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Cooking challenge - limited equipment, tiny kitchen and a foreign country

So, this summer husband and I find ourselves living in a tiny studio flat in Berlin thanks to his work. All is great but for one problem - the kitchen is tiny (as is the fridge), and the only equipment we have is a hob, a single saucepan and a single frying pan and some dishes. There is no oven, no microwave, no blender.

Whilst husband is happy to eat out every day or to eat bread and German salami, I prefer to cook most days and go out on weekends. There is only so much restaurant food once can have.

For once, I have tons of time to cook and lots of great ingredients to hand (there is a market down the road as well as lots of Turkish and Lebanese shops with lots of great stuff).

But what to make with such a minimalist kitchen? it is almost like camping! I haven't ventured out yet to purchase more pans and pots (and we are here only for 5 weeks anyhow).

Have gone through my whole repertoire of salads, coucous and omelette recipes (and we've only been here a week!)

So, now would love to hear everyone's suggestions. Special salads? Non-blendable soups?
Thanks to everyone!

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  1. Hello, I'm in a similar situation in Ecuador. For salads how about Nicoise? It is a full meal. For non blendable soups I make bean soups (can mash some with a fork), and chowders or minestrone. With the fry pan do stir frys, fish, and simple pasta dishes if your sauce pan is large enough to boil water. Also, do a take out main dish and prepare own salads and sides to go with it.

    1. Truth be told, I could cook most of our regular dishes with that equipment. It's the sort of kit we often see in holiday apartments in Spain. We just need to tinker with some dishes so things stay hot until everything else is done.

      I see from your profile you're a NIgel Slater fan - there's loads of stuff in his two "30 Minute" books that'll fit the bill for you (assuming you have them available).

      1. What about having fun with eggs? This is good with leftover pasta to add hefty. Saute up whatever veggies you have, or some ham and onions. Toss in your leftover spaghetti (you really don't need it but it makes it more of a dinner and less of a breakfast). Whisk your eggs with some milk, then pour it over everything, maybe stir in some cheese, and cook it over lowish heat until the eggs set. You can cover them to help, too. It's a good midweek dinner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: katecm

          As a slightly different take on this idea, take leftover pasta and make a noodle cake out of it. Saute your other ingredients and make a pan sauce, and set all of that aside. In your skillet over medium heat, melt some butter. Toss your leftover pasta in one beaten egg and some S&P until well coated and put in the hot skillet. Let cook until that side sets up and has browned & crisped, flip and do the same for the other. Put it on a plate/platter and put your sauteed meal over top. Optional, grate some good cheese over top.

        2. Wow! Already so much inspiration!

          I had actually completely forgotten about Nigel Slater's 'fast' cookbooks (having travelled with none) but will now make an effort to revisit some via the net.

          I should have mentioned the frying pan is tiny (hence the need to obtain one more) but I do like the idea of the noodle cakes which i think can just about fit.

          Salade Nicoise - I absolutely love it and haven't made it for ages, thanks for the reminder!
          Also I like the idea of a takeout main, they do some nice grills here.

          It's amazing, isn't it, what happens when one is outside of one's own kitchen, and just how much we're forced to improvise. I have seen my share of student kitchens and so on, but this is so far the biggest challenge yet - and I refuse to be defeated!

          Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

          1. Find and explore the farmer's markets, and let their offerings inspire you. Find good cheese, meat, and pastery shops and enjoy them. Will you ever have such opportunities again?

            1. If you're smart about the sequence that you cook things, you can make a lot with just the one hob, one pan and one pot; I've personally done multiple course meals on about just that. No need to purchase additional cookware since that investment is wasted with the 5 weeks you'll be in the city.

              Pasta, soups and salads are pretty orthodox. You can make various types of flatbread, do tortilla espagnol, braises (not good for summer), choucroute garnie, a very small sauerbraten, poule au pot, improvise a sort-of paella, red beans and rice… whatever. That market and the Turkish/Lebanese shops are going to give you lots of ideas.

              1 Reply
              1. re: wattacetti

                Flatbreads!! Now that's an excellent idea. There are some for sale in the Turkish shop. And they could be combined with falafel from an instant-mix thing, mint and yogurt....indeed!! Thanks for the idea.

                Oh I wish I could make a paella but the saucepan in question is woefully tiny and can hold, let's approximate, two servings of soup. Hence my dilemma :(

              2. Oh yes, and I should add that most of my own one pot wonders are discernibly winter dishes (chili, chicken basque, risottos) or at least require a much bigger pot. At the moment it's hellishly hot here and my usual fare falls very short of the mark!

                1. I live in a studio with an eensy kitchen. We do have an oven, though. Risotto is a possibility if you get thee to a wooden spoon. Simple is best - you can make things like rice, soy-marinated fish and a side salad. It is possible to live this way for a year (as I have), but good luck - it can get frustrating!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: limoen

                    Yes, absolutely right - keep it simple! I think fish is a good idea, a piece can just about fit in the frying pan!

