Why I rarely cook from recipes

For most of my life, I ate meals made from scratch. My mum cooked a lot of Russian meals and none of them called for pre-made or processed anything since those things didn’t exist where we were. From an early age, us kids were somehow involved in cooking, even if it meant making a sandwich for our lunch. So cooking for me was always part of my life. But when I cook 2-3 meals a day, it can become more of a chore than fun, so I’ve come up with ways to simplify cooking and following a recipe isn't one of them.

Anyone can cook and everyone should know how.

The problem with recipes is there are set ingredients and set quantities. So to cook a particular recipe there has to be some level of planning involved to get your mise en place. Pre-planning what I’m going to eat that week has never been a habit of mine. If I did think ahead enough to make something particular, maybe the ingredients I need are crazy expensive that day. Or it requires you to buy multiple spices in one hit that are far from affordable or can’t be found in one store. Maybe it needs a quarter of this, 2oz and 10g of that, then I’m stuck with leftover ingredients that will most likely go to waste unless I’m savvy enough to incorporate them into a different dish.

I cook to eat!

So what do I cook if I never prepare any recipes? Well, the question is really not what I cook but how.

The formula to my thinking is always based on the protein. Pork, beef, chicken, eggs, fish. Then I add whatever vegetables happen to end up in my fridge or in season at the market. Then spice it up with different curry powders, Mexican spices, coconut aminos and fish sauce. The flavourings are what will turn the basic meat and two veg into great dinner. Investing in quality spices here is key for freshness and nutrition. The flavour can’t be compared to the sad 50-year-old garam masala for $1 sitting on the supermarket shelf.

Experimenting in the kitchen is the best way to learn

The key to following a formula like this is to not get stale. I don’t mean the food, but the cooking. On a whim buy something you’ve never cooked before, check out online what others are doing with the ingredient or just make something up as you go. Experimentation is key! Uncommon cuts of meat and strange vegetables make me feel adventurous in my cooking. I have never liked aniseed flavour but recently decided to buy a bulb of fennel. Making it into a simple salad with orange segments, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper won me over. So fresh! The fact it is available in season during the winter when most other salad veggies are lacklustre is also a plus. In the end, I’m happy I branched out instead of sticking to my usual options at the market.

Where to start?

Start with the absolute basics, I can recommend the Nom Nom Paleo book "Food For Humans" as a great option with many very basic recipes to get going.

Do you like to follow recipes or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type?