“If we were taught to cook as we are taught to walk, encouraged first to feel for pebbles with our toes, then to wobble forward and fall, then had our hands firmly tugged on so we would try again, we would learn that being good at it relies on something deeply rooted, akin to walking, to get good at which we need only guidance, senses, and a little faith.” – Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal
Recipes are the easiest things to share on a food blog. I’m totally guilty of falling back on doing just that, when I really want to be sharing something that I think is way more important, powerful, and necessary. I want to talk about the practice of intuitive cooking and the benefits that this practice can bring to our ability create meals that are optimized for our individual nutritional needs and taste preferences, while focusing on celebrating abundance and taking advantage of ingredients that fresh, cheap, and readily available.
I don’t mean “intuitive” as some special psychic power, I’m talking about the ability to cook freely, without the need to precisely follow instructions that someone else has determined to be the best ones. I believe that our instincts are the best recipes and that with “guidance, senses, and a little faith”, we’re all capable of doing some amazing things.
I’m still going to share recipes here, not to worry… but I’m hoping that you’ll stick around for these intuitive cooking bits as well and start thinking about using my recipes (and others) in a different way.
Today I want to start with talking about following recipes. Most people that cook follow recipes, but few actually do it in a way that helps them become better and more intuitive cooks, so that’s where I’m going with this. It’s totally silly that I’m giving you instructions on how to follow instructions, but just think of the following words as tips and things to think about next time you pull out your favourite cookbook.
To illustrate the points in this post, I picked this amazing chickpea pancake recipe from January’s issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. These pancakes are the real deal, and not something I would’ve ever come up with on my own. But I want to use this recipe to demonstrate its real value, besides the delicious pancakes I had for lunch 3 times in the making of this post. Please refer to the original recipe and my adapted version below.
Lets dig in!
Read the Recipe to Visualize the Result
You hear this “read the whole recipe” advice a lot, as its a great way to ensure that you have everything you need and that there are no surprises. I actually kind of like surprises, so the reason that I think it’s super important to read over the recipe is completely different. It’s important to visualize the end result so that you can start to understand the purpose of the steps and ingredients in the recipe, there’s often a lot of culinary wisdom in there. This is the “guidance” part, and its really useful to start thinking about the whys of the recipes that you’re using.
Visualizing is a lot easier when you have a picture, so these pancakes weren’t a challenge in that sense. What was helpful, however, was breaking down the process – i.e Step 1: sautee some veggies, Step 2: make the chickpea batter, Step 3: combine the two, Step 4: fry, Step 5: garnish. Thinking about the different components of the recipes, you can start to see where you can adapt it and swap ingredients based on what you like to use and what’s at hand. It can also help you make the process more efficient.
While I tried to stay true to this recipe, I did make a few small modifications. When reading through it, I realized that olive oil is used for frying the pancakes. Since I try to stay away from frying with olive oil, I noted that part the olive oil in the recipe could be easily swapped for some ghee, coconut oil, or rendered chicken fat. The portion of the oil that was intended for the batter was left alone, as it’s not exposed to the same high heat as the oil on the pan, and it’s easier to incorporate olive oil into the batter than a solid fat. I also garnished the pancakes with cilantro and chile flakes instead of parsley and black pepper, only because I didn’t have parsley.
I loved that Bon Appetit tells you that both the sauteed veggies and batter could be made in advance and stored in the fridge, but usually this is the type of information that you have to figure out on your own. It’s very helpful to understand the recipe to be able to figure out the shortcuts.
Thinking about how the recipe will taste will help you with ingredient swaps and modifications. I imagined these pancakes to taste like sweet latkes, with the squash and leek base instead of potatoes and onions. This helped me pick rendered chicken fat for sauteeing and frying. Imagining sweet latkes with cilantro and chile flakes vs. parsley and black pepper also worked, so I felt confident making that substitution.
