From there, I move on to the fun part: the brain dump, where I look at everything I have in one place and imagine meals. Broccoli makes me think of roasted broccoli Caesar, and while I might not have anchovies, I take note that I do have those sun-dried tomatoes, which are also oily and salty. I write down “broccoli Caesar except with sun-dried tomatoes in sauce.” From tofu, coconut milk, crushed tomatoes, garam masala, I write that I could make “tofu tikka masala.” And from kale, ricotta, and crushed tomatoes, I can riff on spinach gnudi in red sauce. Or maybe the kale and ricotta become a simplified version of Julia Turshen’s white pizza-style kale. Maybe I toss the tofu in cornstarch with that Filipino soup mix for seasoning.
When I’ve run through my immediate ideas, I’ll turn to Google. Plugging in random ingredients I have, like “coconut milk + kale” or “radishes + cornmeal,” I’ll look at the recipes that pop up and see how they might jog my imagination. Often, they bring up ideas I never would have thought of on my own, like cornmeal blini with a radish and labneh topping. Maybe I put that on the list, and then realize I can also make extra of that topping and put it on toast.
Ideally, I’ll end up with a long list of dishes or meal ideas that use what I have. On a practical level, I like that I can cross ingredients off as I use them, ensuring that nothing goes to waste just because I forgot about it. On a creative level, it’s also an exercise in seeing what I can spitball without the guidance of cookbooks. I find that, almost always, I think of something I’ve successfully executed before and then push myself into an innovative tweak based on the ingredients on my list.
When it comes time to cook on Monday, I might find that I really want a raw kale salad; there’s no need to look at the list. But on Wednesday, when I don’t feel compelled by any particular craving, it’ll be there, full of inspiration in case I need it. — Bettina Makalintal, senior reporter
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