There comes a point when you’re comfortable enough with cooking from a recipe – and you feel the pull to push your boundaries and create a dish of your own. But that pull can disappear in the blink of an eye when you stare blankly at an overflowing pantry, or aisle after aisle of ingredients at the grocery store.

It’s possible to get past this overwhelm and tap into a fun, playful space – one where you can create a recipe from within you, and not from inside a recipe book. With some practical tips and shifting how you think about cooking from scratch, you can come up with a dish based on what’s convenient and easy for you.

Curbing the Overwhelm
One of the biggest obstacles to cooking with your intuition is the sheer amount of overwhelm. You could make anything and everything, which can be paralyzing. But it’s possible to push through the overwhelm by focusing in on what’s already within reach.

What Do You Already Know?
Reflect on your base of cooking knowledge. What have you cooked so many times that you can make it without pulling out a recipe? What skills or techniques do you have that can you use when cooking from scratch?

What Do You Have to Work With?
Take an inventory of what’s in your pantry. Write down a list of the ingredients you have on hand. Look through your spice cabinet, and see what cooking oils you have. By knowing what you already own, you can start to get some ideas simmering. A lot of times I forget I have something in the pantry and discovering that one thing can spark a dish for me.

A Dish as Layers
Building a dish from thin air can seem a bit foreign if you don’t do it regularly. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. So, just start with this: one part, one ingredient.

Think how you’ll cook or flavor that one ingredient, then add another layer to the dish. This can be another ingredient or other flavors. Once you settle on that layer, add another and keep going through how you’re going to cook and flavor each layer until you feel the dish really coming together.

Layer by layer, step by step, I start to build that dish in my mind. Rather than thinking an entirely finished dish is going to pop into my head (sometimes that happens, but not too often), I start with one ingredient and slowly layer and build it.

If you start to think of putting a dish together one part at a time and exploring what may work together, you can free up the pressure of plucking a finished dish out of your mind and instead, can have fun with the process.

Let’s walk through the two different ways to put together your dish and “shop” for it.

Cooking Intuitively Just from Your Pantry
You’ve got the inventory done. Did anything jump out at you when you were looking around? If not, look over the list again. When one jumps out at you, run these questions through your mind:

  • How will I cook it?
  • How will I season it?
  • What do I enjoy eating or want to try with this ingredient?
  • Do I have this ingredient or something similar I can use?

Repeat these four questions with each ingredient layer you add to the dish until it feels done to you. Done could mean that’s all the ingredients you have in the house or it checks off all the parts of a recipe structure you’re making this dish from.

Building a Dish at the Market
If you want to go beyond what you have at home, grab your pantry inventory and head to your grocery store or local farmer’s market. Like at home, you have to see what you’ve got to work with. Walk the market’s produce section, meat counter, dairy cases, and the aisles of the store that carry staples (grains, beans, cooking oils, spices, etc). If you’re at the farmer’s market, walk the whole market and check out every vendor selling ingredients there.

Once you’ve got an idea of what’s there, notice if anything caught your interest and ask yourself these questions:

  • How will I cook it?
  • How will I season it?
  • What do I enjoy eating or want to try with this ingredient?
  • Do I have this ingredient at home or do I need to buy it right now?
  • *Bonus question for the farmer’s market* Do they sell this ingredient here?

Repeat these questions with each layer of your dish until you have something you’re excited to try and will enjoy.

If you’re not grabbing ingredients as you’re building the dish, I recommend writing your “to buy” ingredients down. The amount of stimuli at a market can make you easily forget your shopping list.

However, you’re getting the ingredients to build your meal, be open to experimenting and having fun. Keep cooking light and playful and be open to whatever this dish brings. Your dish may go in an unexpected direction and that might result in one of your new favorite dishes.

Cooking with your intuition is big, fun, delicious experiment. Flavors and ingredients can come together wonderfully or other times they’re just okay. But the more you experiment, the more you will build up your cooking knowledge and make home run dishes!

Have you ever cooked strictly from your intuition? What dish(es) have you made, that you absolutely love? Share your thoughts (and recipes!) with us in the comments below.


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