In the past I pretty much always relied on recipes when cooking. It provides a certain safety and I really don’t like failing. But my wife is a chef who almost never looks at a recipe (except when baking) and I’m also learning how to think differently in the kitchen. I still look up recipes, but I have started to use them more as inspiration and now I dare to trust my senses and my intuition more. And I would like to share some of my ways of thinking about food making. It’s very basic, so for those of you that are good at cooking it probably is nothing new, but for those that would like more self confidence to try experimenting, it might spark some insights.
WHAT TO MAKE
I love using leftovers or finishing the rest of an ingredient, so when I look into the fridge that is my first thought. What needs to be eaten soon? And build from there. When choosing in the supermarket and have all the options, I think about what I would most like to eat, or what my body is calling for. Then I also give a thought to what is already available at home.
For inspiration I shuffle through different kinds of options in my mind. Do I want to steam, boil, fry something or perhaps bake an oven dish? Should it be fresh and feel healthy or do I want some sloppy soul food? Any specific cuisine that would hit my spot? Thai, Indian, Maroccan? Or should I check my inpiration list of “Food to make” that I have on my phone. I update that one when I think of or learn about something I would like to test out one day.
Being vegan also means it’s a good idea to think about where your protein will come from, but to be honest I don’t think about that nearly as much now as in the start. I find I get plenty of protein from my diet and I have stopped using protein powder which I would sometimes supplement with.
Before you start doing anything, think about what you are intending to make, and see what will take the longest and in what order things need to be ready. This needs to be trained. Also, when frying several things in the same pan, put the things that are most dense and will take the longest before the more delicate things that take shorter time. Fresh stuff, for example spinach or other greens, you can throw in as you turn off the pan. Onion usually goes in first. 😉
It’s nice to also think ahead and soak beans the day before. I must admit, Ieva is much better at this than I am, since I rarely think about what I want to eat the following day. Some people make a food plan, and I think that’s a very smart idea, although I haven’t gotten around to it yet!
I find it much more inspiring to cook if what I need is just at hand. So before you start mixing or chopping, perhaps you want to take out all the ingredients you plan to use, and have them ready on the counter (if you have the space). Then as soon as you are done with each one, you put it back in the fridge or cupboard so it’s out of the way.
TASTE YOUR FOOD
My favourite part of cooking is towards the end, when I taste the dish as it’s close to being ready and try to feel what it might be missing. But tasting the dish along the way, and also tasting the ingredients you are about to add is very helpful. Also spices and condiments. This may sound completely basic, but I came to realise I wasn’t tasting things enough and with enough attention. Really feeling into what a particular flavour might change or smelling spices and see if you think it could be a good fit (even though it might not be what you normally would use).
It’s nice to have all sorts of fancy spices, but only if you use them! For a meaty flavour go for smokey spices (smoked paprika or chipotle sauce for example), “herbes de provance” go with most italian dishes, fenugreek (bukkehornsfrø in Danish) goes well in most curries, for a maroccan vibe go with cinnamon, cumin (spiskummin) and coreander. For more inspiration you can check out “The Ultimate Spice Guide for Vegan Cooking” from One Green Planet.
Another thing I learned is to fry the hot spices (curry, chili, etc.) with the onion and garlic, if that’s part of your dish. That brings out the flavours and gives it a nice kick.
If you are uncertain how much spice to put, you can of course add a little bit and taste and then add more if you want, but at the same time I have found it rewarding to put more spices than I used to, so you can really taste them. I think it’s common with less-advanced cooks that they are shy about putting spices in and end up with bland food. But in the end it’s all about balance, of course.
Related to organisation, having things relatively clean around you while cooking is really nice. So wipe up that little spill right away, throw out that plastic bag from the tomatoes and take the carrot peel out of the sink. If you have time, and especially if there are more than one of you cooking together, then doing the dishes (or loading in the dishwasher) inbetween tasks makes for a much smaller mess to clean after you eat.
And that’s it for now! I’m still pretty new to all of this, but I’m slowly growing my confidence by trying things out. Hope you will too, and let us know how it goes! 😉