                  2. Get a rotisserie chicken and plan a few meals around it - shredded over salads, with rice or potatoes, etc. Pilau rice is really easy, too, and you could buy some pre-prepared ingredients to serve alongside to make life easier. As well as frittatas and omlettes, you could try okonomiyaki? While I normally avoid them for financial reasons, try quick cook convenience foods like straight to wok noodles, fresh pasta or gnocchi. I'd also be inclined to buy a slightly bigger frying pan (no need to shell out, a €5 nonstick one would be fine) just to make life easier...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: babybat

                      Agreed, fresh pasta is convenient, thanks for the reminder! as you say it's not something I normally buy either but I just spotted a huge variety of fresh pasta packs in the local supermarkets so might whip up some of that with a tomato sauce. And I wish a rotisserie chicken can last us several meals :) But also it's a great idea to use it in salads, this is something I completely forgot about, thanks!!

                    2. For a fun dinner....mix up a crepe batter, only a spoon and a bowl is necessary. However, I'd recommend adding the milk in increments since you aren't using a blender (add enough to make a thick batter, stir, add a little more milk, stir, and gradually lighten the batter to its proper thin consistency). Make a whole stack of them with ALMOST all the batter (they cook up so quickly- but I'd highly recommend investment in a nonstick pan, and giving it slight extra sheen with a swipe of butter for each crepe).

                      To serve for dinner- set back into a warm pan, sprinkle in cheese, cooked vegetables, bits of cooked meat or smoked salmon, perhaps some fresh snipped herbs....fold up, and plate next to a simply dressed green salad. Feel fancy as you tuck in. You might have leftovers for your tiny fridge, but crepes are thin, so they don't take up a lot of space. :)

                      Why reserve the batter at the beginning? For dessert, naturally! Sprinkle in a little sugar, perhaps even some cocoa powder. Cook the sweetened batter, and pick your filling.....fresh fruit, jam, Nutella, even just a little butter with citrus zest and juice mixed in is lovely.

                      Good luck with your tiny kitchen adventures!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: 4Snisl

                        Fun! I love crepes and savoury ones are a great idea, in fact, smoked salmon ones are already on my list! thanks!

                      2. I would think that asian stir frys would be easy to cook with just the skillet. And there are a lot of pasta dishes that can be cooked in a skillet with the addition of the pasta cooked in the saucepan, I'm thinking shrimp scampi with penne pasta and sauteed vegetables and mushrooms, add a little parmesan and balsamic vinegar and you have a restaurant quality meal in 30 minutes.

                        I was once stuck in a tiny little Soviet-style aparment in Moldova for the month of June. This was an apartment that the owner frequently leased out to Americans so they did put a 3/4 size (by American standards) refrigerator in the dining area (it wouldn't fit into the kitchen) and the only thing I ended up buying was a tea kettle to boil water.

                        There was a small grocery store nearby that we went to frequently, mostly because it was air conditioned and the apartment was not.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: John E.

                          Ah, the joys of a Soviet apartment! Still, you're right, that kind of a pasta dish can be easily whipped up in a mini-kitchen. I am certainly going to try this!

                        2. I was in a similar situation in Berlin this time last year, although our temporary kitchen was slightly better-equipped. For those first few challenging weeks, I took advantage of some of the semi-prepared foods widely available in local supermarkets. Some ideas:

                          -pan-fried breaded schnitzel (pork, chicken, veal), quick arugula salad with lemon dressing, baguette or rice. See what's readily available in stores and work from there, rather than sticking religiously to a recipe you've chosen ahead of time.

                          -curry using a variety of fresh veggies and tofu, prepared curry paste, and coconut milk

                          -grilled cheese and tomato soup (so many wonderful varieties of cheeese to try in Germany)

                          -bean and cheese quesadillas (flour tortillas are sometimes overpriced/hard to track down, but Edeka, Kaiser's, and the Galeria on Alex are pretty reliable sources)

                          -take advantage of the cheap fresh mozarella and summer tomatoes with caprese salad, toasted flatbread

                          -flatbread stuffed with hummus, mixed greens, and pan-seared veggies/meat

                          -Germans love cold vegetable salads. Now's a good time to teach yourself some of the classics: tomato salad in vinaigrette, potato salad, kraut salad, bean salad, salad with pumpkinseed oil, cucumber salad, etc.

                          -How about Mark Bittman's pad thai-style rice salad? Nigella's Vietnamese-style glass noodle salad is also good. You can get the ingredients for both at your local AsiaMarkt (the one at Hackeschermarkt is esp. well-stocked, as is one a few blocks from Walter-Schreiber-Platz Ubahn stop.)

                          -Don't forget how nice a cold soba noodle-salad, perhaps with chopped cucumber, red bell pepper, pan-seared shrimp, and scallions can be on a hot summer day!

                          -Tortilla espanola is also great. I like this recipe, adding more salt and browning the potatoes a little bit: http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/recipe...

                          Hope that helps!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ChristinaMason

                            Ah ,lovely, and everything is quite healthy too! Sounds really good. I have already tracked down the mozarella which is incomprehensibly cheap, you're right! Looking forward to the hummus - this is one of my lunchwork staples but has completely slipped out of my mind (now that I am not working!).