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bhec10's avatar

What to cook for 500 people?

Asked by bhec10 (6415 points ) April 15th, 2012

Every week I do volunteering work that involves cooking almost 500 meals for homeless people. We gather at 6pm and start cooking and packing the food (often we also have fruit, salad, desert, as well as clothes, etc) and then from 9pm to 1am we drive around the city (I live in Lisbon, Portugal by the way) and give them away.

What we usually prepare is spaghetti with wheat meat and vegetables.

They love the food we cook but a few have asked us to cook something different for them.

So, my question to you is, what else can we cook for all these people?
Obviously something that is cheap and quickly done is the best option but I will evaluate all the answers!

Many thanks!

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33 Answers

Kayak8's avatar

I think the most important thing is for people to feel full! Pasta does a great job of that. Perhaps a baked tuna-noodle casserole with peas and other veggies. Hearty vegetable soups or chili with lots of beans are also filling.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Is any meat product included acceptable, or is that out of the question? (@kayak8, I was thinking of the same dishes.)

BBawlight's avatar

Chili. All you need is some meat, beans and seasoning. I eat it all the time (I don’t live in Portugal so I’m not sure about prices there). It’s easy to make and can be eaten warm or cold depending on the weather. It’s very filling, too.

jrpowell's avatar

What about sandwiches? They keep well and are filling and cheap.

And thank you for helping those in need.

Judi's avatar

Maybe something with rice? curry chicken and rice with vegetables?

JLeslie's avatar

How about a stir fry for something different? Rice, some veggies and any sort of meat? If you could add some fortune cookies for dessert it might be nice.

bkcunningham's avatar

Rosemary and lemon pork stew. Beans with a hearty bread. Cabbage and sausage.

lillycoyote's avatar

What resources do you have in terms of pots and pans, etc. in your kitchen and how to you package the food for delivery to the population you serve? I would imagine it would be best if you found something you could cook with the equipment and facility you already have and that you can transport relatively conveniently. If you decide to make soup or stew or chili would that be easy enough to package and transport? Does you kitchen have enough pans to make a lot of casseroles?

SmashTheState's avatar

Just remember that dental care on the street is virtually nonexistent. A lot of people on the street therefore have very poor teeth, and have trouble with anything which requires chewing. You should also keep in mind that anything you make should be both kosher and halal, and as close to vegan as possible.

Personally, I recommend falafels, hummus, and pita bread, all of which are very cheap to make and require little chewing. If you can afford it, you might want to add some taboulleh and baba ganouj, but that’s a bit more expensive.

bkcunningham's avatar

You are doing a good deed, @bvdshec17. Thank you for your kind heart. Deus te abençoe.

filmfann's avatar

@bvdshec17. You are truly doing Gods work. Thank you!
They may gripe a bit over the repeated spagetti but it is a cheap and easy way to give the much of the nutrients they need. You could add sausage and linguica to the sauce to goose it up a bit

chyna's avatar

How about some kind of stew?

rooeytoo's avatar

I second stew with lentils to thicken then you don’t need as much meat, they are full of protein and cheap, add whatever veg are on sale or frozen if you can’t get fresh, they seem to be less expensive and retain their vitamins. Serve over rice or noodles. Add ketjap manis to change the taste.

It is good of you to do this.

JLeslie's avatar

Seems like a stew would need special packaging. A souplike container that seals well. I am not saying those containers don’t exist, of course they do, I just wonder if they are easily available to the OP.

bkcunningham's avatar

True, @JLeslie. That may not be practical. Delicious, but not easy to put into containers.

SmashTheState's avatar

@JLeslie That’s why I recommended pita bread, falafels, and hummus. And it’s why Food Not Bombs most often serves wraps. Pita bread acts as both serving dish and utensil.

bkcunningham's avatar

GA, @SmashTheState. I hope @bvdshec17 educates us tomorrow on some of our questions.

rooeytoo's avatar

I figured if they are already packaging spaghetti, they must have some kind of leak proof containers on hand.

