Today I made vegetable dhansak – a recipe I have on the blog here – but instead of cauliflower and courgette, I chucked in some mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes and a handful of spinach, as these were what I had in.
It made me think about my number-one rule to cooking good food on a budget – BE FLEXIBLE.
I don’t know if I stress this enough on here, but you can and should play about with the ingredients in my recipes (and any recipes really). One of the keys to being a good cook is developing the confidence to do this – to open up the fridge, look at a few ingredients and think how can i put these together in a tasty way? Plus this type of cooking is obviously much better for avoiding waste.
The easy way to start is in substituting vegetables, like I did today. You can do this in so many recipes, especially ‘mixed veg’ recipes like chilli, veggie lasagne or when making things like roasted veg. It’s all about being aware of the different cooking times and cooking accordingly.
For example, you can gently fry carrots with the onions at the start of a recipe and then cook in the sauce right through, but you only want to add fresh spinach a minutes before the end. Or you can cook things like curries and pasta sauces plain then add roasted or otherwise cooked veg at the end, to avoid anything going mushy.
Vegetables aren’t the only thing that can be substituted and I alluded to this earlier when I talked about building up a small spice cupboard. Changing the spices used will change the taste but this could always be a good thing. if you know you don’t like fennels seeds, say, don’t add them just because the recipe calls for them.
If you haven’t had much practise in the kitchen, you might not feel comfortable if you aren’t following a recipe to the letter, but the only way past that is really experimentation. Whenever you’re making something – say spag bol, as an example – look up a few different recipes rather than just one, and you’ll start to get a feel for what other people put in it. The first time, you might follow one specific recipe, but the next time, you might have a few mushrooms or a wrinkly pepper needing used up, so throw them in as well. It’s all about experimenting and getting used to different combinations – and as long as you cook everything properly, the worst that can happen is you decide it’s not a good combo and don’t make it again.
So anyway, the main point is that learning to be flexible and confident in the kitchen is really important, so I’ll try to highlight possible variations in future recipes (where I can think of some) to give you a headstart, as well.
What do you do to adapt recipes? Or do you prefer to follow them exactly?