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Dining Hall Hacks: A guide to cooking in a college dining hall


I distinctly remember the first time I ate in my college dining hall. I was 17 years old, it was my first day living in the dorms, and I felt so exposed. After a lifetime of living with my family, and doing all kinds of weird stuff that I thought was normal, I was going to be living and eating amongst strangers.

As I pushed my tray down the salad bar line, I purposely didn’t put any beets on my plate because I feared other kids would think I was weird for liking them.

But any anxiety or awkwardness quickly melted away when I realized that eating in a college dining hall is like eating at a massive, pre-paid buffet. The cafeteria transformed into a colorful Bollywood movie and I pranced past the pasta bar, the taco bar, and the soft-serve ice cream machine like Homer Simpson in a doughnut factory.

If I thought my dorm’s dining hall food was good in 1997, it’s even more gourmet now with local, farm-to-table cooking, sushi, and on-campus food trucks. But recent Dartmouth graduate, Priya Krishna, wasn’t quite creatively satisfied having her meals made for her all year long.

“The food at Dartmouth was wonderful,” says Priya. “But I think that no matter how good the food is, people want variety. I think going to a dining hall is like going to the same restaurant every day. No matter how good it is, you’re going to get sick of it somehow.”

Priya recently released a cookbook called Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks, a guide to creating your own dishes using the foods available in the dining hall.

“The cookbook started as a column I wrote for my school newspaper. I came up with recipes that students could make at the dining halls using only the ingredients and equipment found there.”

Here’s what she had to work with:

“Most dining halls are equipped with, at the very least, a toaster, a microwave, an ice machine. If they’re a little bit fancier, a saute bar, a panini press. Most of my recipes can be made with a microwave or a toaster.”

Ok, so let’s talk food.

“One of my favorite recipes is apple cinnamon bread pudding. It’s really easy. You just take a big piece of bread, you break it up into chunks in a bowl. You put milk, I like putting vanilla soy milk for a little extra sweetness, honey, cinnamon, a little bit of applesauce. You microwave that for about a minute until the milk soaks into the bread and gets really delicious. You top that with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It tastes like it came out of an oven.”

Priya remembers the first recipe she ever hacked.

“Teriyaki pasta. We had a pasta line and a stir fry line so usually you either get an Asian stir fry or an Italian pasta. But I basically took the pasta from the Italian line and you saute it with the teriyaki sauce, vegetables, you can put chicken or beef or tofu. It’s so good, it’s still one of my favorite recipes and it’s still one that I make often.”

Her 75 do-it-yourself recipes are diverse. She has a recipe for kugel, a classic Jewish grandmother casserole made with noodles, cottage cheese and cinnamon and an Asian satay, where she uses dining hall condiments to make her own peanut sauce.

It’s kind of the perfect gift for a food-loving college-student-to-be who already has the extra long sheets and isn’t afraid to eat beets on their first day in the dining hall.

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