Cook with Your Senses
“Listen as though you could cook something just by hearing it. A piece of fish is ready to be flipped when it sounds like it is, and no number of adjectives about that sizzle will be as useful as listening to the fish in your pan tell you when it is” – Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal
If there was only one tip I could give, this would be it. Be present throughout the cooking process, observe everything with all of your senses, and don’t take anything for granted.
Remember that the author of the recipe is working with his or her own ingredients, taste preferences, and equipment – all of which are different from yours. The author also doesn’t usually test all of the possible options when developing the recipe, meaning that they simply do something that works and they write it down. If the recipe is from a book or magazine, then someone else has tested it to make sure that it works, but it does not mean that it is the only or best way to make that recipe, it just means that it works.
This is excellent guidance but far from the optimal way for you to make that recipe. You’re using your own ingredients, likely harvested in a different season and part of the world. Your tastebuds are unique and you’re the best judge of what they like. This is where your senses become the most valuable tool you have.
Taste all of your produce, seasonings, and unfamiliar ingredients up front. Taste and smell the progress of each step, feel things with your hands, and listen to the cooking process, taking note of what is happening to connect each step with its outcome. This is really how you learn to know things instinctively. Soon you’ll notice that all of your senses start to automatically tune in to help you out. “Seasoning to taste” has a lot to do with using your senses, which I’ll be talking about in another post, but observing is the first step, even if you’re not ready to venture out and make adjustments just yet.
Take Good Notes + Steal Ideas
The true value of a recipe comes from the cooking lessons it teaches you and the ideas that you can take away. You can make something again if you really liked it, no problem! But don’t leave it at that, take more. Write down anything that you did differently and take note of possible improvements. If a recipe made you think of something else that you want to make, write it down. If you loved or hated something, write it down. If it sparked some random idea that inspired you to think about something completely unrelated, write it down – this is where many good ideas come from, you just have listen and be open to accepting them.
The eggy chickpea batter in this recipe was new to me and I loved it! I was surprised by how well it fried up and held together, and impressed by how mild it tasted, letting the other ingredients shine through. By remembering the delicate texture and mild flavour of these pancakes, I’m getting all sorts of ideas for other pancakes and have been experimenting with a kraut-chi/scallion pancake with a similar base, incorporating some of this kraut-chi.
The first time I made the recipe, I noted that the chickpea batter was kind of lumpy when whisked and that it would be much faster and easier to mix in a blender. So I’ve modified my own process, to do just that. Perhaps the original recipe suggested whisking to make the recipe accessible to those without a blender, but you know what works best in your kitchen. Take advantage of your tools, even if they’re not part of the recipe.
If you’ve made it this far – thank you! I’d love to hear about what you think about when you follow recipes and what you’ve found to be most valuable in doing so. My tips are based on my personal experiences, but I’m sure that many of you have your own. I’d love it if you shared them in the comments below.
The original recipe can be found here . The recipe below is my adapted version.
- 5 Tbsp. coconut oil, ghee, or rendered chicken fat, divided
- 1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only
- 1 cup grated butternut squash
- a pinch of sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup chickpea flour
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- chile flakes and flaky salt
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 Tbsp. of your chosen cooking fat/oil. Add leeks and sauté for a few minutes until just starting to brown. Add the squash, season with a generous pinch of salt, and continue sautéing for a few more minutes until squash is cooked through. Transfer the sautéed veggies to a plate to cool and reserve the skillet.
- In the meantime, combine all batter ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the chickpea flour to hydrate, then combine the chickpea batter with sautéed veggies.
- Heat the skillet again, over medium heat, and add 1.5 Tbsp. of chosen fat or oil. Spoon the batter onto the skillet and flatten gently. Fry for a few minutes, until golden and starting to bubble around the edges. Flip pancakes over and cook for a few more minutes until cooked through.
- Serve pancakes with yogurt, cilantro, chile flakes, and flaky salt.