Recipes can sometimes be the training wheels of cooking that homemakers never take off. Don’t get me wrong, I love recipes. But…to be a good cook, you have to learn how to pair flavors on your own.
Just like riding a bike, it’s way more fun (and faster) when you can fly through the kitchen on your own.
Isn’t that one of our near daily frustrations too? Trying to figure out what’s for dinner, but all of our “simple” recipes call for specific ingredients we don’t have, and we don’t have time for (or just don’t feel like) going to the store?
I learned a super simple and amazingly effective technique to learn what spices to pair with what foods at a cooking class years ago:
- Put your main ingredients out on the counter. If you have steaks and asparagus in the fridge, put them on the counter.
- Put the meat on a plate and unwrap the top so you can see it (yes, raw). Put the asparagus next to it (or whatever else you have in your fridge).
- Now grab several spices out of your spice collection that you think might go well with beef and asparagus.
Open each jar, one at a time, and just smell the spice as you’re looking at your main ingredients.
It doesn’t sound like it will work, but once you try it (and practice and practice), you’ll be amazed at what jumps out. Some flavors that you think will work before-hand, you’ll sniff and immediately put it right back in the drawer, and others will make your mouth water.
Your brain knows what beef and asparagus taste like, so once we give it the visual, it stirs up the senses in a pretty cool way.
If it’s not working for you in the beginning, taste a tiny bit of the spice while looking at the main ingredients. It will get easier, and you’ll get faster and faster at it.
The more you practice this, the more flavors and smells you’ll begin to notice in food. You’ll not only start learning to cook better, but you’ll be able to make substitutes when you need to without the help of Google, AND you’ll begin to enjoy food more when you’re getting more out of the flavors.