A simple living challenge: simplifying cooking

I like cooking. I can’t claim to possess a special talent for it, but I do quite a lot of it. If I was more talented at it, perhaps I would spend less time cooking, simply because I’d be more efficient. My most-often used style of cooking is generally to take a lot of different vegetables, perhaps some meat, throw them together in a big pot and stew with some liquid/broth/tinned tomatoes. This is great because eating lots of vegetables is good for you. This is not so great because all the flavours kind of blend together, and while sometimes that’s fine, sometimes it’s just kind of muddled. Furthermore, chopping all those vegetables takes most of the time.

When visiting Italy, one thing I noticed is that plenty of good Italian meals aren’t necessarily complicated by a lot of ingredients. Having made this observation, I was struck by the idea of a ‘simple cooking’ challenge. The idea is to go for a week, or two, or some arbitrary time, and only use seven ingredients per meal that you want to cook. The number is arbitrary, really. I think I did a thought experiment thinking up meals with only five ingredients and got bored (onion, garlic, spices, you’ve used 60% of your allocation already!). Anyway, hopefully the seven ingredient limit would require you to focus on getting flavour and utility out of each ingredient rather than just relying on having a lot of flavours. The qualifications, of course are:

  • Cooking oil/butter or the like doesn’t count as an ingredient
  • Salt (or whatever plays the role of salt, like fish sauce) doesn’t count as an ingredient
  • All your spices taken together counts as a single ingredient (for example, you don’t need to count ground coriander, cardamom, turmeric and cumin as four ingredients)
  • You are allowed to make side dishes for any given meal, but they also must pass the seven ingredient test.

That last one might look like it defeats the purpose a bit, but this challenge is tailored for me, and my weakness is that I often cook just by throwing a bunch of stuff together in one pot. If I cook three dishes for a single meal that are all distinct and unique dishes, yet use different ingredients for each, I think I’m still achieving the goals I’ve set for myself.

So: since I usually cook three or four dishes a week, I think two weeks is a good timeframe over which I can challenge myself. Since I’m currently travelling, I can’t take up this challenge right away, but when I get around to it, I’ll document my experience.


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