Written by Samantha Chang
Echo Eats started with the intention of helping you, our dear reader, answer the impossible question of “…So where do we eat?”, in a way that saves your time, money and energy. But what if eating out simply doesn’t cut it anymore?
As students, we seek optimisation. We want good grades and extracurriculars, we want to be in tip-top shape, we want vibrant social lives and hobbies – but never at the expense of our wallets, and god forbid it creeps into our Netflix time.
The centrepiece of all that may just be something as simple as making your own food. First of all, you know and decide all the ingredients going into it – so no more mysterious black flakes of… something coating your mee goreng. You also save money by skipping the preparation costs and taxes, as well as the option of cheap ingredients. Also, there are healthy recipes that take less time to put together than a Samyang. Above all, healthy food gives you an invaluable boost of energy to do all the hustling you need to do.
Optimisation aside, health is precious and ephemeral, and you deserve all the best things in your body anyway. Lastly, for those out there who struggle with mental illness, for whom daily tasks can seem insurmountable – I feel you, and I hope that these recipes might help you as much as they helped me.
Disclaimer: Portion sizes vary based on your individual needs – double or triple up as needed.
Okay, I know – please don’t click away just yet!
Every time I mention that oatmeal is my favorite food, I end up having to endure jibes along the lines of “you a grandma?” with a self-deprecating chuckle. Well, not today – today I’m defending my thesis: “Oatmeal isn’t Lame – You Just Lack Imagination.”
I wouldn’t make such a bold claim without evidence. We’re going to evaluate it through 4 objective measures: Cost, Time, Health and Versatility. But before that, here’s a general template of an oatmeal recipe. Note that this is like, the baby Johnson’s of shampoos, the Myvi of cars, the margherita of pizzas – okay, point is, oatmeal has far evolved beyond this; but more on that later.
- ¼ cup oats
- ½ cup plant or dairy milk
- Tiniest pinch of salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp yogurt*
- Any fruit
*omit if vegan, but highly recommended for the protein, which keeps you satiated longer. Use greek yogurt for more protein.
- Watch this:
- Top with fruit and yogurt.
- Alternatively, assemble all the ingredients into a jar, refrigerate overnight and enjoy what is known as overnight oats (which would be a pegasus if regular, cooked oatmeal was a horse).
To calculate the cost of a single serving size, I divided the price of a whole ingredient by the weight or amount needed in a single portion. You can click on the links provided to check the price of the overall product, and you can find out how I calculated recipe costs here.
|¼ cup (20g) oatmeal||25 cents|
|½ cup dairy milk*||60 cents|
|1 banana||~20 cents|
|1 tbsp yogurt||20 cents|
|1 tsp sugar||Steal from McDs|
*If you’re in a real pinch, use soy milk for 30 cents.
It takes three steps; one if you’re soaking them overnight. Your cat could do it in less than 5 minutes. Next!
Oatmeal is incredibly nutrient dense. They’re rich in important micronutrients, antioxidants and vitamins, such as manganese, avenanthramides, B5, etc. One of the best things about oatmeal is that they contain a fibre known as beta-glucan, which lowers cholesterol, reduces blood sugar, and keeps you feeling full. This, coupled with the nutritional benefits of fruit and yogurt, makes for a very wholesome meal.
This is the part I’ve been waiting for. Oatmeal is like the future, brimming with endless possibilities. Add a tablespoon of cocoa powder into your overnight oats – the final product will be as gooey and rich as chocolate cake. Boost its flavour and nutritional profile by adding healthy fats in the form of peanut butter, roasted nuts, or chia seeds. Cook it in tea or coffee for your caffeine fix.
Want to pretend you know what autumn feels like? Make carrot cake or pumpkin pie oats. Craving more local flavours? Make banana or mango lassi overnight oats with virtually the same ingredients as the basic oatmeal. Sick of the sweet? Try savory oatmeal. Experiment, improvise, try gourmet flavours – the world is your oatmeal, man.
#2 Abridged Hummus
I know hummus on its own is not exactly a meal, but it’s definitely useful to have in your fridge at any given moment, especially when you’re hungry but too exhausted to move an inch. Plus, with this recipe in your arsenal, you’ll be everyone’s favorite person to have at a potluck.
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1-2 tbsp(s) lime juice*
- 1 tbsp peanut butter**
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Generous sprinkling of spices (e.g. cumin, turmeric, paprika, chilli powder etc OR garam masala)***
- Water as needed
- Salt and pepper
* Traditionally lemon juice, but lime is cheaper and works well.
** Traditionally tahini (sesame paste), but peanut butter is cheaper, more accessible, and endorsed by Nigella Lawson. Bite me, purists. (Alternatively, omit altogether – still tastes good).
*** While I recommend the use of these listed spices, I realize not everyone wants to have a spice rack – feel free to experiment with any spices you have on hand, or just buy garam masala, which is a mix of many Indian spices.
- Watch this:
- Top with spices.
- (Optional) Serve with carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers or bread.
|1 can of chickpeas||RM 4|
|2 garlic cloves||~10 cents|
|2 small limes||~20 cents|
|1 tbsp peanut butter||40 cents|
|1 tbsp olive oil||60 cents|
|2 tsp garam masala||10 cents|
Okay, this is slightly over RM5, but this makes 1.5 cups of hummus, which means several servings over several days. Also, I chose a cheaper olive oil for this cost breakdown, but if you love your mother please invest in a higher-end olive oil.
Slight prep work in the draining of chickpeas, deskinning of garlic and squeezing of limes, but other than that you pretty much just chuck all the ingredients in the food processor.
Chickpeas, cute and tiny as they are, are actually chock full of fiber and protein which will satisfy you, aid your digestion, and regulate your blood sugar levels. They’re also packed with micronutrients such as manganese and potassium, which promotes heart health.
