Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Don't Follow Recipes (Plus a Recipe)

Feeling comfortable "winging-it" in the kitchen is something I sort of take for granted. Most of my adult life, I have cooked using recipes as inspiration, but not something to rigidly stick to.  And most of the time I don't really use recipes at all.  But I know some people are a little more intimidated by cooking and feel like following a recipe to the very last detail is the only way they cook.  If that's you, I'm here to set you free (in the kitchen)!  YOU DO NOT ALWAYS NEED TO FOLLOW A RECIPE!

When you live the frugal life, being flexible is extremely important.  Flexibility is the ability to bend, right? And it's so necessary in the kitchen! You may even come up with a new and improved dish this way!  

Following recipes strictly sometimes requires ingredients you may not have - and sometimes they are expensive.  For instance, the last recipe I was inspired by required bay leaves.  I wasn't about to go to the store just for that, so I left it out.  It also suggested I use garlic (I say "suggested" because I'm not going to let this little recipe boss me around!). I didn't. It turned out great anyway!

It's crucial to let go of the fear of screwing something up.  Perfectionism and rigidity have no place here.  Your best is good enough in your home and kitchen.  And even when it's less than stellar, there are often ways to fix it.  If not, it was a learning experience, right?

Now, back to the matter at hand. Knowing just a few basic things in the kitchen can take you really far, and today I will share one that I use many times per week in my cooking.

The Salad "Formula": 

For exceptional salads you need a combo of an acid (I prefer unseasoned rice vinegar but any kind of vinegar or acidic juice can be substituted), a fat that is liquid at room temperature (I prefer olive oil),  salt (I use kosher), pepper, and onions (optional, but oh so tasty).  For the proper proportions you don't need a recipe necessarily, let your eyes and taste buds tell you when it's right. Just swirl them in and toss. Adjust to your taste as you go along!

Now anything can be added: celery, carrots, peppers, cilantro, parsley, mint, apples, you name it.  If it sounds yummy to you, throw 'er in there!  In addition, you can add mustard,  honey, or juice to the oil and vinegar if you want to pump up the vinaigrette. 

You can use this formula for any kind of salad! Rice, quinoa, bean, lentil, lettuce, veggie, the list goes on.

This is not at all to say that recipes don't have their place. Baking, for instance, requires a more specific balance of ingredients to get it just right (but even that can be played with once you have a some basics down).  Recipes can be excellent for trying something new, or being inspired by a new blend of ingredients, but they are not the law!  Repeat: Recipes are not the law!

So here is a lentil salad I made recently.  I tried to find the original recipe that inspired it, but was unsuccessful.  I do know it required several ingredients I did not have and it didn't make it any less delicious!  The main combo I was working with was lentil and mint.

Mint Lentil Salad:

1 pound green lentils, drained. (I used Trader Joe's) Cook them in a pot of water until done but not mushy. 

Olive oil (probably about 1/4 cup - I just swirl it around in there)

Rice vinegar (about 1/8 to 1/4 cup - adjust to taste)

Juice from a lemon

Small handful of mint, chopped

Small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

One small onion chopped

2 cucumbers, de-seeded and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste (Don't skimp on the salt!)

I added kale blossoms to give it a pop of color

The combination of the Salad Dressing "Formula," mint, and lentils was delicious. 

The last time I made this recipe was Mother's Day and I was too busy to take a picture.  But here's my cat, and she's pretty cute.  She thought the clean dish towels would make a nice bed for her on the counter.  Naughty!


She loves being photographed. Can't you tell?
Do you always stick to a recipe or do you get creative in the kitchen? Do you use a similar formula for your salads?  What are your frugal "formulas" in the kitchen?