Last week I shared a quite lengthy diatribe that could have been summed up in two sentences.
"Good cooking is based on solid fundamentals - in terms of ingredients, recipes, tools and techniques. There are no short cuts to great taste."
This week I'd like to stick with that message and offer a few thoughts about what is or isn't easy to cook.
I've got a recollection that Stir Fry was considered a quick and easy dinner. Toss together some random vegetables, some meat and a few seasonings and dinner was done in no time. A stir-fry dinner is very quick and easy to make......if you're willing to settle for a random mix of ingredients, cooked unevenly, and seasoned with whatever happens to come into your head at the time.
A really good stir fry requires:
- A lot of prep time cleaning and chopping multiple vegetables
- Blanching or otherwise pre-cooking the long-cooking vegetables, so they'll be cooked evenly with the quick cooking vegetables.
- A marinade or other pre-seasoning for the meat/fish
- Preparing aromatics such as garlic, ginger and a few spices
- A sauce that can be added at the end for flavor and slight thickening
- A well composed balance of ingredients that complement each other in taste, but contrast in texture and color
.....and then finally......just a few minutes of quick cooking to bring all those parts together.
I'm not knocking stir-fry at all. Cooks Illustrated has published several excellent recipes over the years with great combinations of ingredients and delicious sauces. I'm simply saying that what is perceived as a quick and easy dish is not at all quick an easy if you are expecting a really top-notch result.
Does that mean that ALL cooking requires a lot of time to be good? Not at all. However, you can't disregard that you need good ingredients, a good recipes and good fundamental techniques to get a good result.
Here's something that is good, quick and easy - Roasted Mixed Vegetables. If you choose the right vegtables to combine with each other and cut them into the proper size so that all the vegetables cook evenly, there's little else to this dish. Just some chopped garlic, lots of salt and pepper and some olive oil. By cooking them at high heat (450 degrees), you'll get just a little bit of browning by the time that the vegetables are completely cooked (15 minures or less). Here are a couple combinations to consider:
- Brocolli, red and yellow peppers and eggplant
- Cauliflower, red and yellow peppers and eggplant
- Zucchini and yellow squash with red peppers (cooks much faster)
Many other combinations, some much more exotic, can be created.....but keep in mind that you want to be able to throw all these vegetables onto one baking sheet and have them all cook at the same time. That's why there are no carrots, for example, as they would have to cook a lot longer. You can add fresh herbs, a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Or add some olives and a little minced anchovy.....OK - I'm taking this further than I should now.
The idea is simple, though. Add a little flavoring to vegetables that WILL cook evenly together. That's it.
Since these vegetables require little or no attention while cooking, you can saute some chicken or fish, or cook a steak while they cook, making for a great balanced meal. Try it this weekend while there's still a chill in the air. Springtime and outdoor cooking is fast approaching.