Freestyle cooking is an easy, fast, flexible and realistic way to prepare food. In a day and age of overload of recipes, it can easily get lost. Recipe makers (blessed be their effort), make us believe that it involves hard work and special skills to make a recipe, and unless you follow it to the T, you will not be able to make a decent meal.
That is not true!
Following a recipe is good and to be able to cook in a freestyle way is good as well. I think all of us can do both, we just might need some practice. After tackling the No-Plan meal planning method, let’s talk about No-Recipe cooking method.
Why freestyle cooking
- Saves time
Freestyle cooking really does save a lot of time in the kitchen. Not only can you prepare a meal faster, since less measuring is needed, you also will not have to take time to search for the perfect recipe, write down all you need onto a shopping list, or run to the store to get the missing ingredient and read and re-read the recipe.
I love freestyle cooking and have been doing it for years, but I didn’t appreciate it enough. I often felt that the freestyle simple method can’t live up to following a recipe cooking style. Then we switched to the whole-food plant-based diet and I had to follow recipes for a while just to get a better grasp on what works and what doesn’t. For the first time since I started cooking, I was bound to recipes. I found it to be very stressful and time-consuming.
It was a good experience, though. I learned to make wholesome meals, for example, this yummy recipe from the How not to Die Cookbook. It looks almost the same, doesn’t it?
I also learned to really appreciate freestyle cooking. After about 6 months I felt ready to go back to freestyle cooking and feeling great about it. If you follow us on Instagram you probably have seen many of our yummy dishes.
- Saves money
While being bound to recipes, we spend more on food because the recipes were asking for things we neither had in our garden nor in the pantry. Freestyle cooking allows us to use the ingredients we have, which saves money and shopping trips. Cooking from scratch in freestyle is the oldest and best way to eat from the garden to the table because you use what grows in that particular season.
Even if you don’t grow a garden, freestyle cooking still allows you to get things that are in season and/or on sale. Find more tips on money saving in 7 proven steps to feed a family on a tight budget.
- Eliminates waste
To incorporate leftovers as well as odds and ends into freestyle cooking is so easy. I often start with gathering all the must goes and creating a meal around them. Wraps, salads and vegetable soups are all great meal ideas to use up whatever needs to go.
- Develops skills
As human beings, we are all creative, skillful and innovative. Sure, we don’t all have the same skills, but with some practice, we all can make a delicious meal with just about anything that happens to be in our pantry.
Freestyle cooking helps us to develop a skill of making exactly what we like, we can become experts in our kitchen for our own taste.
Freestyle cooking helps to build up confidence, that we got this cooking business under control. We are free to make what we want and how we want it. Free to use the available ingredients in unlimited ways. It is a great skill to have and it is fun.
How to become a freestyle cook
The emphasis in freestyle cooking is on the word ‘free’. To be free means not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes. Most freestyle cooks do use recipes but in an independent way.
Freestyle cooking is a skill that you learn. It will not happen overnight and there is no right or wrong to it. If you still want to use recipes, and just adjust them that’s a great start. If that makes your cooking experience better, go for it. Keep experimenting and evolving so that a recipe becomes a tool for you, but you are not overdependent on it.
If you are new to freestyle cooking, start with taking notes on what is it that you like in a recipe? Which combinations are your favorites? What are the cooking times and water ratios of some of your favorite foods? What spices do you like? Also, if you are eating out or at friends homes, take notes of what are the main ingredients in the foods you like.
- Stock your pantry
A well stocked whole-food pantry is filled with high-quality foods that nourish your body. You grow what grows well in your climate, and buy what is in season and looks good. Here is a peek into our pantry. And here is a video on foods we preserve and store from the garden. A well stocked pantry will not only allow you to make about any meal you like but also allows you to be prepared for whatever life brings.
We fill our pantry with no particular recipe in mind. In fact, I don’t even make those time-consuming recipe related shopping lists. I think more in foods that we want to eat than in recipes. Mostly I will decide in the garden or produce section at the store what I will be making. If the garden or store has eggplants and okra that we love so much, I decide right there that in the next days we will have these summer veggies recipe for dinner. If these veggies are not available or don’t look good I will look for something else.
