One of my favorite kitchen resources is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, because it helps me cook without recipes and be more creative in the kitchen. Read on to find out why this is important, and how this book can help get you there.
Why Do I Want to Cook without Recipes?
There’s nothing wrong with following recipes; they help get dinner on the table! And following a recipe can teach us about new cuisines, techniques, and ingredients. But I believe the ultimate goal is to learn to cook without recipes. Why do I want to cook without a recipe?
- Following a recipe is time consuming. Constantly referring back to instructions, and not being able to next step slows me down in the kitchen.
- Following a recipe often requires shopping for ingredients I don’t have on hand. This means more money spent, as well as an extra trip to the store with a few kids in tow… less than ideal.
- Following a recipe doesn’t encourage creativity. It’s a lot of fun to make up something on your own, even if it’s just a salad.
Make Cooking a Creative Act
Page and Dornenburg write in The Flavor Bible’s introduction that learning to bring more intuition to the cooking process provides the “opportunity to be immersed in one’s senses and in the moment like no other activity, uniting the inner and outer selves. At these times, cooking transcends drudgery and becomes a means of meditation and even healing.”
I believe cooking at home is absolutely essential — for our health, our environment, and our relationships — so avoiding the feeling of “drudgery” while preparing our meals is very important! To move beyond associating cooking with hard work, to a place where it becomes a creative, sensory experience, AND a form of moving meditation… well, sign me up for that!
How Does the Flavor Bible Help Me Cook Without Recipes?
The book has a list of charts to help you match flavors. Within these charts, ingredients are listed alphabetically, and for each ingredient, the authors explain the relevant season, taste, weight, volume, primary function, cooking techniques, and useful tips to keep in mind. And then the best part: a list of compatible flavors, including vegetables, meats, seafoods, flavorings, seasonings, salts, peppers, herbs, spices, oils, and vinegars.
How will these compatible flavors help me cook creatively and intuitively?
- It’s organized by ingredient, so when I have a head of cauliflower (which I do right now) and want an idea for making it delicious, I just look up “cauliflower.” Among the long list of flavors that compliment cauliflower I spot curry powder, garlic, lemon, and red potatoes. I currently have all of these ingredients! So tonight I will be roasting cauliflower and potatoes, tossed with garlic, then drizzling with some sort of curry/lemon sauce before serving.
- It provides flavor affinities, “cliques” of ingredients inspired by some of America’s best chefs. For example, I recently ran across the trio of “butternut squash + ricotta + rosemary.” How incredible does that sound? So the next time I make pasta, I’m going to cube butternut squash and roast it with minced rosemary. Then toss it with the pasta along with a few scoops of ricotta. And when an admirer asks for the recipe… I get to tell them I made it up myself! (Note: my friend Anouska beat me to it! And said it was fabulous!).
- It also lists what to avoid pairing; for example, avoid pairing basil with tarragon or coffee with lavender. Done and done! As much as I want to be creative in the kitchen, I like knowing what NOT to do.
If you know how to cook the basics on your own — grill chicken breasts, steam rice, roast vegetables — then you can use this book to add flavor to those basics. You can even meal prep for the week with your favorite basics, then change up the flavor profiles from night to night so dinnertime doesn’t seem repetitive.
And if nothing else, you can use the book to help you compose a beautiful and unique salad. Apricots + mint + goat cheese + greens is one of my favorite summertime salads, 100% via The Flavor Bible.
Do you own The Flavor Bible? What is your favorite kitchen resource, cookbook or otherwise?