If there’s one thing that really helps you in learning to be a more prolific and dedicated home cook, it’s having fallback recipes that you can go back to frequently, and change to adapt your cravings that day. These are often things like soups, stews, curries, and sauces, where the ingredients can keep for long periods of time and be used slowly with each new batch, and you only have to actually plan to buy a couple things to add to it. I have touched on a lot of these “base ingredients” before, and having a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator with things that you’ll be using often is a huge help to home cooking.
But having several go-to recipes definitely takes it to the next level.
In the winter, I’m a big fan of soups, and have a small rotation of soups that I enjoy making, usually all based on very similar aromatics and chicken stock/broth. To me, nothing is better than whipping up a big pot of warm soup and freezing the rest in individual servings to be heated up when you need something warm and homemade, but are way too lazy to actually make a new batch.
In the warmer months, though, I tend to lean more towards simple sauces and curries (with some sort of starch, often rice or noodles) that can be replicated consistently and quickly, and whose fresh ingredients can change each time. By far my favorite amongst these is Thai red curry, nose-runningly spicy and loaded up with crunchy veggies, lean protein, and fresh herbs. I find that I prefer just a bowl of curry with barely a few spoonfuls of rice, because to me I’d much rather have a double helping of the coconut-y goodness than a big ol’ pile of carbs.
Most of the ingredients of the curry are things you buy once up-front, and then slowly work your way through over the course of months. Things like fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, chili paste, curry paste, and even cans of coconut milk can all be acquired in one big trip, and then your only question becomes “what do I have tonight that I can throw in there?” Having bases like this on hand is one of the best ways to get out of that lazy feeling of not knowing what to do with the little bit of protein you have in the freezer, and an odd assortment of vegetables. Now you have something fast, delicious, and elevated. And in the case of my curry, made with light coconut milk and light proteins, it’s not that heavy in calories.
For the curry this time, my “mix-and-match” ingredients are: chicken breast, snow peas, baby corns, bamboo shoots, and carrots.
My base spicy red curry recipe is:
- 2.5 tablespoons red curry paste
- 3 tablespoons chili paste (give or take depending on desired spice, I love it spicy)
- 1.5 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (again, adjust this to taste)
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 1/2 that can full of chicken broth (you can use more or less here depending on how watery you like it)
The process is super simple, you just mix together the sauces and pastes, add in the sugar, then add in the coconut milk and chicken broth. Stir, bring to a simmer, and add your ingredients to cook for as long as you like (I do only 5-8 minutes because I like things crunchy, and things like the chicken — which I cook off mostly beforehand in a pan with a bit of oil and garlic — I put in at the very end, so they absorb the flavor for a few minutes but don’t get tough or chewy.) Add on your herbs of choice at the end — I love Thai basil when I can get it.
Master your favorite foundations, and learn to adapt the recipe to whatever you have on hand. It’s fun, simple, and makes cooking the fun, creative experience it actually is, instead of something you avoid.