

An easy, one-pan go-to that includes nutritious and flavorful vegetables and herbs such as spinach, chickpeas, turmeric, and lemon. This dish is perfect for a cozy dinner, and it leaves me feeling warm and spicy. Pair it with steamed jasmine rice and, if you’re feeling ambitious, bake some fresh naan as the perfect side dish. 

Moroccan Chickpea Stew 

Use the leftover chickpeas from your chana masala to whip up this savory stew that transports you to the vibrant markets of the Middle East, the birthplace of complex and nuanced spices passed down through generations. I’ve cooked this stew so many times I now work from a place of intuition. This stew leaves warm aromas of cayenne and garlic lingering in my kitchen and reminds me to slow down and find pleasure in cooking with intention. 

American Style Macaroni & Cheese

Sometimes you just want a meal that will remind you of backyard barbeques and summer cocktails, and that’s a comfort only cheese can provide. Look no further—this classic, indulgent recipe would be welcome at any cookout. Apologies to my lactose-intolerant readers, but this recipe challenges you to get crafty with cheese to achieve a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth bake. Have fun with it and celebrate Thanksgiving in May. Pair with roasted sweet potatoes, garlic green beans, and your choice of protein (like fried chicken or jerk tofu) for a plate that welcomes you to the warm corners of the American South. 

Biryani 

A filling favorite that has different adaptations throughout the world, Biryani is cooked across India, Pakistan, Kenya, South Africa, Trinidad, and other cultures influenced by the South Asian diaspora. It can be made to accommodate different dietary restrictions and preferences, such as vegetarian and vegan options. Some argue over the world’s “best” Biryani, but my vote goes to the Hyderabadi Biryani recipe originating from Hyderabad, India. 

Shrimp Pad Thai 

Anyone who knows me is already familiar with this dish. It is almost always my go-to dinner for ordering in. Since I’m trying to resist the urge to reach for my Seamless app, I decided to try making this classic Thai dish from scratch. Have fun with fresh garnishes like bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro and more!

Apple Cinnamon Crepes

To satisfy my sweet tooth, I often look to European delicacies for inspiration. Crepes are handy to make with simple ingredients in your pantry. The secret ingredient here is a little bit of patience as some of the best batter requires time to thicken. Fill your crepe with your favorite flavors, from ricotta and blueberries to Nutella and bananas. There are endless combinations of sweet, savory and healthy fillings for this meal. 

Share a plate with your roommates, show off a live cooking demo on your social platforms, virtually plan a dinner date night, and pack some for leftovers. No matter the meal or who you share it with, find pleasure in the act and remember that feeding our spirits begins by feeding our bodies.