There are lots of adjustments to be made when you move out of home. The hardest of all is probably the realisation that absolutely everything costs money. In the kitchen, all those things that line the cupboards – the extra virgin Spanish olive oil, the three different types of balsamic vinegar, even the bloody salt and pepper – are actually sourced and paid for by someone. And now, that someone is you.

Some people get round this by making a ‘big shop’ part of the termly parental drop off. Others just raid their houses, presumably leaving their parents distressed at their new mother-hubbard status. And some – although a straw poll of my friends indicate that this number may be very low – actually go and stock their store cupboard themselves.

Whatever method you choose, whether you have to beg, borrow, or even buy – my recommendation is to get some spices. It will cost under a tenner for all the essentials (cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, paprika although see below for a couple of jazzy extras) and they can transform 3-for-£1 chick peas or chewy looking ‘casserole meat’ with just a magical sprinkle.

See below for my first cheap and easy recipes to get your spices flowing.

Chick pea curry

Serves 4, approx 95p per serving

So cheap and so, so delicious – used creamed coconut mixed with water if coconut milk seems too indulgent (both are available in ‘World Foods’ section of most Oxford supermarkets)

1 x 400g can chick peas

1 onion

2 large cloves of garlic

olive oil

a large thumb-sized lump of ginger

2 tsps crushed, dried chillies

1 tbsp ground coriander

2 tsps ground turmeric

1.5kg squash

8 cardamom pods

400ml can of coconut milk

Peel and slice the onion into thin strips. Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan in, and add the onion along with the peeled and sliced garlic cloves (add them to cold oil so the garlic doesn’t burn). Cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the onion is soft – stirring it sometimes so it doesn’t burn. Peel the ginger and cut into thin strips – add to the onion with the dried chillies, coriander, and turmeric. Cook the spices for a couple of minutes. Pour over half a litre of water and allow to heat until boiling. Add the squash (peeled and chopped into chunks).
Cover with a lid or some tin-foil and leave simmering (slow boil) for 20 minutes. Check that the squash is tender. Remove the black seeds from the green outer casing of cardamom pods and crush them a little. Add these into the mix, along with coconut and the can of chick peas. Season with salt and pepper and leave to cook for another fifteen minutes.

This curry can be served at this stage, but if you have time, turn off the heat and let it sit – it will be more tasty if allowed to mix. Serve with boiled rice (it’s great with brown if you like it) or wrapped into a roti.

Beef tagine

Serves 5, approx £1.75 a portion

Tagine is a bit more complicated than the other recipes here. The meat will need an hour or so in the spices and then almost three hours cooking. But it just gets left alone so its not very taxing. This recipe uses the Moroccan spice mix Ras-El-Hanout. Its available at most supermarkets and costs about £2.49 from Oxford’s Tesco Metros. Its available for cheaper (about £1.80) from Maroc Deli on Cowley Road. It’s worth the effort – but if you can’t be bothered, take it out and use 1 ½ tbsps of cumin and ginger instead of just one.

Spice mix:

salt and pepper

1 tbsp ras el hanout

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tbsp paprika

Other ingredients:

600g casserole beef (this is about the cheapest cut of meat, but is absolutely amazing when cooked for this long)

olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes

1 litre vegetable stock

Mix all the spices in a bowl, add the beef (chopped into small chunks if it doesn’t come like that) and rub with the spice mix. Cover with clingfilm and put into the fridge for at least an hour so the spices can mix with the meat.

When its adequately melded, heat a (preferable heavy-bottomed) pan and fry the spicy meat on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add your chopped onion, and fry for another 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas (drained) and tomatoes, then pour in half the stock and give it a stir. Once it has reached boiling, stir it again and put the lid on the pan (use foil if you’re lidless). Reduce to a low-medium heat and leave for 1½ hours. Give it a stir every now and again if possible – so it doesn’t burn at the bottom.

At this point – add the second 500ml of stock and cook for another 1½ hours. After this, take off the lid – add some water if its got too dry, leave to simmer on a high heat if there’s too much liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with cous cous or rice (and maybe a scattering of coriander leaves if you’re cooking for someone special).


This is just the recipe for a home-made fajita seasoning, which can be added to chicken or any other meat and left for a bit (an hour is great, five minutes will do) before frying. If nothing else, it’s more authentically Mexican than Old El Paso. Omit cayenne pepper if you don’t have it – but try and use hot chilli powder for some warmth.
I haven’t included any other fajita instructions – you’re a student, it’s fajitas, you’ve made it before.

1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped

1½ tsp cumin

1½ tsp paprika

1½ tsp chilli powder

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp sugar

salt and pepper


Mix together the garlic and spices. Add a generous glug of oil, mix again and pour over the chicken. Leave to penetrate the chicken (ooh-er) for 20 minutes or more if you can.