You Can Eat That? Learning To Cook With New Ingredients
When was the last time you cooked with a completely new-to-you ingredient?
Maybe you finally covered those beets in aluminum foil and tossed them in the oven.
Maybe a neighbor told you that what you have in your garden isn’t a weed but an herb.
Maybe you cooked and chopped up real bacon for your salad instead of using bacon bits.
However you go about cooking your meals, ingredient variety truly is the spice of a grown-up cooking life. After all, part of the adulting process is gently moving your palette past the mac & cheese days of your youth.
Even if those mac & cheese days don’t actually end (they just get covered in truffle oil), being comfortable and willing to eat a wide range of foods is a surefire way to get your seat at the adults table next Thanksgiving.
While some people tend to develop a taste for new flavors on their own, others can find themselves sealed off in a delicious prison of their own making.
You may even recognize the type: they have no need for a grocery list because each trip to the store takes them to the exact same aisles to buy the exact same things.
To help break you free of this self-made flavor prison (or liberate a loved one), today’s blog is all about how to find new ingredients to cook.
7 Strategies For Finding New Ingredients To Cook
Get A Farm Box Delivered To You - Beyond the all-out convenience of having your weekly groceries delivered to your front door, a box of farm-fresh ingredients will do wonders for your cooking life. For one, you will be more tied into the seasonality of what you eat. One concern with grocery stores is they present us with a mirage of ever-fresh produce (is it *always* apple season!?). That also helps keep us in our ruts since we know our go-to foods are always going to be there.
With a box - one that comes from some of the national brands like Farm Fresh To You and Imperfect Produce or ones from your local CSA farms - you’ll get an evolving selection of products, some that you’re familiar with (beets) and some that you’re not (beets come in yellow?), to experiment with and enjoy.
Get Ingredients While You’re On The Go - Sometimes it helps to get taken out of our food-buying environment to find new ingredients. Just like going on a trip helps to introduce you to new restaurants and cuisines, let it introduce you to ingredient souvenirs you can take home and use in your cooking. Maybe a trip to Vermont will introduce you to a new apple butter, or your trip to Mexico will introduce a new pepper.
The other benefit of finding a new ingredient to cook with while you travel is you’ll often be able to taste it prepared just how it should be. Let that personal experience inspire your own home-cooking adventures
Go To A Local Market - Love to eat foods from different regions of the world, but rarely shop at ethnic grocery stores? You’re missing out on a quick way to find not just a new ingredient, but to embark on a whole new cuisine (but read point number 6 before getting carried away). By learning the ingredients that make your favorite foods pop (and knowing the very real difference in using coconut milk versus coconut oil in a Thai curry, for example), you will also start to see how that ingredient could be used as a substitute in some of your other go-to dishes, too.
To make the most of this strategy, go to the same market a few times in a row before branching out to the next. This will help solidify your understanding of a few ingredients before adding on new ones.
Pick Out A New Cookbook - As a pie baker myself, I must’ve had about 10 pie cookbooks in my pie-baking prime. Ultimately, they all said the same thing. To branch out into using new ingredients in your cooking, opt for a cookbook that takes on a different type of cooking than you’re used to. That can go hand-in-hand with your local market adventures, but it doesn’t have to.
If you’re not much of a lunch person, a sandwich cookbook could expand your use of cold cuts, mustards, and other sauces. Prefer a breakfast on the go? Get a cookbook about egg dishes to see how to level up your omelets.
Go Back To School (Or At Least A Class) - Sure, you can always consider cooking school if you’re interested in learning *every* ingredient. Sticking to cooking with one new ingredient? Then why not try a single cooking class? You might be surprised what kinds of places around town offer cooking classes, from bakeries and Italian restaurants to homecooks and kitchen supplies stores.
In addition to expanding your ingredient repertoire, you’ll also likely grab a new skill or two that make your own home cooking more efficient and enjoyable.
One Ingredient At A Time - I won’t relate the misadventure of trying to prepare my family an entire Mexican meal when I was 15 (an age at which I had not cooked a single Mexican dish before, never mind an entire meal), but just the takeaway: taking on too many new things at once can be overwhelming. Even if you get lucky and everything turns out well, it may be hard to pinpoint exactly what you did right.
As you embark on your journey of finding new ingredients to cook with, go it slow. Grab one ingredient and find a few different uses for it. Once you get a sense for it, then add on another.
Make Mistakes - Your balsamic bacon Brussels Sprouts don’t have to be perfectly crispy the first time you cook them. Your zucchini sticks don’t have to come out perfectly browned from the oven. Your first pie crust with vodka doesn’t have to be perfectly flaky.
The point? You are on your way to cooking with a new ingredient. It has new qualities, new textures, new points at which it browns in the oven. It takes time. The good part about these mistakes? They’re often pretty delicious. The best part? You’re seeing how little risk there is in expanding what you cook and what you eat.
As tempting as it can be to stay inside our cooking comfort zone, expanding our cooking prowess is a surprisingly fun part of growing up.
After this though, we’re curious (and hungry) to know: what sort of new ingredients have you been cooking with lately?