There’s a debate in teaching cooking (yes, everything is controversial) about whether it is better to teach with recipes or without. Those in favor of recipes use them as instructions which, if followed, should guarantee the desired end product. Naysayers fear that a reliance on recipes prevents people from learning how to cook intuitively, takes too much time, and requires sometimes lengthy and expensive lists of ingredients. I have thought about this question at length (for much longer than a normal person should). And from my years of being both a student and teacher of cooking, I have concluded that I like recipes. So in the Thrive Kitchen, I include recipes and ask my students to follow them during the class. However, I encourage cooks to follow recipes exactly only the first time, and then adjust to personal taste, seasonality, availability of ingredients, budget, etc, and to think of recipes as templates on which they can create infinite variations. This is how we learn to cook more deliciously, enjoyably, affordably and, important for our busy lives, more quickly and efficiently. It’s also a way to reduce food waste.
This brings me to this no-recipe recipe. I cook at home 4-5 nights a week, but that doesn’t mean I cook something complex every night. (Before I heard that there was someone called The Leftover Queen, I thought I was said Queen, an ace of reusing and repurposing.) I also hate to waste food, so part of my cooking process is to look in my refrigerator and pantry and ask myself, “what do I need to use up?” Recently, I had a higher than usual amount of Mexican ingredients in the kitchen because of the recipe development I was doing for this week’s Thrive Kitchen class on healthy Mexican cooking. These included various chiles, corn, some lovely green chiles a colleague gave me, and– this is where the reducing food waste comes in- a tomatillo with a bite taken out of it. My daughter had read a passage in a book about a girl picking a tomatillo off the vine in her mother’s garden, still warmed by the golden summer sun, and taking a juicy bite out of it, right then and there. Captivated by this sensuous image, my daughter asked me to save her one of the tomatillos I had bought for making salsa verde. I did, and of course when she took a bite out of the tomatillo that had probably been picked weeks before from a vine in Mexico in our fog-cooled San Francisco kitchen, it tasted disappointingly sour. It’s all about the context.
But the tomatillo didn’t get thrown into the compost bin, despite its bite marks staring me in the face. I take inspiration from challenges, and so after taking a survey of my produce drawer and the bitten tomatillo on my countertop, I made what ended up being a lovely end-of-summer side dish.
No-Recipe Recipe: Sautéd Mexican Corn with Green Chiles and Tomatillo
I warmed just a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan, added some sliced red onion (worked out best for color, but any onion would taste as lovely), browned it; then added the green chiles, which I stemmed first, and seared in the pan until they were nicely browned and blistered in spots. Finally, I added corn freshly cut off the cob, and pequeña pieces of the tomatillo, all traces of human bite marks removed. Pinch of Kosher salt, to taste, a dusting of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lime for emphasis.
So that’s my inspiration piece and challenge to you for today: take a look at what you have in your produce drawer, and get creative with it, and come up with something delicious in 10 minutes or less. Share your results in the comments!
I’m really looking forward to this week’s Healthy Mexican class in the Thrive Kitchen at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. It’s sold out, but registration opens this Tuesday 9/5 for next month’s class, 10/3, on the theme of Pumpkin. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, come and cook with me! Email SFHealthEd@kp.org or call 415-833-3450 for more information. Stay in touch (and please give me a LIKE) for more events, nutrition articles and recipes on my Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/TheDoctorsSpicebox. To your health!