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I'm not sure if this will still be too broad or vague, but here's my attempt at a rewrite. Please feel free to close it if it is still too broad/vague.

Friends overseas have a very minimal kitchen, and where they are, electricity is expensive, and they have a minimal income.

Here is what they have - one single electric burner, a smaller-than-normal dorm fridge (which eats up most of their electric bill, evidently), a very sketchy 80s or 90s microwave that they are reluctant to use because of radiation leakage, one very small pot with a lid, two chef's knives and a couple of bowls. They have access to vegetables, a little meat and a few spices and sauces (salt, pepper, ginger, garlic, onions), but that's more or less it.

They do not have access or easy access to the following - gas-powered or coal-powered products or devices; equipment or devices that are considered safe by most standards at home (they tried to get a hot water heater for coffee and it blew up in a month); ovens; toaster ovens; convection ovens; toasters; waffle irons; grills; George Forman grills; blenders; food processors; salad spinners, zesters, and other things we take for granted. They also do not have access to processed foods like Oreos, soup mixes, canned broth, instant [fill-in-food-here] etc. Dairy and seafood are also out but those are due to allergies. They also do not have internet access, which is why I'm posting as I'm just learning to cook myself. I'm hoping to have answers for them next time I call.

I am looking for general food categories or formulas that they could make that have minimal time on the stovetop and will help with their bill. Examples include stir-frys (cut up veg, add sauce, swish around, eat) or tortillas (eggs, add veggies and flavors, wait till eggs set, eat).

Are there other "food formulas" like the two mentioned above - not specific recipes - that they could use? I used the following criteria

  1. 5-10 minutes on the stovetop
  2. easily adaptable - e.g. for stir-frys, they can use whatever veg their market has available
  3. imparts a lot of flavor in a short time
  4. is forgiving

I really am looking for suggestions, not recipes. What can my friends do to make meals under those circumstances?

Thank you for your patience and help.

closed as too broad by Mien, GdD, logophobe, Aaronut Aug 4 '14 at 16:38

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • No microwave or toaster oven either? – Jolenealaska Aug 4 '14 at 6:57
  • I think they might have a microwave but it's the electricity that's the issue, so that might've been nixed. I know for sure, no toaster oven. – user21142 Aug 4 '14 at 6:59
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    It's not my cup of tea, so it won't be me that does it. I'd like to see a comparison of electrical usage between a typical microwave and a typical electrical burner for basic cooking tasks. I'm not a big fan of microwaves in general, but my instincts suggest that they're probably pretty efficient as far as the use of electricity. They can also be acquired dirt cheaply. – Jolenealaska Aug 4 '14 at 7:11
  • I hear you, but they're overseas so who knows how things get calculated. Plus they're in the middle of nowhere so microwaves aren't the most efficient/available. – user21142 Aug 4 '14 at 7:26
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    camping is a classic "we have one burner and nothing else" scenario, so you might ask on outdoors.stackexchange.com though make it clear you have refrigeration available to you. – Kate Gregory Aug 4 '14 at 13:55
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From my own personal experience, the following are easily made with only a stove top and proper utensils:

  1. Stir fried rice (you can boil the rice, and then fry). Boiling takes minimal time. I'm not sure if this is specifically what you meant with stir-fry, but I thought I would add it here.

  2. Grilled meats (easily cooked on a pan with some olive oil or other garnish). Your time would be spent thawing (if its frozen), otherwise its seasoning + pan.

  3. Stock-based soups and stews. The only problem you'll have is reducing it; but this varies from the specific stew stock you are using.

I would suggest the following, but I am just a "cook by necessity":

Breakfast:

  • French toast
  • Eggs

Lunch:

  • Stir-fried rice
  • Side of soup

Dinner:

  • Grilled steak fillet
  • Roast potatoes (you can roast them by cutting + covering the pan with foil)
  • Plus things like pasta dishes. Bolognaise, and carbonara. Cook pasta and set aside. Then cook meat/sauce and combine at end. – Martin Jevon Aug 4 '14 at 9:33
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    other way around - cook the sauce and set it aside (wrap it in a towel to keep it warm) for flavor-improving, then cook the pasta/rice/etc and top it with the warm sauce. – Kate Gregory Aug 4 '14 at 13:53
  • Pasta has significantly less cooking time than rice. (5-12 min vs. 20-30). – Joe Aug 4 '14 at 14:51
  • There are "instant" rice products on the market that cook in comparable times to pasta. I've seen 10-15 minute varieties, 5 minute varieties, and 3 minute (via microwave) varieties. – Yamikuronue Aug 4 '14 at 15:13
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You mention stir fries, and the stir-fry portion is fine for fast cooking, but the rice that it's typically served with is not. You can get around this issue by either using rice noodles or ramen as a starch:

  • rice noodles : Add water to your wok while pre-heating it; pour the hot water over the rice noodles, then finish heating your wok and cook the stir fry; drain the noodles and toss them in with the stir-fry to coat.
  • ramen : add a little water to the wok, drop in a brick of ramen, slap a lid on and steam for 3-5 minutes.

If you have leftover rice from another dish, then I'd use it to make fried rice ... but otherwise, I'd avoid rice entirely.

Pasta cooks fairly quickly, but most dishes require a second pan ... we can get around this by making a pasta primavera :

  • boil water (not too much, or it'll take a long time to heat up). Add the pasta. When there's about 3 minutes left, toss in broccoli florets, sliced zucchini or other summer squash, peas, grean beens, thinly sliced carrots, or whatever other vegetables you like. Finish cooking the pasta, drain, return to pan and toss with olive oil, and maybe some of the following : a clove of crushed garlic, grated cheese, julienned bell pepper, thinly sliced onion (or green onions/scallion), crushed red pepper.

Egg dishes are also good, but be aware that a fritata is typically finished in an oven; you may need to follow the cooking techniques of an omelette or a spanish tortilla to cook it stovetop.

If you were going to do a rice dish, I'd stick with one-pot meals : jambalaya, arroz con pollo, paella (well, one pan meal), beans and rice, or similar.

You can also forgo starches entirely (or stick with bread that you've purchased), and just cook some sort of a meat, put it to the side to rest, and then in the same pan sauté some vegetables. Deglaze with some flavorful liquid, reduce, and maybe stir in some butter, and pour on top.

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