The Art of Ignoring Recipes
Hello recipe explorers!
I recently had the pleasure of watching Lan Lam's insightful video on mastering recipe “reading”. Lan rightly emphasizes the importance of thoroughly reading recipes, even focusing on the meaning behind the commas. It's quite impressive, indeed. However, as I watched, a thought struck me: doesn’t this meticulous approach to “recipe following” kind of "sucks out" the joy of carefree cooking, especially for everyday meal making? Personally, I see cooking as an avenue for unleashing everyday creativity, not a rigorous thought exercise in recipe analysis.
So, what exactly is a recipe? Essentially, it's a structured guide, a blueprint of someone else's culinary process designed for repeated successful dish creation. Cooking is like chemistry; it's of course important to be careful with ratios, particularly in baking or making classic sauces. (For an interesting read on sugar ratios in baking, have a look here: [Reducing Sugar in Baking](https://food52.com/blog/15911-what-experts-know-about-reducing-sugar-in-baking-recipes)). However, this doesn't mean there's no space for culinary creativity if you choose the right type of dishes where customization is actually key to success!
Embracing Kitchen Creativity
Consider dishes like stir-fries, omelettes, and salads - perfect opportunities for adjusting and experimenting. Carla Music's concept of “spinning” a recipe is an excellent example of this. In essence, a recipe is a source of inspiration, a starting point for creating a dish that reflects your personal tastes to make it fun, yours and delicious.
Now, let's apply this approach to a practical example: my quest for new soup recipes as the colder months are already at our door in Switzerland.
Step 1: A simple Google image search for "Winter soup." I'm drawn to soups that are hearty and full of texture. This led me to an Italian bean soup with kale, echoing my Italian heritage and the comforting addition of sausage.
Refining the search to "Italian kale and bean sausage soup," I found an intriguing recipe, which I decided to use as a foundation for my own version.
The recipe goes like this:
1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and season with salt and pepper; cook down until almost transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, mushrooms, and a pinch of the red pepper flakes. Season and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened.
2. Add the wine and use it to loosen and scrape up all the awesome brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the liquid is reduced slightly.
3. Add the stock, beans, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, and then add the kale. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
4. While the soup is cooking, brown the sausage in a medium pan. If crumbled, add directly to the soup. If linked, transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice crosswise, stir into the soup.
5. Serve with a sprinkling Parmesan cheese. Plus bread — you're no fool.
Making the recipe my own... My thought process
As a mother of two small kids, I really like simplicity and efficiency in the kitchen.
The original recipe's shallots, garlic, mushrooms? Those are really great taste foundation; I am not denying it. They could go straight into the blender to make things simpler, no way I am chopping all that by hand. But I will opt for an even simpler shortcut no additional washing up or complicated shopping list/half opened package of mushrooms in the fridge situations: high-quality ready-made bouillon with roughly chopped onions for texture.
I'll be omitting the white wine for a family-friendly let’s cook one dish for everyone type of dinner”, perhaps adding a bit of lemon to compensate for acidity.
Kale, white beans, and sausage are essential elements, but I'll choose sausages that are readily available not searching for the exact kind in the recipe.
Carrots stay for their color and ease of preparation, and of course, no meal is complete without cheese and bread, they are definitely staying.
My Kale and sausage soup…. Simplified
1. Start with olive oil in a pot, add sausage to brown and then the chopped onion (if you put the onion first, it will release too much steam preventing the meat to brown)
2. Skip the wine, add ready made stock, beans, rosemary, then kale.
3. Cook it up, add a drizzle of lemon for acidity and check for seasoning with salt and pepper
4. Finish with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan and a side “toasted in the toaster no hassle” bread.
And that's how you can use a recipe as a jumping-off point to craft something uniquely yours. It's a balance of following guidelines and infusing your own culinary styöe. So... Hope to see you not follow a recipe very soon!