This is a very relaxed way of preserving and shopping for food. It also helps us to save on food and to enjoy whatever grows well in our garden.
- Adjust a recipe
When using a recipe think about if there is something you would like to add or leave out. This way you will develop your individual taste. Adjust the recipes to your liking, there is nothing wrong with having a different taste than the recipe maker.
Substitute ingredients that you have with those that you might need to pick up first. Try out different options. Be confident and have fun.
Here a great example of adjusting a recipe and using what we have. These two dishes are actually the same recipe that I followed loosely. In one I used chickpeas and green peppers, in the other tofu, eggplant, and red peppers. There are more differences than similarities between these two dishes, but both were superb. By the way, this dish is called Lagman and is an Asian spicy noodle soup. If you search for Lagman, you will notice that there are hundreds of recipes for it, and hardly two will be exactly the same. This is true for most traditional recipes and shows that freestyle cooking is a traditional cooking method.
- Combine two recipes
Combining two recipes or recipe ideas into one is a great way to improve an existing recipe, or to get new ideas for a dish. I do this quite often if I find a recipe that we like, but it just needs a kick.
A great example of this are soups and stews. A split peas soup with some additions from a split pea dal stew results in a delicious, rich split pea soup.
Also, veggie balls and burgers are a classic. There are so many recipes out there. Combine them to your liking, remix so to speak and it will always be fresh and fun.
- Follow a recipe idea
Start to make some simple recipes without looking it up in the recipe book. This is probably my most used freestyle method. Our family, like most families, has a staple of foods that we like. For most of them, I do not need to look up a recipe. I cook from memory and it often turns out a little bit different every time.
These stuffed peppers were seriously delicious. Homegrown freshly harvested peppers, filled with a buckwheat based filling. I saw the idea on YouTube and followed it loosely. Almost anything can go into stuffed peppers, wraps, or steer fry.
- Create a new recipe
To create a completely new recipe is the intent of freestyle cooking. We sure can use all the ideas and inspirations from recipes, but don’t forget to use your own ideas. Ideas and creativity flow best when we are relaxed. Feel inspired to create that special meal you want to eat using the ingredients you have.
Instead of searching to find a recipe, just create one. Use your intuition and know it will be good.
Be confident, you can do it. By the way, even the best recipe books have some recipes in them that you didn’t like, right? So if you make something once in a while that isn’t as great, you will know not to make it again, that’s it. Not the end of the world. The more you practice the better you will become.
The downside of freestyle cooking is that I can hardly recreate a meal. It will be a little bit different every time. However, more often than not it turns out a little bit better.
Start today and let me know how it goes.
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Oh Anna, I want to know what you put in the stuffed peppers with the buckwheat! That’s going to be a unique flavor! I wonder if you used cooked buckwheat and parboiled the peppers prior to stuffing? Did you use chopped onion and garlic and what else (please share) !!!? I’m also a Freestyle cook, so don’t need exact amounts just the ingredients idea. I’ve made stuffed peppers with yellow and red peppers (these don’t need to be parboiled as they cook up more tender from baking alone). As a base I’ve used brown rice, quinoa, millet and once mixed lentils and rice for a really hearty dish! I like to use lots of fresh parsley, fresh garlic, chopped pumpkin or sunflower seeds, onion powder and salt. I pre-soak all seeds to help my auto-immune gut and find they give a nice flavor instead of Brewer’s yeast/nutritional yeast (which I stopped using). Once I also blended fresh coconut with water to a thick mush and used that to moisten the filling and to sub for cheese (which I also don’t use). It was acceptable and somewhat creamy and a change from the usual tomato sauce based flavor. Thanks for sharing your cooking strategy!
It looks so delicious, doesn’t it? I added the link to the video I got the idea from. The video is in Russian, but it really is self-explaining. The buckwheat is cooked and also the other ingredients onions, carrots, mushrooms were sautéed. Like I said, I followed the recipe loosely, exactly I don’t even remember anymore haha. That’s the downside of freestyle cooking. I often say to my family, you better enjoy the meal, there is no way I can make it again exactly this way.