Have you ever been so tied to a recipe that you feel like one little change or alteration could mess up your entire masterpiece? Sometimes recipes are needed and precision is key, but many recipes don’t need to be followed exactly. In fact, you can learn to cook without recipes!
What does cooking without recipes mean?
To cook without recipes, you must have a solid foundation and understanding of basic cooking skills. This will enable you to put together a nourishing and balanced meal using a few culinary techniques and ingredients. Honing this skill takes time, patience, and practice, but it certainly can be done!
Why is it important?
Cooking without a recipe enables you to prepare a meal quickly after a long day at work or when trying to appease a hungry toddler, tween, or teen. It may also decrease your dependence on fast food or other convenience foods which protects yours and your household’s health. Plus, it’s empowering to be able to look through your fridge and pantry and put together a meal without one recipe in hand!
How do you learn to cook without recipes?
To cook without recipes, you need the right equipment, ingredients, and knowledge.
It’s hard to cook nourishing meals if you don’t have the tools needed for success! At a minimum, stock your kitchen with these essential pieces of equipment:
- Tools that Cut: knives, cutting board, honing steel, handheld sharpener, peeler, kitchen shears, grater, can opener
- Measuring Tools: digital scale, measuring cups, measuring spoons, thermometer
- Mixing/Spreading Tools: wooden spoon, tongs, pastry brush, spatula, turner, whisk
- Tools that Drain/Separate: colander, fine mesh strainer, salad spinner
- Mixing Bowls
- Pots and Pans
- Baking Sheets
- Blender and/or food processor
- Stand mixer and/or hand mixer
Use our shopping guide for a full list of our favorite pieces of kitchen equipment!
You need a kitchen stocked with ingredient essentials to be able to cook meals without recipes. The more you cook, the more you will learn about ingredient substitutions that you can make without issues.
Fill your pantry with the following ingredients:
- Spices and dried herbs
- Canned and dried beans
- Canned tomatoes
- Oils and vinegars
- Whole grains
- Dried fruits
- Baking supplies
In addition to the pantry, you will need some basic ingredients in the fridge and freezer.
- Fresh and frozen fruit
- Fresh and frozen vegetables
- Lean meats – especially fish
- Whole grain breads and tortillas
Not only do you need to stock up on staple ingredients, but you also need to know what they smell and taste like – even spices!
Use our ingredient guide to learn which ingredients are best!
Once you have the equipment and ingredients, it’s time to put everything into action!
At first, you will likely need to rely on recipes; try out as many as possible. As you begin to develop your recipe repertoire, you will start to notice techniques that are repeated in different recipes, such as browning meat in a pan before adding a liquid, or spreading vegetables in a single layer on a pan to roast them. Pay close attention to these techniques, take notes (if you are a note taker), and learn from mistakes (trust us, we’ve been there too)!
Taste the food throughout the cooking process, and don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe here and there. Be open to exploring new flavors; it’s the best way to learn how to adjust and change flavors to your taste. Flavor development is a fine balance between salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy, and the more that you cook, the more you will learn how to balance these flavors using different combinations of spices, herbs, oils, vinegars, and other ingredients.
Recipes truly should serve as guides – not definitive instructions that need to be followed exactly (with the exception of most baking recipes – more on that later). Remember, some recipes can be unclear or even wrong!
As you begin to master culinary techniques and become more comfortable in the kitchen, you will start to spot flaws in recipes (hopefully not ours!) and be able to alter them as needed. If you put these recommendations into action, we believe that recipes can eventually become sources of inspiration rather than restrictive “rules” to follow.
Not sure where to start with learning culinary techniques? Take our self-paced, online Knife Skills 101 course to learn how to slice, dice, chop, and mince 20 common ingredients!
Let us Help!
At To Taste, our goal is to bring delicious, nutritious, and plant-forward recipe concepts to your kitchen.
We have started offering live cooking classes where we teach you how to prepare nourishing meals while providing live feedback on your cooking experience!
We hope to teach you culinary techniques through a set of base recipes – essentially formulas (rather than precise recipes) that allow you to prepare and customize any culinary creation to YOUR taste! You can add more ingredients depending on the ingredients you have on hand, your mood, time, or energy.
Head to our base recipes page to start cooking to your taste! Our pancakes, grain salads, and overnight oats are all great recipes to start with, then add ingredients to your liking. If you’re not feeling creative, we always include a few of our favorite variations for inspiration!
Have fun, use what you have, and cook real food!
To YOUR Taste!