Three recipes

This essay by Mark Bittman has me thinking about how I learned to cook. He suggests three basic recipes — the stir-fry, lentils and rice, and chef’s salad — as three basic ways of fixing a meal that lead to endless variation. While I find the actual recipes totally not the way I would make them, the principle is sound. The more you cook, the more you come to see the patterns in cooking, and how it all starts with simple methods.

I think the first three recipes I learned from my mother were bread, Nestle Toll House cookies, and spaghetti with hamburger and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt mix. I think of my father when I cook pickled tongue, put a little white vinegar into greens, or slice up some hard-boiled eggs with beets. But the reason why Bittman’s suggestion rings true is that the dish that unlocked a whole new way of cooking for me was the stir-fry.

I had barely even eaten Chinese food before I left home for college. But a thin little paperback of totally Americanized recipes taught me that you can do anything with a bit of meat, some vegetables, a couple spoonfuls of oil, and a wok. Soon, “stir-fry mess” was pretty much how I cooked. I’m expanded my repertoire with better cookbooks since then, but a simple stir-fry remains a good fallback. The rice cooker we bought back then remains even more reliable.

Once you start cooking rice, there’s also all sorts of beans and rice, and peas and rice, and arroz con pollo, and so on.  Maybe some things don’t always turn out so well, but the next one does, and when it does, there’s nothing so satisfying as a big pot of home-cooked tastiness.