I started to have a blast in the kitchen when I felt comfortable improvising and cooking without recipes. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than a good cookbook. However, I find it liberating to be able to whip up a gorgeous meal without following or reading a recipe. It’s like driving around the city without Google Maps.
Besides, when I’m in a rush, I don’t have the patience to leaf through a cookbook or Google a recipe. It actually stresses me out. The more you improvise, the easier it gets. And the more confident you feel.
Let your intuition guide you in using the ingredients you have on hand. Cooking and writing are very similar. You don’t need to overly plan or focus. Start rinsing and chopping and the rest will come to you. I’ve come up with my most epic dishes when I started cooking without knowing what I was going to make.
You can invent new recipes or reinvent ones you love or had at a dinner party. They don’t have to taste exactly the same. You have your own preferences and taste buds. If you like smoky flavors, add smoked paprika. If you like spice, add chili flakes. Experiment. Taste. Learn!
This stew, for example, was a reinvention of my friend’s hunter stew. Since mine is plant-based I call it Gatherer Stew. The Polish call it Bigos. To give it smokiness, I added smoked paprika instead of sausages.
A cookbook I love and highly recommend is North Wild Kitchen by Nevada Berg.
- 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.