If you’re Asian, your relatives have probably already preached to you about garlic’s medicinal properties. Furthermore, lime juice will keep you scurvy-free, olive oil has omega-3s which lowers bad cholesterol, peanut butter and tahini are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and even spices have health benefits!
Hummus and oatmeal have something in common: first impressions will mislead you into thinking they’re boring, beige slop, when they’re actually canvases for creativity. Look, they don’t even have to be beige: check out roasted red pepper or beetroot hummus for a vibrant red dip with a sweet, smoky flavour. Or heck, show up to a party with this fantastic spread:
Hummus doesn’t even have to stop at chickpeas: use lentils (dhal) or beans to shake things up. If you ever get bored of one version, just google ‘hummus variations’ and let the smart people of the Internet tell you what’s next on the menu.
Also known as the floppy triangular sandwich, quesadillas are more of a concept than a recipe. There’s no set recipe to follow; it just has to fulfill one requirement, i.e. you fold a filled tortilla in half over a stovetop – that’s it. A very useful tip from Serious Eats on how to choose fillings: keep them “bright, fresh, hot, or crunchy” to contrast with the soft cheese. My staple is their Spinach and Black Bean – with several adaptations, of course.
- 1 flour tortilla
- 1/2 cup (15g) spinach*
- 25g cheddar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 85g black beans
* look for ‘bayam’ – don’t buy the bagged stuff from Australia if you’re on a budget.
|1 flour tortilla||RM 1|
|15g spinach||8 cents|
|25g cheddar||RM 1.40|
|1 tbsp olive oil||60 cents|
|45g black beans||70 cents|
|Total (makes 1)||RM 3.80|
Fun fact: This cost breakdown is why I almost had a nervous breakdown when I saw quesadillas being sold for RM30 at Chilli’s.
Once again, slight prep work with the spinach and beans, but it can be done in under 5 minutes.
Assuming you’re in college, I don’t think I need to tell you how healthy spinach is. Just check out Popeye. Plus, the vitamins and minerals in black beans can help build healthy bones, manage blood pressure and blood sugar and even ward off cancer.
As for the cheese . . . well, calcium! And it’s good for mental health.
Like I said before, quesadillas are a concept. This page alone lists 60+ different fillings you can try. Lots of people add chicken or beef; you can even spread on some of that sweet, sweet hummus you made. You can have it with salsa or guacamole. You can play with dessert fillings, such as peanut butter and banana. Basically – move over, boulevard Hot & Roll.
#4 Scrambled Eggs with Spinach
Or . . . eggs any way, really – they’re like a meal in a capsule. Kopitiam culture has obviously figured this out a long time ago with soft-boiled eggs and toast, but I like this spin on eggs better because a) you get to quickly chuck in some vegetables for a more balanced meal and b) you can’t mess up scrambling because messing it up is the technique.
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 cup spinach
- Sprinkle of parmesan
- Red pepper flakes, turmeric, thyme or any spices you fancy
- Salt and pepper
- Optional (splash of milk in eggs)
|2 eggs*||RM 1.16|
|1 cup (30g) spinach||16 cents|
|5g parmesan**||45 cents|
|1 tsp olive oil||20 cents|
* If you can afford it, consider buying cage-free.
** Or simply use the cheddar from the previous recipe.
If you have time to eat, you have time to make this.
All of us already know about the high protein content in eggs, but they also contain important nutrients such as choline, and antioxidants such as Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Also, grab the omega-3 fortified ones for your heart and brain health. The addition of spinach makes this recipe a nutritional roundhouse kick.
Eggs by themselves are cosmic in their innumerable possibilities, but scrambled eggs are pretty straightforward. Still, you can definitely tweak small things here and there to make large leaps in flavour.
Imagine: the sizzling aroma of garlic butter instead of olive oil, the bittersweet char of browned garlic and onion, the umami smokiness of sauteed mushrooms served on the side, a refreshing sprinkle of chives or dill… I really need to stop writing these articles at 12am.
#5 Energy balls
Didn’t think I’d leave you without desert, did you?
These playful looking orbs go by a few other names (e.g., bliss balls, energy bites, protein balls) but I like calling them energy balls because they conjure up a cool little mental image:
Anyway, I was mindblown by these because they tasted uncannily similar to brownies, without the effort or the 999 sticks of butter. These are really fun to eat, to roll, and to throw at people. Convenient for when you’re on-the-go too, you busy adult you.
Recipe adapted from Deliciously Ella.
- 115g dates (6-7 pieces)
- 1.5 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp (~20g) almonds
- 1 tbsp shredded coconut
- Freeze for a few minutes for extra yum.
|115g (6-7 pieces) dates||RM 2.70|
|1.5 tbsp peanut butter||70 cents|
|1 tbsp cocoa powder||20 cents|
|2 tbsp (~20g) almonds||RM 1.00|
|1 tbsp shredded coconut||10 cents|
|Total (makes 6)||RM 4.70|
Although it fares under RM5, dates and almonds can be considered somewhat pricey, so this doesn’t get a full score.
While the processing of the ingredients is pretty straightforward, rolling them into balls and freezing them does take a bit of time – although, you won’t even mind doing the former because it’s squishy and fun, like playdough.
For something that tastes like treacle or candy, dates are great for health: they’re full of antioxidants such as flavonoids that can prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s. Speaking of flavonoids, cocoa powder is also jam-packed with them. Almonds are also high in antioxidants, and are among the best sources of vitamin E.
If ever in doubt, this guide is a pretty good rule of thumb to stick to:
Finally, even after you’ve tried all possible flavours, why stop there? Life is your playground.
Thanks for reading this collection of incredibly millennial recipes – now go forth and adult. Good luck in the kitchen.