I’ve loved cooking for a long time. When I was a young man, my mother taught me how to cook. She taught me the skills she’d learned from her mother, and grandmother, going back generations. They’ve always been good cooks, and I have been blessed to receive their knowledge. It’s one of my fondest skills, as it grants me good food to eat, and a nice way to relax after a stressful day. Yep, I find cooking relaxing. And my hope is that after reading this, you can too if you don’t already.
There are a few major keys to cooking that I was taught that may seem counter-intuitive. Growing up, my family really didn’t use recipes that often. Only in baking, which I classify differently mainly for this reason. With cooking, I was encouraged to experiment. Flavor was like a color palette, and by combining complimentary tastes I could create new and unique experiences in each meal.
Seasonings are the main component of the chefs paint palette. Salt and pepper are little more than base white and black: great to have, but you can only get so much out of monochromatic cooking. Cumin, garlic, oregano, ginger, cilantro, all of these are colors to include in your store of seasonings. They can allow you to change the experience of your meal immensely.
This may seem unimportant, but bear with me. As a grown man now, I do use recipes to get ideas of what I’d like to have for a meal. But I don’t stop at what is written there. They make for a useful guideline, but frequently lack the vision of what you could be tasting. For instance, take a recipe I used just the other day. It was a chicken pad thai with mixed vegetables. The recipe called only for salt and pepper on the chicken. No other seasonings. If I had stopped there, I would have missed out on a chance to really taste the meal. Instead, I added on: ginger powder, garlic, roasted red pepper flakes, and tamari sauce. After mixing it all together on the chicken, and slow roasting it instead of baking it as the recipe suggested, I found myself with a meal that was rich and satisfying, dispute the recipe being built around the concept of clean eating and low calories. By adding these flavors, it made it feel like I was having so much more than I really was, and left me satisfied, too!
Adding more seasonings to your cupboard is one thing, but actually using them is another. That’s where experimentation comes in. Knowing what flavors will work well together will require some research on your part. By studying the cooking habits of other cultures than your own you can find new combinations or flavors that you haven’t tried, or even heard of. Relying on English sensibilities for your cuisine will leave you with very little to work with; surprising when you consider that the English Empire conquered the world in search of spices. If you’re more used to such English flavors, looking into other European cooking styles could be a good place to start. When you want to branch out more, try looking to Asia, and South America. Both continents have a robust collection of cultural ideals and spices available to create things you may not have ever considered as options for your own cooking.
Cooking is my relaxation. It’s how I drift off from the stress of my work as an author. Diving into a new world of my own creation on paper is fantastic, and exhilarating. But using the materials of a stocked spice cabinet gives me a way to return to this earth, let go of what I’ve been working on, and focus on the one thing that unites us all: eating.