Last night I was cooking and creating in my kitchen. Like usual, I did not have a "planned" plan. (That means I have some goals but go with the flow and allow my cooking to just happen.) Also like usual, I had many things happening at once and wine was involved. I had four burners going, I was chopping, I was tasting, I was sipping, I was adjusting... Some of the dishes I was making are for a Prince-themed party I have been asked to cater and some of the dishes were for our dinner. One of the dishes I made last night was hummus. Hummus is so easy to make. It's chickpeas, tahini, lemon, garlic, seasoning and olive oil. The ingredients dance about in the food processor until they are creamy. That's it! See? Easy.
I tasted the hummus to see what flavors it needed to make it "just right." My husband, Russell, was in the kitchen with me, also sipping wine. I gave him a taste of the hummus and asked him, 'What do you think this needs?' Russell's palate is not developed. Now, before you get upset with me for insulting my husband (which I am not by the way BUT is my right. I mean, he's MY husband...) I am simply stating a fact. Russell's palate does not have the ability to discern nuances of flavors in order to taste for necessary adjustments when cooking. That is my fancy way (and kinder way) of saying Russell's palate is not developed.
I tasted the hummus and said 'it needs lemon and a dash or two of hot sauce.' (I knew what family of pepper the hot sauce needed to come from too.) Russell tasted the hummus and could not tell what it needed, just that it needed something. After a few adjustments, the hummus was scrumptious! The lemon is really what did the trick. Russ said, 'I don't want to seem mean but it needed brightening. The lemon really helped.' (Russ looked at me with a slight hint of worry in his eyes. He did not want to hurt my feelings. The 'don't bite the hand' sort of deal.) He went on to explain he is never in the room with me as I make little adjustments to ingredients during cooking, like a dash of hot sauce or a squeeze of lemon. He just eats the end product. He has misses all the in-between steps involved in the process of cooking. Next, something truly amazing happened! I actually thought, 'Russell is right!' (Don't tell him I said he was right about anything... Please. I will never live it down!) He is never in the room with me when I am cooking!
I started thinking about it. I don't usually take the time to "teach" Russell how to season ingredients and cook the way I do with our daughters. I am the "cook" in the house, not Russell. I teach our daughters how to cook and flavor ingredients because cooking is such a valuable and critical life skill. I had forgotten how difficult it can be to learn flavor nuances, especially for an adult. "How" to start learning nuances of flavor is one of the intricacies of cooking that many who are new to the craft, find the most daunting. Well, I am here to say, "Just have fun, Dear Readers! Play." That is what cooking is anyway. Productive play!
Okay, that sounds romantic right? 'Cooking is productive play.' I bet you're thinking, 'Where to start?' Right, Dear Readers? So, 'Inspire me Mary!
Okay. Here is what I suggest you do (I still do this):
Go into your kitchen, gather some herbs, spices and flavorings. Open them. Smell them. Taste them. Start to play. Now that you have smelled the ingredients, gather two or three of your favorites and place those (as a group) under your nose, kind of like smelling perfume. Do you like what you smell? If so, use that grouping. If not, keep changing it about, taking away and/or adding in, until you do like the smell of that group. Then, use that grouping in the next dish you make. Try it. It's fun! Only through doing will you learn Dear Readers! Besides your pantry, another source of inspiration for cooking is your garden. Think 'things that grow together, go together.' I like mint or chamomile and green beans for example. Tomatoes with nasturtium flowers is nice. Spinach with oregano is fun too. Look around you and think about the ways color, texture and flavor play with one another and soon, knowing what a dish needs will become second nature to you.
Please share what grouping of flavors and ingredients you used for your new dish.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor