How to read (and adapt) a recipe
With many of us in isolation and some products already hard to find in the shops it can be difficult to cook, especially if you’re trying to follow a recipe.
But the good news is you don’t have to. Or, more to the point, you don’t have be an experienced cook to adapt the ingredients and method. You simply need to use a little common sense.
Most ingredients can be substituted or left out with the possible exception of the main ingredient which inspired the recipe in the first place and even then that’s sometimes interchangeable (think chicken and pork).
So here’s an example - a recipe I made this week from my neighbour Jenny Chandler’s book Pulse after she brought me round a batch of delicious home-cooked chickpeas. (We’ve all been busily swopping ingredients when we have any kind of surplus).
Not to detract from Jenny’s recipe in any way - she’s an absolutely brilliant cook and the end result is delicious - but the main thing to bear in mind, and I’m sure she’d agree, is that a recipe is merely a guideline. Except for baking precise quantities don’t matter that much - something I found hard to believe when I first started to cook and didn’t have much confidence.
My comments in italics
Jenny Chandler’s Catalan chickpeas with spinach
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main (reckon you could stretch it to a main for 3 if you up the chickpeas as suggested below)
6 tbsp olive oil (authentic but given your olive oil stocks might be a bit low I’d make it 4. It’s worth it if you can, having a basic olive oil for cooking and a slightly better one for dressings and drizzling. (See the end of the recipe) But the recipe won’t taste as good with vegetable oil or sunflower oil)
2 onions, diced (most of us have a couple of onions but one would do)
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced (no need for it to be 4, I actually had 6 smallish plum tomatoes that were past their best so peeled them* and chucked them all in. The taste of fresh tomatoes is lovely here but you could use tinned tomatoes or passata or even, at a pinch, a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste)
100g (3 1/2 oz) lardons, pancetta or bacon (smoked or unsmoked) (So I only had a couple of rashers of bacon but I did have a couple of small chorizo sausages in the fridge so chopped them up and added them too, as Jenny suggests in the side bar)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (Or 2-3 tsp of garlic paste or a good pinch of garlic salt or garlic granules, a product I don’t normally use but is useful to have as a standby in the kitchen if you can’t get hold of fresh garlic)
300ml/10fl oz chicken stock, vegetable stock or chickpea cooking water (Again if you’re trying to get the most out of your ingredients you could just measure out 150ml given the recipe suggests you reduce the stock by half - a technique which works better with homemade stock than stock made from a cube.)
250g home-cooked chickpeas or 1 x 400g can of chickpeas. (I had a LOT of chickpeas so just doubled this amount up which also meant it easily fed 3 rather than 2. You could use cannellini or borlotti beans but chickpeas ARE the main point of the recipe)
250g/9oz fresh spinach, washed and trimmed of any tough stalks (no spinach but I had a handful of chard from a friend’s allotment - only 125g but it didn’t matter. What you need is something green. Shredded hispi cabbage or kale would do though would take a little longer to cook or you could briefly cook it in boiling water first. Or a good handful of parsley if you have neither)
salt and pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or a little less. Just a drizzle)
Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan or sauté pan and cook the onions gently for about 15 minutes until they are really soft and golden
Add the tomatoes, bacon and garlic and cook until the mixture is thick and jammy. I cooked the bacon and chorizo with the onions to get a bit of colour on them before adding the garlic and tomatoes.
Tip the stock into the pan, bring it to the boil and reduce by about a half before adding the chickpeas. (See previous note in ingredients. I didn’t reduce my stock because I used vegetable stock powder) Simmer for about ten minutes - I like to leave my chickpeas at this stage to absorb the flavours for a while and then reheat. (Was hungry so I couldn’t wait for this!)
Just before serving add the spinach to the hot chickpeas - it needs only about a minute to wilt. (Chard or other greens will take slightly longer). Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil.
So there it goes. You can see how if you ask yourself ‘what do I have that is similar to this ingredient?’ you can still make your favourite recipes - and try new ones during this prolonged lockdown.
* to peel a tomato easily make a small cut in the skin by the stem place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a minute, drain and cover with cold water. Once the tomato is cool enough to handle the skin should slip off easily
What to drink: this is as interchangeable as the ingredients to be honest. I'd personally go for a young rioja or other hearty, simple unoaked red but a strong dry rosé or even a full bodied white (white Rhone or white Rioja rather than an oaky chardonnay would be fine too)
Pulse should be available from independent booksellers who are still operating a mail order service or for download via hive.co.uk. Jenny has also written a follow-up called Super Pulses which you can also download on Hive or Amazon. Do follow Jenny’s instagram feed @jennychandleruk too which contains lots of great tips for using pulses.
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