By Joseph Winters ’20
Personally, one of the most jarring things about the transition from high school to college was in the impersonalized food scene. No longer was I cooking my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, but loading up my tray at the dining hall. I recognize this isn’t the case for many college students. Some look at vegetables as they would an alien invader. “I have never eaten kale,” a Wigglesworth resident grimaced as he gingerly poked a pile of greens I was about to chop. In fact, he had apparently never cooked anything more complex than a piece of toast. Nationally, according to a survey by the DailyMail, one in three college students can’t even boil an egg. This is just sad.
But, having grown up in a family where I was an active participant in the dinner-making process, mealtime at Annenberg was less fulfilling. There’s some degree of creativity you can employ in the dining hall—for example, making brown butter in the microwave—but it couldn’t quite replicate the joy I used to get from cooking.
Enter Plated. I had seen their ads on Facebook describing a meal kit delivery service to make cooking easier, and was intrigued. After contacting Plated’s marketing team, I found myself with a big box of temperature-controlled food that they’d sent me for free in exchange for a review. I picked it up at the Science Center and walked it back to my dorm, drawing attention from some of the tourists in front of the John Harvard statue. Inside the box I got not one, but two different meals: salmon poke bowls and shakshuka. Each meal came with pre-wrapped ingredients and a big recipe card with step-by-step instructions and photos.
Before ordering on the Plated website, I had gotten to choose from a surprisingly thorough array of meal options, ranging from butternut squash pizza to Asian-style noodles, with options for every kind of diet, including gluten-free, vegetarian, low calorie, and “quick”. I had picked based on perceived difficulty; particularly, there was no way I’d ever think to make a salmon poke bowl from scratch in my dorm kitchen, so I was curious to see how Plated would make the task feasible. I unpacked the box to find every ingredient in its own conveniently-portioned container. Plated had accidentally sent me the wrong recipe card, but they sent the right PDF via email.
Based on the card, my salmon poke bowl would be done within forty minutes. Just to fact-check. I looked at the clock as I started cooking. 5:45. First of all, something to know about Plated is that they provide the ingredients, not the tools; it’s assumed that you already have things like a knife, sauté pan, cookie sheet, etc. This is a fair assumption, but you should note that if you want to use Plated, you’ll have to rent this kind of equipment from the FDO (if you’re a freshman), which is precisely what I did.
As the rice was cooking in my improvised rice maker (a shallow sauté pan with a lid), I unwrapped this tiny bag with a single clove of garlic and got to work, cutting it on my improvised cutting board (a paper towel). I diced some garlic, scallions, and chopped a cucumber mixing them in a bowl with some conveniently prepackaged soy sauce, and combined some prepackaged mayo and sriracha in a different bowl.
I seared the salmon very quickly on both sides with a little package of sesame oil, crumbled it, and added it to the veggie/soy sauce mix with some furikake (Asian spice mix). After I made do with draining the rice by slowly pouring off the water, all I had left to do was “plate” the salmon poke bowl: half the brown rice, salmon/veggie mix, conveniently pre-made seaweed salad, and sliced avocado made for a beautiful and delicious-looking bowl! Plus, after all that, the time was only 6:45! A little longer than the recipe card had said, but I’d put the blame on myself; I was taking a lot of pictures, after all.
The shakshuka went well, too. It was probably a little easier than than the salmon poke bowls, but I did have to procure my own eggs and oil. Since I didn’t want to buy a big bottle of oil, I just substituted an equal amount of butter that happened to be in the fridge (sorry to that butter’s owner!). This time, I got a friend to help. We sprinkled a spice mix over the can of chickpeas and put them to bake while she tore kale and I chopped garlic, an onion, and a bell pepper. I sautéed everything for a few minutes, then added the canned tomato, tomato paste, and kale, sautéing until the kale was wilted.
It would have been better if we had had a cast iron skillet so we could put the pan from the stovetop into the microwave without being afraid of the handle melting, but due to a lack of foresight, this wasn’t the case. I broke two eggs into little nests that I dug into our make-do pan and cautiously set it on the top rack of the oven, watching it carefully to check for melting. I set the naan bread in the oven to warm up as well. The recipe suggested that I wrap the bread in foil, which would have prevented it from drying out, but there was no tin foil in the dorm kitchen, so we made do.
Once the eggs were set, I took the pan out of the oven and divided the shakshuka between the two of us. We were going to use bowls, but we only could find one bowl in the dorm kitchen, so we ended up using these small skillets. Sort of artsy, we thought as we dug in. The shakshuka was a delicious success, and with a whole piece of naan for each of us, it was a surprisingly large amount of food. I had heard reviewers of other meal kit services say the portions were meager, but with Plated, the portions were on the generous side. My friend and I finished the meal feeling very satisfyingly full.
Overall, I’d say the improvisational nature of my cooking experience is more of a testament to the effectiveness of Plated’s service rather than a detriment. Plated made it possible for me to put together an incredible meal under the horrible conditions of a dorm kitchen. The lack of kitchenware was just part of the initial struggle. If I had had to scour the web to find a recipe and then go all the way to Whole Foods and back to get the ingredients, this amazing salmon poke bowl probably never would have been made. Plated is about saving time and effort so you can continue being frenetically busy the entire day and then still cook a gourmet meal for dinner.
Would I recommend Plated to college students? Maybe not to students with an unlimited swipes meal plan, but for anyone who’s planning to fend for themselves for at least a couple of meals per week, I think Plated is an excellent option. Whether it rekindles or introduces you to the joy of cooking, Plated is healthy, easy, fresh, tasty, and—I’d say—fun!
*I’d like to thank the Plated team for offering these two meals free of charge in exchange for a review!