When I tell people in my cooking classes that probably the most difficult thing of cooking is to decide what to cook tonight, I’ll get a lot of smiling faces and glances of recognition. Because that IS the hardest part.
Also for me.
I also have those days that I really don’t know what to cook.
Every day again I’m making THE decision. What shall I cook tonight? What would I like to eat? What am I in the mood for?
If you’re tired of this answering this question, or would like to know how I stay inspired to find an answer on it every single day, read on.
You know that trick that successful business people apparently use? They wear a ‘costume’; everyday more or less the same cloths so they don’t start the day making their first decision on what to put on. It saves them a lot of time and energy they can use to become successful on another front.
You can use this trick. Not only in the morning, but also in the evening:
Make a week planner
One of the best tips I can give you is: plan ahead. Make a schedule each week with dishes you know how to make, dishes you would love to try, dishes with ingredients that you have in your fridge. It might be a core to do, but it’ll save you lots of time and worries, irritations and some chagrin maybe on a single day.
I don’t make a week planner.
I’m standing in front of my closet every day. In the mornings I make a brand new decision what to wear, and in the evening what to cook.
Different closets, by the way.
It’s not that I’m not organized enough to make a week planning, cause I am. As a chef you have to have your mise-en-place in order. But I want my home cooking and eating to be fun, creative, unexpected. I want to be surprised and inspired by my favorite produce store. I want to test new ideas once they pop up. I want to trust my creativity, my experience, my curiosity to try new ingredients, techniques and combinations of those to think up what I want to cook and eat. Every night.
I was harder of course when I was less experienced in the kitchen, but my longing to cook and eat something different every day of the week helped me out back then.
Over the years I came up with some sort of a game plan, that I use(d) more or less unintentionally. But never actually had written it down. Until now.
In my head I have listed food in a few types based on the starch component: Pasta, Rice/risotto, Grains (old/new/ pseudo/couscous), Potato, Bread/taco’s/etc and Asian. I rotate these during the week. If I had pasta yesterday and probably eat rice tomorrow, I might go for potato tonight.
Asian in this – of course – is not a starch based category. To me, it’s more like a mood. When I cook and improvise, I hardly end up in with something Asian-like. So I’ve put it in my rotation to come out of my comfort zone and take it as a firm direction.
2. Meat, fish or not
Since meat is optional in my kitchen, I use that to differentiate my dishes as well. Like I don’t want to eat the same meat 3 times in a row, I also don’t want to eat meat 3 subsequent days, so I alternate with vegetarian and fish dishes.
For vegetarian dishes I use (combinations of) cheese, nuts, eggs and sometimes tofu.
3. What’s in the fridge?
Right now? Some spinach. A half used bell pepper. A kohlrabi, as my produce store sells them by the bunch. Zucchini, freshly picked from my vegetable garden (already had 3 in 1,5 weeks!). Soft goat cheese, feta, blue cheese. Lots of (small) eggs. I also check my freezer, as it’s always too full, so emptying it a bit doesn’t harm.
4. What am I in the mood for?
Is it Summer in California? Or more a braising-like winter day? How much time do I have? Do I want to be creative and go beyond my comfort zone? Or do I want to make something less creative and alter a recipe that I’m familiar with?
If you have a basic idea what ingredients you want to use, you can stroll your cookbooks, your favorite blogs or just a search engine to get more inspiration and tips how to use and combine them. Or use a recipe that looks appealing, of course!
You can also check my the list of all my recipes here.
Time for an example. On last weeks “grain, vegetarian, sunny”-day I wanted to stick with something I know, but not the usual way. And that’s how I made my modern take on a Lebanese Tabouleh Salad. You’ll find the recipe for my Modern Crunchy Tabouleh below.
And last week looked like this:
Fri Tabouleh (couscous salad) + grilled zucchini (garden) + tritrip (freezer) + cherry red onion compote
Sat Potato beet salad with pork ribs meat (from a doggy bag)
Sun – restaurant, to pre-celebrate my Birthday
Mon Pasta Caprese from slow roasted tomatoes (garden) and sun-dried tomatoes
Tue – restaurant, my Birthday
Wed – (at work)
Thu Fattoush (Lebanese bread salad) + labneh balls (recipe testing for one of my cooking classes)
Fri Spanish Paella with chicken and bell peppers
And whether you’re a planner or like me want to decide every day again, I hope these tips are helpful deciding what you will cook and eat tonight! I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Modern Crunchy Tabouleh [vegan]
In the usual Lebanese Tabouleh Salad, parsley is used as a vegetable, while the bulgur is more like the garnish. In my new take on it, I use couscous (as that cooks in minutes) and use spinach, parsley, chives and mint as the greens. The kohlrabi gives this sensational salad a nice crunch, just like the toasted almonds. The salad itself is vegan, but you can upgrade it to a vegetarian meal (add feta) or eat it with meat/fish to your liking.
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup couscous
2 spring onions
1 small kohlrabi
1 cup | handful greens, like spinach
1 cup | handful fresh herbs like parsley, chives and mint
1/4 cup slivered almonds
salt + pepper
Cook the couscous, by bringing the vegetable stock to a boil and pour over the couscous. Stir and let soak (off fire, with lid) until couscous is done to your liking. About 5-10 minutes. Just taste it. Is it still too crunchy, let it stand a bit longer.
Prepare the vegetables. Cut spring onions in half rings. Kohlrabi and cucumber in tiny cubes. Spinach and herbs in fine (but no too fine) pieces.
Tip: Can’t find kohlrabi? Try the milder jicama. Or zucchini.
Toast the almonds in a dry pan over medium heat. Keep an eye on them.
Mix all. With a fork, loosen the couscous. Add vegetables, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top.
Serve for a complete meal some crumbled feta on top and grilled slices eggplant/zucchini on the side for a vegetarian meal. Or make chicken/lamb skewers if you like some meat.
I once served this Modern Crunchy Tabouleh over lettuce with grilled zucchini and roasted tritip for a small dinner party on a hot Summers night.
Another dish with couscous that’s as simple and easy as this one, is this Couscous Salad with Spicy Mustard Seeds.