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Oryana Natural Foods Market
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Cooking Without a Recipe

September 6, 2011, 4:09 pm

Dinner in my household typically consists of whatever strikes my fancy as I study the contents of the refrigerator. I rarely use recipes these days except occasionally for inspiration when I feel like I’m in a rut. And even then I hardly ever follow the recipe closely; I follow the gist of it and don’t worry if I’m missing some of the ingredients or don’t have the exact quantities.

Every now and then I produce what I consider to be an outstanding meal and congratulate myself on what a good job I did. And I tell my dinner companions, “I will never make this meal again.” That’s because I will never, ever, have the exact same contents in the refrigerator as on that day, and so those extraordinary meals are not duplicated.

I remember when I first took an interest in cooking in college, and since I didn’t know what I was doing, recipes were necessary. If your knowledge is limited, recipes are a great way to learn. One of my first real cookbooks was Jeff Smith’s “The Frugal Gourmet.” I dutifully purchased the amounts called for in the recipes and then made them, learning about steaming and sauce-making and pasta-cooking in the process.

I did pick up bits of information as a child when I watched my mother cook. I remember her peeling apples using a paring knife and grating a lemon and adding the zest to cheesecake. I especially remember a not-very-nice trick she played on me. She was melting unsweetened chocolate and did not inform me of this when I went to dip my finger in for a taste. She was a good cook and I wish she could have taught me some of her trademark recipes before she died when I was 10, like her cinnamon rolls that she baked in muffin tins and that had many, thin, delicious layers, so different from typical doughy, fat cinnamon rolls. Every few years I try and fail to recapture those cinnamon rolls. Maybe one day I’ll succeed.

But back to recipes, to use or not. Our What’s for Dinner program offers new recipes to try each week and you can taste the dish to see if you like it. As we type up the recipes we always ask ourselves things like, “Do we need to tell people to salt the pasta cooking water or should we assume they know this?” Invariably we choose to put that direction in, in case the reader is new to cooking. But the more you cook and the more recipes you read, the more you learn and the less you need to rely on them.

Sometimes it’s best to follow the directions for a complex dish with multiple steps or a complicated ethnic recipe where you are not familiar with all the ingredients. These are fun to do once in a while, but for everyday cooking, the simpler and easier the better. And cooking on a whim allows you to eat seasonally and locally, since you are ideally shopping for what’s fresh and local.

Greens and asparagus are what’s in season right now. Here is a recipe for greens, that you can change at will. Use a different seasoning, try a red onion for color, make it spicy and add hot sauce, throw in some cooked, chopped bacon, add some fried cubes of tofu to make it a main dish, whatever strikes your fancy.

Braised Greens
From Feeding the Whole Family
Serves 4

1 bunch greens, such as kale, collards, or
chard, washed, stems removed, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, sliced
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon mirin or sherry vinegar

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent and soft. Add greens and toss to coat with oil. Sauté over medium heat until leaves begin to turn brilliant green and wilt down.

Mix together tamari, vinegar, and water. Pour into pan and cover. Cook until leaves are tender, 5 to 8 minutes, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of water if pan becomes dry.

Coconut Milk Braised Greens

1 bunch greens, such as kale, collards, or
chard, washed, stems removed, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, sliced
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Follow directions above except add coconut milk and lemon juice instead of tamari and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Posted by Oryana at 4:09 pm
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