5 Smart, Free Ways to Change the Way You Cook

Colorful packages of noodles line the shelves at Hana Japanese Market in Washington, DC.

Colorful packages of noodles line the shelves at Hana Japanese Market in Washington, DC.

Hit the specialty stores. One day at Hana Japanese market in DC, I found myself loading up on ingredients that I either don’t normally use or cannot find at my regular grocery. This one act resulted in a totally different style of cooking, at least for that week, and later led me to latin American markets, Kosher aisles in my neighborhood store, Indian grocers (spice aisles especially) and other ethnic food shops near home. The best part is that “specialty items” are much cheaper when they are not considered “specialty items.”

Hit the farmers markets to see what’s in season. Whenever possible, I try to draw from an ingredient-centric philosophy by finding items that are in season and then center my dishes around those ingredients. I then devise a three-day menu incorporating the focal ingredients so that I can get the most bang for my buck. Smart cooking, lean thinking.

Search your friend’s food cabinets for new ideas. I don’t steal the food but I do steal a pen and a Post-It to jot down ideas. By peering in with their permission, I happen upon ingredients that I haven’t ever had, or don’t know what to pair with, or even how to cook. I find that people are, in general, excited for the opportunity to share their methods, so I ask. This way, I get a chance to talk about food and cooking which I love and I always learn new information. It’s three-pronged food knowledge sharing: ingredients, ideas, and ultimately, a new dish. 
Learn from the experts. At Bi-Rite in San Francisco’s Mission District, a nice man behind the counter enthusiastically gave me the back story on a salad they had that was made from cauliflower, including the chef’s inspiration for the dish, a brief history of the flowering vegetable, and guidance to cooking techniques. I find that when I go where the staff is passionate about the foods that they prepare and sell — it always seems to rub off on me somehow, and I can taste the love. 
Bi-Rite Organic Market in San Francisco's Mission District.

Bi-Rite Organic Market in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Stoke inspiration from past experiences. For new ideas, I think back to my travels, to places in which I’ve had the most wonderful meals of my life and then try to recall what it is that made that meal so special. Often it was family-style sharing or great conversation or ingredients straight from the source that made the dish. At other times, it was a truly delicious ingredient or preparation: like white truffle from the wooded areas in southern Slovenia, or Chimmichurri from Argentina (loosely translated from English/aboriginal/Spanish as ‘condiment’); fresh pineapple from Hawaii, or noodles from China. I get so excited about how one great flavor or ingredient, and also a sense of memory and place, can drive a whole dish.

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Categories: Food + Drink, Life. Style., On a fork, Stories, Things To Do

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