I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re doing this paleo diet thing the right way then you’re going to be cooking more than you ever have in your life.
It’s inevitable. If you really want to know what is going in your mouth, then you need to do most of your shopping and cooking yourself.
But just because cooking is something that we HAVE to do, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. In fact, it can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of going paleo.
Just think about it. Anyone can make something taste good when their pulling from the entire ingredients list of the standard American diet. Its no surprise that if you add lots of sugar, flour, and butter to a recipe that the end result is going to taste pretty damn good! Try one of Paula Deen’s recipes and you will know exactly what I mean. (I have nothing against butter….or Paula Deen, for that matter.)
But cooking from a shortened list of Paleo ingredients requires a lot more skill and creativity. You can’t just pop a Digiornio pizza in the microwave and call it a vegetable. (Although our government might say otherwise.)
A lot of times you will be required to make dishes that you have only had in restaurants, or work with foods that you’ve never tasted or even seen before. (I feel like I am setting up an episode of Chopped!)
So how do you do it? How do you cook something if you’ve never done it or seen it done before?
I’m about to tell you. But first I need you to realize something.
Failure in cooking is inevitable.
You will undercook, burn, under-season, and over-season foods at some point. You will make soup when your goal is to make a casserole, and you will make a casserole when your goal is to make soup. Some food will end up in the garbage, and some food that should end up in the garbage will still reluctantly make its way into your mouth.
Our goal is not to eliminate failure but to accept it as feedback. You didn’t ruin your eggs, you just learned how NOT to make them. You didn’t poison your friends with too much seasoning (at least I hope not), you just learned that a little bit of salt and pepper goes a long way.
Trying new things and learning how to fail is one of the most important skills anyone can have in their life. And cooking just happens to be the perfect way to hone that skill. So don’t be afraid to try new foods and recipes and fail miserably. Just make sure you have some cans of salmon on hand as a backup plan so you don’t go hungry.
Check out an earlier post Tony wrote about Buying Now and Recipe Later. He doesn’t always know what he’s going to do with what he buys, like 10 packages of sardines purchased at Costco, but he knows he wants to eat more of them and will find a way to cook/prepare them when he gets home.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s look at the process I use to cook a new food or recipe for the first time.
Step 1: Find at least 2-3 recipes online for the dish you are looking to make.
I suggest finding both a paleo/primal recipe, one standard or non-paleo recipe, and a third one that falls into either category. It may seem counterintuitive, but I purposely seek out non-paleo recipes whenever I am working with new foods. It gives you more recipes to choose from, and a lot of non-paleo recipes are pretty paleo except for one or two non-paleo ingredients that can easily be removed or replaced. You can find some awesome Paleo recipes at FastPaleo.
When I bought butternut squash for the first time earlier this week at the farmer’s market, the first thing I did was google “butternut squash recipe”, “primal butternut squash”, and “paleo butternut squash”. The ratings and reviews for each recipe were available right away in the search results so I was able to weed out the worst recipes without even opening them. You should select 2-3 of the recipes that you find and move on to step 2. You can also find some great recipes by searching through the pretty pictures on Pinterest.
Step 2: Look for patterns in cooking times, temperatures, and techniques.
Your goal is to find consistency. If you’re trying to bake kale chips for the first time and one recipe recommends cooking for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees, another recommends 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees, and a third recommends 10-15 minutes at 325 degrees, then it’s pretty safe to say that baking your kale chips for 12 minutes at 350 degrees is going to make for some pretty awesome kale chips.
Temperatures, cooking times, and techniques will usually vary based on cooking appliances and personal preferences of each chef, but you can usually find enough consistency between recipes to make a suitable version the first time out. If there’s a necessary step that you can’t think of on your own (like poking holes in your sweet potato before you microwave it), there’s a good chance it will show up in at least 2 of the 3 recipes that you find.
Step 3: Look for consistencies in flavor combinations.
A lot of recipes call for long lists of spices or additional ingredients that may or may not be 100% necessary to the final outcome. You may find a homemade spaghetti sauce that contains onions, garlic, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, olive oil, canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and peppers, but once you compare it to other recipes you will likely find that the most common ingredients are tomatoes, garlic, and basil, and you can make an acceptable spaghetti sauce with just those 3 ingredients. If your new to cooking and worried about spending too much money, or time in the kitchen, your much better off sticking to these basic flavor combinations instead of trying to buy every single ingredient for every recipe.
Step 4: Create an action plan and start cooking.
Once you have done the research and determined patterns, you should have a good idea of what needs to be done to create an awesome final product. Try to use only ONE of the recipes to guide you step-by-step through the process and make notes for changes you need to make based on the information you found in steps 2 and 3.
These extra 5 minutes of research should make cooking more enjoyable, reduce your number of ruined meals, and expedite your cooking education.
Your mission this week is to cook at least one food or recipe that you have never made before. Let us know in the comments which new foods you tried and how the recipe came out.