JLeslie's avatar

@rooeytoo Why? Spaghetti is not soupy like stew.

rooeytoo's avatar

hehehe, my stew is not soupy, the red lentils make it nice and thick. And now that I think about it, my spaghetti is usually more fluid than my stew! Strange that!

bhec10's avatar

@lillycoyote Good question, I thought I should have mentioned what resources we have. We cook the pasta in 2 huge pots which combined take something like 16kgs of spaghetti. The wheat meat is cooked at home by one of the people who helps us. The kitchen we work in is very small and we only have a medium-sized two burner stove. (A few months ago we only had 2 small portable electric stoves).

@Pied_Pfeffer, @SmashTheState Since our “coordinator” is connected with buddhism we have been trying to keep the meals vegetarian – hence the wheat-meat – and the sausages we put in the meat are always white meat. We also know that a lot of them have a hard time chewing, but that’s good that you reminded me!

After the spaghetti is cooked, we go to the stage of packing the food. We put the food in small (15×10cm) aluminum containers with a sort of “plastic-cardboard” lid. @rooeytoo They are kind of leak proof but we try not to get much water in there because then the lid starts to get wet and falls apart.

@Kayak8 Something with tuna and other veggies sounds like a good idea!

@BBawlight Chili is an excellent idea. We love it here in Portugal, I just have to make sure how we can make it in our kitchen.

@johnpowell Sandwiches is a good idea but we already give them that. When we give out the food we also bring fruit salad, side salads (lettuce and tomato), yoghurts, sandwiches, deserts, etc. depending on availability.

@Judi, @JLeslie We know how important rice is, as well as how they like it, but it is very hard to cook huge amounts of rice without burning half of it. At least that’s what I think, please correct me if I’m wrong or if you know how to cook large amounts of rice.

@bkcunningham Obrigado!

@filmfann Yes, we also try to change the spices we put on the spaghetti and the meat. This last week we cooked the spaghetti with alheira and it was delicious!

@chyna, @rooeytoo @JLeslie A stew is a good idea but then we have the problem of the containers we put the meals in, they don’t seal very well and they often spill. It’s not very practical…

Thank you all for your answers!

JLeslie's avatar

You can cook rather large amounts of rice at once. I would think the same as pasta. People make huge paellas with a large amount of rice. Local asian restaurants probably throw away tons of rice every night if that would help at all. Do you take food leftover donations from restaurants? Stir fry is better with day old rice, but you can use just made rice.

500 people is some endeavour, it is overwhelming to me. I guess people in the food business know how to handle it. Such a nice thing you do.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

You and your kitchen crew are saints! We hear so much about people hurting people, it think it is great that you feeding people who need that help.

As for your question, I was also thinking of some kind of stew, maybe with or over rice. You mentioned the “wheat meat” with the spaghetti. I think this is also referred to as “seitan”. Here is a video for a “seitan” stew recipe that I think could easily be multiplied for a large meal.

As far as cooking the large amounts of rice, I used to cook rice in a 50-gallon (about 200 liter) kettle. Allow the rice to saute for a couple of minutes in light oil before adding the water to cook it. It also adds to the flavor.

When I cook chicken and rice, for example, I start with a little oil in the pan. Then I add my veggies (bell pepper, onion, celery, maybe carrots, whatever is available), add them into the hot oil, cook until the onions are translucent. Add the protein (in your case, wheat meat, in my case, cooked chicken) and allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes, until the protein starts to brown. Then add raw rice, coat it with hot oil, and allow it to cook for a minute or two while adding your seasonings. Then add enough water to cook the rice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower heat to a good strong simmer. For a smaller batch (such as a family dinner) I would not stir after the water is down to simmer. However, for an industrial-size batch, I would disregard everything I ever learned about not stirring rice, especially when you can see that the rice is absorbing the water. That is the time to stir it to keep it from burning.

It also depends what type of rice you use. I’m not sure what types of rice you can get and what relative cost of each type is. Generally, though, brown rice has more in the way of nutrition, but it takes about twice as long to cook thoroughly.

JLeslie's avatar

I thought of something else. What about sausage with peppers and onions and have a roll, like a hoagie roll on the side that they can make into a sandwich. Different than a typical sandwich.

Also, there are all sorts baked dishes that are easily portioned out. Kind of like lasagna, but it might be a bready dish with cheese, ground beef or ham, and a few veggies like peas and carrots. In America we have a product called Bisquick that is basically flower some baking powder, I don’t know what else is in it, and there are many recipes that can be made with it. Here is an example with a photo of what I mean.

bhec10's avatar

@JLeslie We take the leftovers from bars and local cafes. We wait until the bars close and then we collect the cakes, pastry and bread that weren’t sold that day. We also have been taking leftovers from a big supermarket that gives us youghurts, vegetables, pre-cooked meals, fruit, etc whose consumption date is almost expiring.
As for your second idea, it’s very hard to put that much effort into single meals. What I mean is you have to do the meals one by one instead of cooking the whole thing and then packing it. Also for a lasagna I would imagine you need an oven for that and the only thing we have is 1 tiny old microwave..

@Yetanotheruser Yes I did know it was called seitan, I was just not sure how I could translate it from Portuguese or even if other people knew what it meant/was, that’s why I used the word wheat meat. That seitan stew looks good by the way. I guess we could give it a go at cooking big quantities of rice. And yes, obviously do not stop stirring the rice otherwise we’ll just have a big layer of carbonized rice at the bottom of the pan :)

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, no oven. So, you just have a stove? Is that right?

bhec10's avatar

Yes, just a two burner stove. Our “tactic” is that we boil the water in the big pots and throw the veggies in there. When they are cooked we take them out with a strainer and leave the hot water in the pan to cook the spaghetti. The meat is cooked by someone at home and is brought in 2 medium-sized pots.

JLeslie's avatar

Wow. I really give you credit for what you do.

lillycoyote's avatar

@JLeslie That’s what I was thinking. This person, these people, cook meals for 500 people with, apparently, only two big pots and a two burner stove, if I understand this correctly. God bless them. That’s pretty amazing. I wish I had a better answer for what @bvdshec17 could cook up, to switch things up a little bit, for the population they serve. On the one hand, just because people are poor and hungry it doesn’t mean that they should want to or have to eat the same thing, day after day after day, but this group seems to have limited resources and I don’t know what else they can do but what they are already doing.

SmashTheState's avatar

A thought occured to me. When I’ve had to make meals for 100 or so people for meetings, I’ve usually done something with potatoes, simply because potatoes are cheap, easy to cook in large quantities, are very forgiving in terms of cook time, and are both filling and nutritious. For breakfast, I’ve done big batches of scrambled eggs with big pots of curried home fries. For dinner, I’ve made vegan shepherd’s pie, which is easy as hell to make: boil and mash a huge batch of potatoes, add a couple of bags of frozen corn, and some moistened TVP. Then let it simmer for a bit to thaw the corn and it’s done.

If you’re unfamiliar with TVP, it’s textured vegetable protein. It’s cheap as dirt if you buy it in a bulk food store, and looks like granulated bacon bits. (In fact, TVP is what the fake bacon bits are made of.) TVP, after being soaked in water, has the identical texture to hamburger and no flavour of its own. To make it taste like hamburger, add tangy tamarind-based steak sauce, something salty (like soy sauce, which also helps to give it some flavour), and some liquid smoke. Don’t overdo the liquid smoke, it’s very strong. A few drops should do you. Carnivorous friends of mine can’t tell the difference between real lean-ground hamburger and TVP made this way. If you want the TVP to form realistic hamburger-like clumps and don’t mind it not being vegan, add a few eggs and bread crumbs to get it to clump together.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
TanyaLynn's avatar

Sloppy joes are cheap & simple…

Aiculz's avatar

Tortas mexicanas. (Not spanish because that would be a cake) The bun is called telera, a type of wide short flat softer baggette. Cut open and fill with anything. Like a big sandwich but more cosistency in the bread. Chilorio, chorizo con papas, scrambled eggs, spread mayo and mustard on each half put filling top with salad as you would a hamburger; all food elements if you want in one edible “dish” meat, cheese, salad,bread, nutritious and filling, easy to transport and eat, needs no fork nor spoon. Wr p it in brown paper, hand over paper napking put on platic bag…serve warm or cold depending on filling. Save on gas, plates, cutlery, water for cleaning pans, no need for seasonings.

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