We know you’ve thought of it before — just how do food bloggers eat such perfectly prepared meals at every moment? That sky-high veggie burger with all the toppings must have taken hours to prepare – it’s certainly not something a regular person with a 9-5 could get on the table in an evening.
Newsflash – Alex and I are regular people with regular jobs. On weeknights, the last thing we have time to do is follow an elaborate recipe to feed ourselves. This leaves us with two choices: eat leftovers or cook without a recipe. Leaving recipes by the wayside is not a common topic for food blogs, since we live to create them. But for these two cooks, cooking without a recipe is a lifesaver in a time crunch.
So just how do you cook without step-by-step instructions? It takes practice, confidence and a semi-stocked pantry and fridge.
- Stock up the pantry and fridge. We try to make sure our pantry contains plenty of staples to use for last-minute cooking: canned beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, pasta and whole grains. Quinoa and bulgur wheat are favorite grains since they cook quickly. Potatoes and onions are key, as well as garlic. In the fridge, spinach or kale is a must for us, and eggs are helpful for adding protein into vegetarian recipes. We’ve also taken to staying stocked on tortillas and a bit of cheese. And in the spice drawer, our must-haves are oregano, basil, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder.
- Assess the situation, Iron Chef style. What ingredients make sense together? What type of dish do you want to create? Some easy ideas we’ve used include quesadillas with chopped vegetables and cheese, a big green salad with chickpeas and vegetables, sautéed vegetables with quinoa and a fried egg, roasted potatoes and scrambled eggs, and chickpea and vegetable tacos.
- Spice it right. In terms of flavoring — olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt and pepper are essential. For a bit of added flair, consult your spice drawer. Try cumin and chili powder for a Mexican blend, or oregano and basil for Mediterranean blend. When we’re cooking without a recipe, we also use prepared spice blends as quick, easy additions that bring lots of flavor. For example, we just created two easy dishes with Simply Organic’s Garlic Herb blend, using it on shrimp to create Lemon Herb Baked Shrimp and on quinoa to create Garlic Herb Quinoa. Depending on the type of vegetables and spices you have on hand, the possibilities are endless.
- Have confidence! Cooking without a recipe requires a bit of basic cooking knowledge, like how to sauté vegetables or make a vinaigrette dressing. Utilize the skills you have to cook up a creative meal — even if it’s just melting cheese into a quesadilla! Just add some cumin, oregano and a few chopped vegetables, and it becomes a meal. Or make a huge salad with chopped vegetables, and add some canned chickpeas tossed with olive oil, salt and spices. Scramble up some eggs with herb seasoning and serve them alongside bread or quinoa. It doesn’t have to be fancy — what’s important is that cooking without a recipe is a good way to get nourishing food on the table, in a pinch or otherwise.
This post is sponsored by Simply Organic, as part of the #SpiceRight campaign. A list of Spice Right recipes are here; look for the recipes we developed using Garlic Herb seasoning! Check out all of Simply Organic’s seasoning blends here. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who keep A Couple Cooks in action!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.