Five dinners you can make-ahead and freeze

Chicken and 100 almonds.
Chicken and 100 almonds. Photo: Murdoch Books

The Dinner Ladies (aka Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood) are Sydney's queens of pre-prepared, freshly made dinners, their business a saviour for many busy households. In their new cookbook, The Dinner Ladies, they share recipes that are easy to make-ahead, cook in bulk, and freeze, so you no longer have to pretend you "whipped up" one of their meals.

Chicken and 100 almonds

Ingredients

180ml  peanut oil or other mild-flavoured oil

The Dinner Ladies
The Dinner Ladies Photo: Murdoch Books

2 tbsp blanched almonds

2 large brown onions, 1 thinly sliced, 1 chopped

1 x 2cm piece ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1½ tsp salt

1 tbs ground coriander, toasted

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1 tbs ground cumin, toasted

3/4 tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground fennel, toasted

½ tsp chilli flakes

250g tinned chopped tomatoes

90g (1 bunch) coriander, roots removed and saved for another dish, leaves and fine stalks chopped, some leaves reserved whole for garnish

800g boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets, trimmed and diced into 3 cm cubes

200g plain yoghurt

2 tbsp almond meal

1 tsp garam masala, toasted

pappadums or steamed basmati rice, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat until a piece of bread sizzles immediately when dropped in. Deep-fry first the almonds and then the sliced onion until golden brown. Make sure you don't overcook them – they will taste bitter if they blacken. Spread them out on paper towel to drain. Pour over all but one tablespoon of the oil.

2. Bring the oil back up to medium heat and cook the chopped onion with the ginger, garlic and a fat pinch of the salt, stirring frequently, until soft and sweet. Don't rush this stage – it should take at least 10 minutes. When this mixture is well cooked, add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel, chilli flakes, tomatoes and most of the fresh coriander. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato is pulpy.

3. Season the chicken with the remainder of the salt and add to the spice mixture. Stir through so that it's completely coated. Turn the heat down to low, cover partially with a lid, and simmer for 20 minutes, checking occasionally that the chicken isn't sticking and giving it a stir if it is. When the chicken is just cooked through, stir in the yoghurt, almond meal, fried almonds, garam masala and fried onions (save some of the fried onions for garnish at the table if you like). Taste for seasoning and balance.

4. Scatter the curry with the reserved coriander leaves and some of the reserved fried onions. Serve with pappadums or steamed basmati rice, cucumber-yoghurt sauce and a fresh chopped tomato salad.

Serves 4 

Make ahead: The whole recipe can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months. Stir in the toasted almonds just before serving and garnish with additional fresh coriander.

Spanish meatballs with chorizo and chickpeas

Spanish meatballs.

Ingredients

130g dried chickpeas, or 400g tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Meatballs

1 small brown onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

325g minced pork (not too lean – buy from a butcher rather than the supermarket if possible)

zest of one orange

2 tsp slivered almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

½ tsp salt

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp fennel seeds, ground and toasted

pinch of dried oregano

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Sauce

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

160g chorizo (about two chorizo), sliced at 1cm intervals

1 small brown onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 small carrot, finely chopped

170ml red wine

400g tinned chopped tomatoes

3/4 tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp salt

2 bay leaves

To serve

2 tbsp chopped parsley

crusty bread

green salad

Method

1. Soak the dried chickpeas in cold water for 24 hours before you intend to cook them, then drain. Put them in a medium saucepan, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer till the chickpeas are tender. This will take at least one hour and possibly more, depending on their freshness. Drain, then set aside. Skip this entire step if using tinned chickpeas.

2. To make the meatballs, first preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

3. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the ingredients for the meatballs. Get your clean hands in and give the pork mixture a really good pounding. Take a small piece of the mixture – roughly 3cm in diameter – and fry it in a small, non-stick frying pan over medium heat for approximately two minutes each side. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

4. Using a separate bowl of cold water to dip your hands, roll the pork mixture into balls a bit smaller than a golf ball, and place in rows on the baking tray. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or till cooked through.

5. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium–high heat and cook the chorizo till golden brown – the fat from the chorizo should render and will flavour and colour the sauce. Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

6. Turn the heat down to medium–low and add the onion, garlic and carrot. Cook for 10-15 minutes till soft and sweet, stirring frequently, then raise the heat to high as you add the wine. Let it come to the boil, then lower the heat and stir in the tomatoes, paprika, salt and bay leaves. Simmer for around 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until deeper in colour. The tomato should look shiny rather than watery. Remove the bay leaves and purée the sauce with a stick blender. Keep warm.

7. Add the chickpeas, meatballs and chorizo to the tomato sauce, and bring back to heat.

8. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

Serves 4 

Make ahead: The entire dish can be made ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Sang choy bao with pork and shiitake mushroom

Pork sang choi boa

Ingredients

30g dried shiitake mushrooms

2 tbsp Chinese rice wine

1½ tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp peanut oil or other mild-flavoured oil

1 brown onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 4cm piece ginger, grated

2 Chinese sausages (lap cheong), finely diced (see note)

600 g  minced (ground) pork

50 g water chestnuts, diced

4 spring onions, ends removed, sliced diagonally

1 large handful coriander, roots removed, stems and leaves finely chopped

To serve

lettuce cups or steamed rice or noodles and stir-fried Asian greens

2 tbsp Chinese rice wine

Note: Chinese sausage (or lap cheong) is a sweet, dried sausage, available in the Asian section of most supermarkets or from Asian grocers.

