Cheap, easy and delicious food recipes for college students
A typical New College Z dorm kitchen. (Courtesy of Isaac Tellechea.)

Cheap, easy and delicious food recipes for college students

For college students, food can be a part of the everyday routine that is often overlooked, due to leading busy lives occupied by school, work and extracurricular activities. At New College, this issue can also be exacerbated by the perceived lack of quality food available from the Hamilton “Ham” Center, with very few on-campus alternatives offered by the school. Throughout the rush of a busy Novo’s schedule, it can be easy to opt for a less nutritious, faster option for food, rather than taking the time to craft a healthy meal. However, with Internet access, a stove and a handful of ingredients, it has never been easier for anyone to make a great plate of food. 

A grilled arepa filled with queso guayanes. (Courtesy of flickr.)

Grilled Arepas

Estimated preparation time: 20-25 minutes.

Estimated price of ingredients: $10.

Necessary ingredients: White corn flour, salt, butter, any cheese of choice (queso guayanes recommended.)

Serves 2-3 people.

Arepas are a corn flour-based culinary staple of Venezuelan and Colombian origin. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have been a delicacy in these countries for centuries; In fact, arepas are one of the few foods to remain unchanged following the period of Spanish colonization in Venezuela and Colombia. The best part of that fact is that the process of grilling arepas has stayed enjoyably quick and easy.

To start, take one cup of the white corn flour and pour it into a medium to large-sized bowl. Add a tablespoon of salt. Then, add a cup and a half of warm water to the bowl. Stir until a soft dough forms. 

Setting the dough aside, heat a griddle/flat top pan on medium heat and melt some butter on it. Once the butter has melted and the stove top is ready, it’s time to form the dough. Take a palm-sized lump of the dough and toss it in your hands to flatten it into a burger-like patty shape. Now that the dough is formed, you can toss it onto the stove and flip in about five to seven minutes. The arepa should be a golden brown color on both sides when it’s ready. 

Once the arepas are cooked, all that’s left is to fill them. In this recipe, a simple butter and cheese filling will be used, but the best part of arepas is that you can fill them with so many different proteins! Shredded chicken, beef and black beans are all common fillings that make for delicious arepas.

Filling the arepa is a simple task. Taking the arepa off of the stove, use a knife and cut along the middle of the arepa, creating a sandwich-like opening between the top and the bottom. Inside the arepa, spread some butter along the top and the bottom. Finally, add your cheese of choice. Queso guayanes is recommended because of its soft creaminess, but any kind of cheese will do. Now you’re ready to enjoy your grilled arepa!

A plate of Mongolian tofu served with rice and asparagus. (Courtesy of Isaac Tellechea.)

Mongolian Tofu

Estimated preparation time: 45 minutes to one hour.

Estimated price of ingredients: $26.

Necessary ingredients: Cooking oil, cornstarch, garlic, lemon, tofu, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and brown sugar.

Optional ingredients: Ginger, chili paste, green onion and sesame seeds.

Serves 2-3 people.

Despite the intimidating preparation time, this dish is still incredibly easy and well worth the wait. Additionally, if put off by the ingredients list, keep in mind that the majority of them will not be completely used throughout the process, so they can be used in future cooking endeavors. 

To start the meal, open the tofu and drain the liquid from the package. When frying tofu, to get a crispy texture and the best flavor, it’s always best to dry out the tofu as much as possible, which can be done by lightly pressing down on the block with paper towels for a few minutes. 

Now, the pan can be warmed. Fill the pan with about a third cup of cooking oil of choice and set on high heat. Leave it while you finish preparing the tofu. Take your block and carefully cut it as equally as you can so your tofu cubes can cook through evenly. Once chopped up, take the tofu bits and place them into a medium to large sized bowl. 

In that bowl, add about a third to a half cup of cornstarch, depending on how much tofu you have. Toss the cubes in the cornstarch until they’re all mostly covered in the powder. 

The tofu is now ready to be fried. Be sure to check your pan’s heat, which can be done easily by splashing a few drops of water in the oil. If you hear some sizzling and see some bubbles popping, your oil is hot and ready. Carefully put your tofu in the pan and watch out for potential oil splashing. 

When frying the cubes, make sure you’re not trying to fry up all of them at the same time and avoid overcrowding your pan. It’s always better to cook multiple batches than to have some chewy tofu. Flip the cubes as necessary. The frying process should take about eight to ten minutes per batch, and the end result should be golden brown tofu cubes. By the end of the frying, your cooked tofu should be in a bowl off to the side. 

Now, this fried tofu is looking tasty, but it’s time to add some flavor to it! Take your pan, add a third cup of cooking oil to it and set on medium heat. While it’s heating, carefully chop up three to four cloves of garlic. If you include ginger in the recipe, also take this time to cut up five slices of ginger. After checking your pan’s heat, add your garlic to the pan. If applicable, add your ginger and chili paste at this time as well. Stir the ingredients together and let sizzle for about one minute. 

Next, add four tablespoons of hoisin sauce to the pan. Then, add two tablespoons of sesame oil and two tablespoons of soy sauce. Finally, add two tablespoons of brown sugar. Stir all these ingredients together and let sit for a minute to allow the flavors to get acquainted. Now, take half of a lemon and squeeze some juice into the pan to brighten the sauce up. Don’t be afraid to try the sauce while you’re cooking to make sure it’s to your taste. The sauce should be a light brown color once it’s ready. 

Finally time to add the tofu to the sauce! Throw those cubes into the pan and toss until all the tofu is looking nice and covered in sauce. Let sit for one minute. At this point, if you choose to include green onions, use scissors to cut slices of green onion into the pan and toss the cubes around again. After one more minute of letting it sit, the tofu’s all ready to eat. Once you’ve plated the tofu, garnish with sesame seeds if you’d like. Serving alongside white rice and broccoli is recommended. 

Cooking with no prior experience can be intimidating and stressful, but the best way to get more comfortable with the process is to familiarize yourself with it. These recipes are great ways to get your foot in the door and get yourself started.

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