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Having a dish in mind before you’re ready to cook a meal provides direction, guidance, assurance, and a place to start. However, recipes don’t always take into account the food we have on hand, our appetite, our available time, or our mood.
Meal planning often lands on the list of things we feel we should do more of, and do better. But it requires too much effort to sustain. It offers tight scripts for putting food on the table without room for changing moods or situations. Even when we stick rigidly to the plan, it can often entail waste and extra work. When one dish calls for a few leaves of parsley, what do you do with the rest of the bunch? If you buy a special spice for a dish, how long will it sit in your spice rack before you use it up?
When we flip the traditional model of making a meal on its head and put ingredients first, rather than recipes, we still get dinner, but in a manner tailored to the particular quantity and quality of our ingredients, and to our personal circumstances and ever-changing moods. The power of this approach is its compounding, even exponential, effect. After we’re through with one recipe, we’ll have stocked our kitchen with all kinds of preparations that we can call upon for many other meals. We no longer feel an obligation to leftovers, but instead see promise in prepared ingredients.
Ronna Welsh is the owner of Purple Kale Kitchenworks, a cooking school in New York, where she teaches simple yet creative cooking strategies. These recipes are printed with permission from her book The Nimble Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).