Learn to Cook Without a Recipe to Eat Healthier

Have you ever stared into a fridge full of food longingly, discouraged by your options, and then promptly closed the door in defeat? Did you reach for something fast and easy instead, like a bag of chips or your phone to order delivery? While these are quick solutions, they are not beneficial for your wallet or your health. The ultimate solution to your refrigerator woes is learning to cook without a recipe.

Developing the skills necessary to freestyle in the kitchen takes time, but culinary novices need not be intimidated. Learning to cook without a recipe should be a fun and empowering experience. Here are some basic pointers to kickstart your culinary journey.

Firstly, you need essential kitchen tools that are easily accessible.

It might sound obvious, but whipping up a delicious meal is much easier with the proper equipment at your disposal. There are four main categories of essential kitchen equipment organized by function: tools for cutting, measuring, stirring/spreading, and combining/cooking.

For cutting, you need a good set of knives (and a sharpener), kitchen shears, a grater, a peeler, and a can opener. For measuring, you should have a digital scale, measuring spoons and cups, and a reliable thermometer. For stirring/spreading, you need utensils such as a wooden spoon, pastry brush, spatula, tongs, and a whisk. For combining/cooking, you need a strainer, mixing bowls, baking sheets, pots and pans, a blender or food processor, and a stand or hand mixer.

These essential tools will enable you to prepare endless culinary creations. However, these tools are only useful if they are easily accessible. Keep your kitchen organized and your tools readily available to save time and make the cooking experience enjoyable. Nobody wants to frantically search for their wooden spoon while dinner burns on the stove. You don’t need that stress!

Use recipes as a guide, but don’t be afraid to deviate from the instructions.

Ironically, the best way to learn to cook without a recipe is by reading a lot of recipes. Try new recipes as often as possible and pay attention to the techniques described. It won’t be long before you recognize patterns and basic steps become second nature. For example, you’ll know to lightly brown onions by sautéing them in oil before adding other ingredients. Giving sauce time to simmer on medium-low heat with gentle bubbles will thicken it up. To roast vegetables, spread them evenly in a single layer on a pan. Tips and tricks like these will become routine.

Studying recipes will also teach you which ingredients to keep on hand in your kitchen. These will likely be staples such as canned tomatoes, oils, vinegars, whole grains, onions, garlic—and most importantly—spices and herbs. The right combination of spices can transform a dish. Experimenting with spice allows you to adjust the flavor to your own taste. This is the time to be bold and stray from the recipe. Just remember, you can always add more spice but you can’t take it away.

Always taste your food.

“Taste as you go” is perhaps the cardinal rule of cooking. Not only will tasting your food make the meal better, but you will learn more in the process. Add a little spice at a time and taste the difference. This will keep you from over-spicing your food. You can always add more. A dish packed with flavor must strike a balance between sweet, salty, sour and spicy. When you taste as you go, you develop a sense of what each ingredient adds to the flavor profile of your meal. Plus, you don’t have to wait until you’re finished to enjoy your creation. Instant gratification is always a bonus.

Did you know that cooking can be a meditative experience? More on that here.

Want more healthy eating tips? Check out Healbright’s healthy eating content on Zeamo Live.