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Cooking ideas to bring your neighbours together

Where I come from food is a very social experience – nearly all of my weekend plans in Peru had something to do with going out to eat! In the past few years, what has also become popular is taking a cooking class as a group: with your friends, family or co-workers. Being here in Manchester on a student budget means that hiring someone to teach me how to cook gourmet dishes in a kitchen that looks like it’s come out of a Hollywood film set is simply not an option. However, getting together with friends and cooking is a great idea to socialise, learn new recipes and save money on your next meal.

Whether you’re new on campus and wanting to get to know your neighbours, or whether you feel like planning a warm night in with your flatmates, here are some ideas of meals you can easily prepare as a group and have fun while doing so. Luckily for those of you who are vegetarian, all of the following recipes have veggie variations. So, dig in!

1.Quesadillas

A brief history: Quesadillas come from the northern and central part of Mexico in the 16th century. The Aztecs already ate corn tortillas stuffed with squash and pumpkin and when the Spanish settlers arrived, they brought sheep, lambs and cows, which were incorporated as ingredients, together with cheese and other dairy products.

The recipe: First cook the filling in a frying pan with the ingredients of your choice. Then, place the flour or corn tortilla in the frying pan with a layer of cheese. Spread some of the filling onto one half of the tortilla and once the cheese has melted, fold the tortilla up. Serve with chopped onion or guacamole.

Healthy tip: Use low-fat cheese and whole grain tortillas.

You can find out some more information here, as well as some recipes here!

2. Pizza

A brief history: Modern day pizza was invented in Naples when tomato was added to focaccia bread in the 18th century. However, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians are all known to have baked flatbread with olive oil and some combination of spices before this time. Even the idea of pizza just as a flatbread existed in ancient times in the Middle East where the Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, Israelis and Babylonians all ate flatbread baked in mud ovens.

The recipe: Spread tomato sauce onto pre-baked pizza dough or onto several small flatbreads. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and add your desired toppings. Finally, sprinkle a little bit of oregano on top before placing everything in the preheated oven. Serve when the cheese is still sizzling. 

Healthy tip: Use low-fat mozzarella and whole grain pita bread as the pizza dough. This last tip means you will no longer have the messy task of slicing the pizza!

Useful links:

You can find some easy ideas for pizza toppings here, and if you’d like to make your own dough, you can find out how to here!

3. Empanadas

A brief history: As a Peruvian and big empanada fan, I would love to claim ownership of the empanada! However, the reality is that empanadas are stuffed breads or pastries that can be found all over Latin America and the south of Europe. They originate from Spain and Portugal, and were brought to Latin America and the Philippines by Spanish colonists.

The Peruvian recipe: For the stuffing, first fry the red onions and garlic powder in olive oil, until the onions turn transparent. Then add the ingredients of your choice, sprinkle some salt, pepper and oregano, and continue frying. Place the stuffing on one half of the circular pastry and fold it up like a tortilla, “sealing” it with a fork. Brush some scrambled egg onto the empanada’s surface before placing it in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 15 to 20 mins.

You can find an Argentinian recipe here, and find a recipe for veggie empanadas here.

4. Hot pot

A brief history: The origins of the Chinese hot pot remain unclear. Some believe it dates back to 800 – 900 years ago in Mongolia. The main ingredient used back then was meat and the broth was not spicy. Others believe that the dish as we know it today was born in the 14th century. It later spread through China and today there are many regional versions of the recipe throughout the country.

The recipe: Plug in your hot plate (or wherever you plan to cook your hot pot) and pour in your hot pot foundation (by the way, you can buy an already-made foundation at the Chinese market). Bring to a low boil or simmer and begin adding your preferred ingredients. If you’re including any meat, make sure you cut it up into thin pieces so that it cooks well. Have your favourite dipping sauces waiting nearby!

You can find out some more information and recipes for hot pots here and here.

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