Nidhi Verma is the founder and Indian chef behind the food platform & recipe box brand The Cookaway, connecting adventurous cooks with leading chefs and bringing joy to the home cooking experience. Nidhi believes lockdown has helped us discover a new world of adventure, comfort and fun in our kitchens that we didn’t even know we needed…
I think lockdown has taught many of us that cooking is much more important than we realised and something we can all be doing more mindfully when the new normal finally arrives. Kitchens have almost became a sanctuary over the last year as millions of us turned to home cooking and scratch cooking on a regular basis. We had more time at our hands to plan our meals, eat better, try new things, replicate our favourite restaurant meals and reduce food wastage by making the most of what was available in our fridge and larder cupboards. Families have cooked and eaten together more than ever before and for me personally it’s been pure joy to see the kids gets involved in cooking too and this has resulted in our 12-year-old becoming a very confident cook.
I spent most of my childhood in the north of India, in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh at the foothills of the Himalayas. My father was in the Indian Army, so we travelled regularly and explored the ingredients and spices used in different regions. There was no convenience or processed food – everything we ate was cooked from scratch and had a strong connection to the place it came from and the people who prepared it. Years later, it was this connection and authenticity that inspired me to start my own cookery school.
I moved to London with my husband in 2005 and cooking Indian food has been one of the things that has helped me to stay connected to my family and my cultural heritage. Even when I’m franticly busy running a start-up business, juggling family life and childcare, I naturally make time to enjoy preparing a delicious home-cooked meal at least once a week. I believe the simple yet precious art of preparing home cooked food is a skill we can all benefit from.
During my cookery classes so many people would tell me that learning to prepare Indian food at home had changed their entire outlook on cooking. It seemed crazy to me that so many people would turn up to my classes, have the time of their lives and then tell me they hadn’t cooked a proper meal at home in weeks, or even months. I quickly realised that my cooking classes were offering people more than a few handy cooking skills, they were acting as a way for people to take a step back and reconnect with a love of all that comes with preparing a special meal and sharing it with others.
When lockdown hit and everyone immediately started baking banana bread and creating more experimental dishes at home it was another clear sign that people had been missing the chance to spend more quality time in the kitchen. When we all started using video conferencing to socialise with friends and family, the worlds of cooking and socialising quickly collided and virtual cook-alongs became a weekly highlight for many. People found the inspiration to cook but were also able to connect with others, learn new skills, explore different world cuisines and rekindle a passion for good food that had perhaps gotten lost as convenience replaced mindful cooking in our busy, pre-Covid lives.
A hybrid post-pandemic world
I guess the question on everyone’s lips at the moment is: ‘What happens to home-cooking when we’re out of lockdown?’ As the working world shifts to accommodate more flexible, remote working opportunities and as we finally have some support with childcare outside of our own homes, I’m hoping we’ll all be able to hold on to the lesson we’ve learned about balance and make more time for the things in our lives that are important. Of course, we’ll be raring to visit restaurants and socialise outside of our homes, but we’ll also crave the creativity, peace and sense of control that comes from cooking a delicious meal.
The technical knowledge that we have collectively gained during lockdown, coupled with advances in services that have made it even easier to get hold of ingredients, access recipes and chat live with chefs has turned home cooking into another form of entertainment.
Lockdown has shown us the joy and importance of home cooking and given us an even easier way to do it. Cooking is so much more than food artfully arranged on a plate, it helps people explore new cultures and traditions, remind us of our travels, support mental health, connect and share a passion with others, celebrate special occasions – or turn a normal day into a special one.
Nidhi Verma is the founder and Indian chef behind the food platform & recipe box brand The Cookaway, connecting adventurous cooks with leading chefs and bringing joy to the home cooking experience.
A plant-based meal delivery service that starts from £4.99 per person per meal, this is perfect for vegetarians and vegans, and anyone who’s looking to reduce the amount of meat in their diets. Their Christmas ‘Feast Box’ contains a two-course roast dinner for four people, ready to heat up and enjoy within 45 minutes.
