I started to have a blast in the kitchen when I felt comfortable improvising and cooking without recipes. Now don’t get me wrong, I love being tucked in bed with a good cookbook or discovering a great recipe online but cooking without relying on recipes is liberating. It’s like navigating around without Google maps.
Besides, when I’m starving or in a rush the last thing I have patience for is leafing through a cookbook or Googling a recipe. It stresses me out. Like almost anything in life, it takes time in the beginning to gain confidence but the longer you spend in the kitchen the easier it gets.
You too should let your intuition tell you what to do with the ingredients you have in hand. My most epic dishes were born from improvisation. Really. It’s like writing, you don’t need to plan or think too much. You can either create completely new recipes or recreate dishes based on a dish your friend made for you or a dish you had in a restaurant. It doesn’t have to be or taste exactly the same as theirs. You have your own taste and taste buds, try and correct the flavors. If you like smoky flavors then add smoked paprika. If you like spicy then add chili flakes. Play. Eat. Love 🙂
This gatherer stew, for example, was a total improvisation but with Peter’s hunter stew in mind. I call it Gatherer Stew because my version is meat-free. The Polish call this dish Bigos. To give it the smokiness that the hunter stew gets from the sausages I add smoked paprika.
- ¼ cup avocado oil - or olive oil
- 1 large onion - diced
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika or 1 dried chipotle pepper
- 4 large potatoes - diced
- 2 carrots - sliced
- 1 medium zucchini - sliced
- ¼ cabbage head - chopped
- 1 container mushrooms - quartered
- ¼ cup sauerkraut - drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 12 peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato juice
- ¼ cup red wine – optional
- Olive oil for serving
- Warm the oil in a medium dutch oven or oven proof pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and golden, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the smoked paprika and stir.
- Preheat the oven to 380F° (190°).
- Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rest of the ingredients with 3 cups of water and bring into a boil.
- Turn the heat off. Cover the pot with a lid and put it in the oven. Bake for about 1½ – 2 hours. Check every now and then if there’s enough liquid in the bottom of the pot. The liquid should get concentrated like gravy.
- Eat the stew in deep plates with a quick drizzle of olive oil, with or without bread.