Method

1. Soak the shiitake mushrooms for one hour in warm water. Drain, remove and discard the stems, then finely chop the mushrooms. Set aside.

2. For the sauce, mix the rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil in a small bowl. Taste and make sure it has a balance you like. Set aside till needed.

3. Heat a large wok over high heat until smoking. Swirl around the peanut oil and add the onion, garlic and ginger, stir-frying briskly till aromatic, no longer raw but not completely soft. Add the Chinese sausage, continuing to fry over high heat for 1-2 minutes, before adding the pork.

4. Stir-fry the pork, breaking up any lumps, till it's opaque and starting to brown – at this stage, try to boil off as much excess liquid as you can. Add the shiitake mushrooms and toss through.

5. Tip in the sauce, stirring vigorously so it coats the pork mixture, then fold through the water chestnuts, spring onions and coriander. Taste again for balance.

6. Serve with lettuce cups for a first course or light dinner, or make it go further with steamed rice or noodles and stir-fried Asian greens.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

Make ahead: You can approach this in two ways as a make-ahead dish. For the best results, you could make the sauce and prep all the separate elements up to one day ahead, then cook everything immediately before serving. But for convenience – and if it's a midweek dinner and you're just after something easy and yummy – you can make the mixture in advance, just leaving out the spring onions and coriander, which can be added when you reheat the pork. We often freeze this, too. The addition of fresh green spring onions and coriander gives the defrosted dish the lift it needs at the end.

Salmon, sweet potato and broccoli bites

Broccoli and salmon bites.

Ingredients

200g sweet potato, diced into 3cm cubes

70g broccoli, chopped into small florets

320g salmon

1 garlic clove, chopped

zest of ¼ lemon

1 tbsp dill, chopped

1 egg, beaten

1-2 heaped tbsp rice flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp peanut oil or other mild-flavoured oil

To serve

lemon wedges

tartare sauce or tomato sauce

Method

1. Put the sweet potato in a small saucepan and cover with well-salted water. Bring to the boil over high heat and cook for about 20-25 minutes until completely tender. Drain and cool, then cover till needed.

2. Fill the same saucepan with well-salted water, bring to the boil and add the broccoli. Cook until tender, then drain under a running cold tap, to arrest the cooking and keep the colour.

3. In a food processor, pulse-chop the sweet potato, broccoli, salmon, garlic, lemon zest, dill, egg, one tablespoon of the rice flour and the salt until thoroughly combined. If the mixture still seems a bit wet, add more rice flour. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

4. Roll a small, flat piece of the mixture and fry in a little of the oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat for one minute each side, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

5. Before you start rolling the patties, have ready a small bowl or jug of water for dipping your hands in – it will make the job a lot cleaner and easier. Scoop out tablespoons of the salmon mixture and, using wet hands, form into balls about the size of a golf ball, then flatten into patties.

6. When all the mixture has been rolled, heat the non-stick frying pan over medium heat with a little oil. Pan-fry the patties in batches, adding more oil as necessary, for two minutes each side or until they are golden brown and cooked through.

7. Drain on paper towel and serve with lemon wedges, tartare or tomato sauce, depending on the age and sophistication of the intended diners.

Makes 20 small bites 

Make ahead: The mixture can be made ahead, rolled into balls and kept, covered, in the fridge for one day or in the freezer for up to three months. Defrost before cooking.

Chickpea and coriander burgers

Corainder burgers.

Ingredients

800g tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed (500 g drained weight)

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp ground cumin, toasted

½ red capsicum, seeded and diced

1 large handful coriander, leaves and stems finely chopped

1 handful mint, leaves only, chopped

4 spring onions, ends removed, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp rice flour

1 tsp salt

80ml (⅓ cup) olive oil

To serve

rocket leaves

cucumber-yoghurt sauce (see below) or spiced tomato chutney

juice of ½ lime (optional)

toasted panini (optional)

Method

1. In a small blender, pulse-chop the chickpeas until some are coarsely chopped and some are puréed.

2. In a large stainless steel bowl, combine the chickpeas, egg, cumin, capsicum, chopped herbs, spring onions, garlic, lemon zest, rice flour and salt. Form some of the mixture into a little patty about 3cm in diameter and fry in olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. This should only take two minutes per side. Taste the patty and decide whether you need to adjust the salt or any of the other ingredients.

3. Roll the mixture into eight evenly sized balls. Flatten them into patties, cover and refrigerate or freeze until using.

4. When you're ready to cook, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and carefully add as many patties as will fit in a single layer. Cook until a golden brown crust has formed on one side – about four minutes – then gently flip the patties and cook for another four minutes on the other side. Remove to one side and drain on paper towel, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm (such as a low-temperature oven) while you repeat with the remaining patties.

5. Serve with rocket leaves and cucumber-yoghurt sauce or a spiced tomato chutney, and squeeze a little lime juice over the top if desired.  If you need bread with your burger, serve with toasted panini. 

Cucumber-yoghurt sauce: Many cultures share the idea of a cool, cucumber-yoghurt-mint sauce – and we use them interchangeably. A basic recipe to go with everything is 260 g (1 cup) plain yoghurt, 1 Lebanese cucumber (peeled, grated and the water squeezed out), 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 garlic clove, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tbsp chopped mint. Mix together well.

Serves 4

Make ahead: The burger patties may be made ahead and frozen. They can be defrosted but will be delicate to handle when they defrost. Alternatively, you can cook them straight from frozen, adding two minutes each side to the cooking time.

Recipes and images from The Dinner Ladies by Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood (Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99)