Inside the box, there is a delicious Cranberry and Walnut Loaf as the centrepiece, alongside crowd-pleasing seasonal sides: Crispy Roast Potatoes, Spiced Red Cabbage, Rosemary Roasted Veggies, and Truffle Cauliflower Cheese. For dessert, you can choose from Tiramisu Cheesecake and Sticky Banoffee Pudding to end your feast. All for only £12.50 per serving.
The Pure Package
The most luxurious healthy meal kit out there, The Pure Package is definitely a cut above the rest when it comes to quality and quantity food. You can choose from packages like training support, weight loss, healthy eating and longevity as well as all of your specific diet requirements like vegan or vegetarian. Testing out the ‘training support’ diet for three days, I was more than satisfied with the high quality of the food as well as the range of meals available. The addition of snacks made the diet all the more fulfilling and certainly aided my training schedule. Seriously, this meal kit might be a treat, but it’s a treat you deserve. Prices start from £39.95
Pollen + Grace
One of our favourite meal delivery kits to date, Pollen + Grace make ready meals feel gourmet. They’re all healthy, vegan and of course… delicious. Their festive nut roast was a particular favourite, making any kind of Christmas special this year. Meal boxes start at £3.50 in stores.
One of the newest and best companies leading this trend is Mindful Chef, set up by Giles Humphires and Myles Hopper (below) in 2014. London based, these cool cats set out to provide a super healthy meal-kit service delivering Paleo based dinners to peoples doors. (In case you need reminding, Paleo is mainly fish, meat and vegetable. It’s one of the most good for you diets out there right now). Co-founder Giles tells us, ‘We only use responsibly sourced, organic meat, fish caught by local day boats and organic veg from Devon. The veg is pulled out of the ground on Friday and on your doorstep on Sunday. We are reinventing the process as we believe veg shouldn’t sit in supply chains for weeks.’
How It Works: Mindful Chef have partnered up with Eversfield Organic Farm in Devon to deliver a box of produce once a week to your doorstep. Mindful Chef have a No Processed Food Rule, so the ingredients are as fresh as you can get with nutrient-dense British vegetables. With the ingredients and recipe cards you can rustle perfectly portioned Paleo dishes. Giles and Myles tell us, ‘After a few weeks of healthy home cooking, our customers report feeling leaner, with better skin, brighter eyes and feeling more alive!’ Highlight meals include: Walnut & mustard beef, orange, beetroot & watercress salad, Salmon & courgette skewers with fried endive and sweet potato mash and Spiced pork baby fajita gem wraps with a coconut & lime dressing. Their Christmas menu is available for delivery from December 13th. Prices from £24. Yum!
Riverford Organic Farm
Winners of The Observer Ethical Award five years in a row this outfit delvers 47,000 fresh produce boxes a week in the UK. Recently launching their Recipe Boxes they provide a Quick recipe box, Vegetarian box and perfect for Summer a BBQ box complete with gluten free sausages. Add your Christmas favourites now. Prices from £33.95
Sourcing their fish from Mayfair Fishmonger James Knight which has reportedly supplied Clarence House for years this Meal Kit Service is truly a royal affair. Not only do they do their Classic and Veggie Boxes they also provide a Family Box for up to 5 people. Ideal! With their Christmas Box sold out already, you’ll have to rely on an old favourite if you want to celebrate the festive season with them this year. Prices from £36.
Another delicious plant-based option, Planthood delivers restaurant quality meals to your door. Their Christmas box features mushroom wellington with miso and porcini red wine gravy, sticky nato bean, hazelnut and cranberry stuffing, wrapped in miso mushroom duxelle, cavolo nero and puff pastry plus cauliflower ‘cheese’ with a garlic and thyme crumb and much more. Prices start at £32.85 per week.
