One of the benefits of cooking regularly is that, over time, you start to become a more instinctive cook. Most of us start our cooking habits by religiously following recipes, and we enjoy pretty predictable results. Baking especially, with its chemistry set of ingredients, requires strict adherence to a formula to produce the right amount of fermentation, rise, steam; the perfect texture, crumb, height.
But once we master basic cooking techniques, then we’re more comfortable improvising. It’s like getting comfortable with your sense of direction and then taking a state road instead of an interstate. You know where you’re headed, and the route’s a bit different. You may get sidetracked, and you may get lost. This is not always a bad thing.
Sometimes, this culinary adventuring takes the form of adapting a recipe to account for ingredients we don’t happen to have on hand, or swapping things we like for things we don’t. (For example, I don’t love cilantro or anchovies, so I substitute parsley and capers in the Tomato-Feta Dip I reference here.) When it works, you gain confidence in the kitchen. When it doesn’t, you call Dominos.
Recently, I’ve taken that off-road approach, adapting inspiration I picked up during our recent trip to Morocco to some of our menu favorites, like risotto. Risotto is decidedly not North African (rice doesn’t figure in Moroccan cuisine at all). But we enjoy making risotto with diced zucchini and red bell pepper, both of which were prominent on our plates in Marrakesh. So, why not? We made a basic risotto, stirred in the diced vegetables, added some leftover grilled chicken and a generous measure of the Moroccan 35-spice blend ras el hanout and a few saffron threads, which we brought home from our trip. The result? Not exactly Italian, not exactly Moroccan. But exactly delicious.
How are you experimenting in your kitchen? Comment here and share your successes.