If you’re an absolute slave to recipes, you’ll know just how amazing it would be to know how to cook without a recipe. When you’re a recipe slave, you end up with a heap of random ingredients. They either go off or languish in the back corner of your cupboard or fridge, making all this food waste. Or, you end up eating the saaame thing over and over again (because you don’t have time to learn 365 recipes to keep things different every night of the week).
To free yourself from this tyranny, we created a series on what’s truly worked on our own journey to feed ourselves like a total boss, rather than let recipes boss us around. And if you’d rather be trying this out with some mates, check out Cookluck Club!
Once you know what makes a meal and how to balance flavour and texture to make stuff taste good, it’s time to make sure you set your kitchen up for success.
Shop with prompters, not a list
You don’t need to shop to a rigid list, but it is important to stock all your food groups and flavour categories. Then you’ll have all your building blocks of a delicious meal ready, and avoid those last minute runs to the shop (or takeout). Here are a few tips to help you stay flexible:
Step 1 Fill your food groups
Start with getting those central components of a meal. Choose whatever is fresh and whatever food that draws you in. This is meant to be enjoyable remember!
Below are a few reminders for each of your prompters.
Prompter – 2-3 parts Veg & fruit
If you notice your basket full of bitter, earthy flavours (and you’re not keen on these), balance those out with some sweet/sour things, like fruit. Or sweet potato!
Prompter – 1 part Carb
Unless you want to spend a lot of time cooking, pick a few meals worth of quick-cooking carbs when you’re super short on time. Cous cous, sliced bread (which you can freeze and just toast to defrost), thin pasta, soba noodles, instant polenta or corn are great for hectic nights. After your shop you can also roast a big batch of whole or chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, and you’ll be able to make really fast 5 minute meals!
Prompter – 1 part Protein
Making sure your pantry is always stocked with a couple of cans of beans, lentils or chickpeas make it super quick to throw something together without worrying your proteins will go off quickly. Chickpea flour is also great for a scramble or fritters.
If you want to buy those big blocks of cheese or meat in bulk, cut it up into portion sizes before freezing it.
Step 2 Bring on the flavour and texture
Prompter – Stock or re-stock those macro flavours and fill any texture gaps
Most of the flavours in your food groups won’t be super strong. There are some exceptions (eg. feta, olives and anchovies are intensely salty!), but for the most part, when you’re cooking, you will probably need to add a sprinkle of salt, then balance things out with a sauce or dressing.
Here are a few common ones worth keeping well stocked, that you can also usually substitute.
- maple syrup
- vinegar (the most versatile ones are white or red wine, balsamic or apple cider)
- salt (duh)
- soy sauce
- miso paste
Fat (aka richness)
- olive oil
- nut/seed butters or oils
- oily fish (more sustainable sources can include anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and MSC certified or pole-caught salmon and tuna)
Crunch (if you’re mostly eating hot food)
- nuts and seeds
Softness (if you’re mostly eating raw food or salads)
- a soft creamy cheese eg. ricotta, danish feta
- eggs (here’s a guide to free range in Australia)
Spices and herbs
Try to keep your pantry stocked with just 1-2 at a time of your favourite fresh herbs as these tend to wilt quickly, and a handful of spices you’ll use all the time.
If you’re vegetarian or simply trying to eat more like one, check out these ingredients.
To ease yourself into cooking without a recipe, it’s handy to have a few highly flexible “template meals” to start with, or that you can fall back on when your inner creative is feeling tired.
If you want to save some time sourcing your veg, try getting an Ooooby Sydney veggie and fruit box delivered! Ooooby supports local sustainable farmers (many of them organic), and provides whatever is actually growing on the farm, meaning you’re eating truly seasonally (a major plus for being able to cook with what you’ve got!). Use code OOOOBYFM and you’ll be supporting YFM’s work with every box you get delivered, which is pretty damn sweet.
Image credits: Zo Zhou