Life

How To Actually Start Learning To Cook

It's not as hard as it seems. Promise.
Do you have a kitchen? Congratulations, you can cook!
Do you have a kitchen? Congratulations, you can cook!

Everyone can cook. It’s so easy to get intimidated into thinking that the kitchen is only a place for unrealistically photogenic food bloggers or actual professional chefs, when in reality there’s great food at every price point and skill level.

Does that mean everything is going to be tasty and nutritious on the first attempt? No, not necessarily. But the more time you actually spend in the kitchen, the more you learn, even — especially? — if you screw up.

So no, you don’t need a pricy standing mixer or aged sea salt to become a decent home cook. All you actually need to excel in the kitchen is lots of practice, experience with some good basics, the nicest ingredients you can reasonably afford, and — like anything else in life — the belief that you do, in fact, deserve to be there.

Here are some tips to get you cooking.

Figure out what you like

Think about what flavours you like, or what foods you want to get good at making. Maybe you want to become great at making Italian sauces, or braising beef, or figuring out how best to pan-fry extra-firm tofu. It sounds basic, but if you focus on something you actually like making, it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Seek out a recipe source you trust

Thank you, internet, for providing us with a wealth of free recipes for all skill levels at all times. Browse the collection at Mark Bittman, New York Times Cooking, Delish, Food Network, the BBC, or Epicurious, to name just a few.

Buy the staples

Obviously, staples are going to differ based on what it is you like. But there are some fairly universal foods that are worth the investment. You’ll almost always need olive oil, garlic, onions, and a wide variety of spices (see the next step).

Soy sauce, eggs, cheese, juice from real lemons, frozen vegetables, butter, vinegar, tomato paste, mustard, Greek yogurt, and honey are also good healthy foods you’ll often want to have around for a variety of recipes.

Buy spices as you go to build up your own personal spice rack.
Buy spices as you go to build up your own personal spice rack.

Don’t shy away from herbs and spices

This is, truly, what will elevate a decent meal to a great one. Play around with these and figure out which combinations you like. Bon Appetit points out that ginger, garlic, and scallion are central tenets to a lot of Cantonese cooking, while ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and curry powder are in a lot of Indian meals, and tomato, basil, and garlic are in a lot of Italian ones. If you’re cooking French food, according to the Spruce, you’ll likely use a lot of lavender, fennel, basil, and thyme.

Perfect the art of roasting

Roasting vegetables is criminally easy, and the result is delicious and makes you look like a real grown-up. Just about every vegetable can be cut up, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper (or a spice combo!) and then just put in the oven — the most work you have to do is toss it once. Look up what you’re cooking to see how long it should go in and at what temperature, and then enjoy your roasted broccoli or cauliflower or sweet potato or chickpeas or eggplant or asparagus or squash or, really, anything.

Bonus tip: sheet pan recipes will minimize the dishes you have to wash and maximize your delicious roasted food.

Watch: Speedy sheet-pan dinners your family will love. Story continues after video.

Find a salad recipe you actually like

Salads can be creative and delicious, but it can be hard to think of them that way, since they’re so frequently brain-destroyingly boring. But if you figure out some greens you actually like (spinach, kale, and arugula are much more flavourful than standard lettuce), and pair them with protein, nuts/seeds/croutons for crunch, additional fruits or vegetables for texture, and something extra like cheese or hummus, that’s a good salad. (Think pomegranate, arugula, and shaved manchego, for instance, or kale with apples and cheddar.)

Also, perfecting a salad dressing (or two) that you actually like is deceivingly simple. Three parts oil to one part acid is the basis, according to Greatist, and then usually you want to add in a little mustard for texture and salt and pepper for flavour. Once you have that down, start experimenting — tahini, chili powder, chopped onion, maple syrup, whatever.

Always taste as you go

Flavours tend to change throughout the cooking process, which is why chefs always tell you to taste your food as you’re making it.

Be patient with yourself

Julia Child didn’t get there in a day. Neither did Jamie Oliver. Take your time, and remember that even when you fail, you’re learning.

20 Ideas For 2020 is our month-long series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.

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