Working with well respected brands like Yeo Valley and Woodlands Farm Gousto are passionate about creating exciting, colourful healthy meals. Highlights include, Dill and Courgette Fish, Daikon Curry and Pulled Chicken Salad. Prices from £29.99.
In addition to their healthy low calorie Discovery Box, Simply Cook also do a box suitable for those of us that are Gluten free. Offerings include Cod and Chorizo Broth and Firecracker Chicken are just a couple of the Coeliac ready recipe kits. Prices from £10.
Rick Stein At Home
Stein’s at home delivery service sends customers a pre-prepared three course meal for two people, packed full of stunning Cornish produce. Example starters include grilled scallops with a hazelnut and coriander butter, moules mariniere and homemade mackerel pate with sourdough toast and fresh leaves. Mains include their signature Indonesian seafood curry with rice and a crisp green bean salad; a whole Lobster thermidor; and even a Ribeye steak from Cornish butcher Phillip Warren. Round things off with a classic Sticky toffee pudding with Cornish clotted cream or a chocolate pave.
Available for national delivery. From £40 for two people
Last delivery 17th December
Nutshell: An Iranian Christmas at Home
This Christmas, indulge in modern Iranian restaurant Nutshell’s take on festivities with a feast for four of Duck Shekam Por – and when they say feast they really mean it. As well as duck cooked two ways steeped in date and tamarind, trimmings include Kebeh Kurdi rice stuffing balls and roasted Brussel sprouts and chestnuts with bandari spiced burnt butter Served with a traditional tachin – layered crispy rice cake with apricot puree and finished with a dessert of Ranginak tart – buttery date filling encased in short pastry, sumac clotted cream, pistachio and spiced sugar.
Available for national delivery and collection from the restaurant
Last delivery date: 23rd December
Sicilian Sleighbells with Norma feast box for 2
Fitzrovia’s Sicilian hotspot, Norma, is running a top-notch, sexy sharing menu from chef Ben Tish. Full of Sicilian specials to be cherry topped at home with the simplest of steps and instructions. The spread includes Fennel salumi, coppa and chesses, focaccia and pickles before mains such as a slow roasted chicken infused with wintry flavours of bay and brightened with pomegranate served with Swiss chard gratin and pine nut roasted potatoes. A scoop of boozy tiramisu and seasonal cannoli for delicious dolci options too whilst booze is covered generously with bottle of homemade limoncello, Norma’s festive negronis, a bottle of Sicilian red and what’s more, a signed copy of Ben’s Saturday Times Cookbook of the Year, Moorish too!
Available for national delivery
Last delivery 18th December
£100 for 2
A veritable spread comes from Iberica restaurants, put together by Michelin starred chef, Nacho Manzano. The celebration box starts proceedings in true Spanish style with a selection of tapas, including bread and extra virgin olive oil specialty olives, pan con tomate, charcuterie, salads of anchovy adorned tomatoes and a cheese board of 5 Spanish cheeses. Main dishes include grilled octopus, tomato spiced prawns and the centre piece of a leg of milk fed lamb, herb marinated and ready to finish at home. Dessert is a crowning Gloria Cheesecake. With simple instructions to finish preparing your meal, escaping the gloom of a winter’s day via Asturia Spain can be delivered right to your door.
Available for national delivery and local collection
£66 per person
Last delivery date: 23rd December
Mac & Wild Chateaubriand kit for 1
Highland hailers, Mac & Wild are offering a 3-course chateaubriand feast as part of their festive offering through online food hall, Restaurant Kits, this year. Perfect for solo diners or order more than one for households. They start classic to kick off Christmas lunch with a starter of Glenmorangie smoked salmon tartare of whisky cured salmon, crème fraiche and parsley oil before tucking into a 200g venison Chateaubriand with buttery mash, braised red cabbage & bone marrow gravy. Christmas spells indulgence so polish things off with Sticky toffee pudding and salted caramel sauce with a quenelle of clotted cream.
Available for national delivery
Last delivery date: 23rd December