What are some reusable patterns in cooking from world traditions?
July 11, 2015 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I do the cooking for myself, wife and son. I'm fine as a cook but the repetition gets hard. A stack of recipes is overwhelming, but basic, flexible patterns are useful. Think meat and veg (paleo if you must).

I get a lot of use out of flexible blueprints for cooking, especially ones that let me develop skills with a world cuisine. Examples:

-- Gazpacho. It's a cold tomato soup with a lot of variations; once I have the basic idea, it can take many forms.
-- Bibimbap. A rice bowl with veggies, sauces, maybe some meat and a fried egg on top. I can remember that idea and play variations on it.
-- Okonomiyaki. Chopped vegetables and meat (I think shredded cabbage and shrimp, but many other options) in an egg batter, fried like a pancake with a special sauce and maybe fish flakes. A million variations.

See, I can think "bibimbap, what's in the fridge" and go to work. What other basic food patterns/traditions can I build around?

A snag: We're about 85% paleo; that is, we mostly want to eat meat and vegetables, although some noodles or rice are fine. (You may have opinions on this, since everyone does. Perhaps a different forum? Thanks.)
posted by argybarg to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Stir Fry
Curry Simmer Sauce dishes
posted by HuronBob at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by asockpuppet at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

My roommate and I make what we call "Noodle Bullshit" on a weekly basis, at least. Once you get the basic process and sauce ratio down, it's endlessly adaptable. Plus you can go easy on the noodle component and add more meat/veggies to keep it more in line with your dietary needs. (I made it last night with tofu/green beans/mushrooms instead of eggs/scallions – whatever is in the fridge and needs to be used up goes in the pan.)
posted by adiabat at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Meatballs (from Swedish to Italian and more, to a range of different sauces)
Slow cook tough/cheap meat cuts
Vegetable soup
posted by troytroy at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thai curry, Vietnamese salad rolls, kabobs.
posted by yarntheory at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2015

Stews of meat and pulses (harira is a middle-eastern example, cassoulet is a French one, there are lots of others in many other food cultures)...

Beans: lentils, haricot beans, chickpeas, broad beans, kidney beans etc.
Meat / Fish: sausage, chicken thighs, bacon, chorizo, pork loin, cod steak, prawns etc.
Liquid: wine, tomatoes, stock, beer etc.
Aromatic veg: onions, shallots, garlic, peppers, celery etc.
Flavourings: paprika, chili flakes, turmeric, cumin, cordiander seed, fresh parsley, fresh thyme etc.
posted by protorp at 8:54 AM on July 11, 2015

Mark Ruhlman's books "Twenty" and "Ratio" would probably interest you (although the latter focuses more on baking).
posted by backwards guitar at 8:56 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yakisoba kind of fits the bill... noodles + a fried meat and some shredded vegetables. I've used radishes, brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage, etc. Like someone else said above, you could go easy on the noodles or use zoodles to make it more paleo.
posted by easter queen at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

(A mix of half noodles / half zoodles might work out well?)
posted by easter queen at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2015

ramen noodles, in a soup of frozen peas, tofu cubes, sliced mushrooms, whatever else -- maybe onion powder and nutritional yeast for flavor, both of which can be stored for years -- with lots of liquid. Add the noodles (the square package kind, very inexpensive) in the last 4 minutes of cooking. Add spinach, celery leaves, or parsley after taking the soup off of the heat. Very fast (no meat = no worries about cooking enough).

dried beans with sofrito and rice - the beans can be rehydrated overnight, cooked simply for a few hours with a tiny bit of salt, then frozen for a while - a pound or two will last a while. When ready, serve with a cooked onion/garlic/tomato/green pepper sofrito on top or stirred in, served over rice (you can also put nutritional yeast in the rice, which makes it delicious). Serve with a lot of something green on the side.
posted by amtho at 9:06 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are terrific, thanks everyone.
posted by argybarg at 9:22 AM on July 11, 2015

Best answer: Parentheses means to take some subset of the things inside. Not all combinations work, but most do.

- roasted root vegetables: vegetables (carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, onions, mushrooms, capsicums/sweet peppers/bell peppers) in canola oil with seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar, chili pepper, herbs, olive oil, sesame oil, butter, grated cheese)

- leafy salad: a bland bulking agent (spinach, arugula, shredded cabbage, shredded broccoli stems, mesclun mix, frisee, radicchio, endive, lettuce) with dressing (vinaigrette, olive oil, blue cheese, caesar, julienne snow peas, string beans, shaved asparagus, grated carrot) and strongly-flavored things (dandelion greens, shaved fennel, diced onion, olives, capers, anchovies, meat, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, candied ginger, citrus zest, roasted garlic)

- solid salad: filling things (beans, corn kernels, green peas, lentils, orzo, quinoa) with juicy things (cucumber, tomato, mango, apple, pear, supremed orange, olives) and meaty things (tofu, shrimp, poultry, mammals) and seasonings (salt, pepper, lime, cilantro, jalapeno brunoise). This should form a pile of things of roughly the same shape, eaten with a spoon like cereal.

- cacciatore: meat (chicken, pork, beef) sauteed in butter and then simmered in a tomato-based sauce.

- steamed fish: anything with fins and scales, ginger, scallions, and soy sauce. The traditional way is to steam the fish, ginger, and scallions, and pour soy sauce over it. A more easily controlled and aromatic modern variation is to microwave the fish, lay ginger and scallions over it, pour hot oil on top to activate the aromatics, and then dress with soy sauce.

- There are also a bunch of dishes where the meat or fish is mostly a carrier for sauce, so you can served any meat or fish (or tofu or tempeh) fried with sugar-vinegar glaze, or boiled and served with a soy-based dipping sauce, or braised Shanghai-style (hong shao rou).
posted by d. z. wang at 9:40 AM on July 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

I sauger a few onions with garlic and maybe ginger, and portion them into freezer bags. These come in handy when making a good variety of foods.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:44 AM on July 11, 2015

You have a wok, right? Get a wok. You will like. Very wok. Also wok cookbook.
Thai green curry chicken. The curry paste may be a bit hard to find, also lemongrass, but a little goes a long way, the curry will last forever in the fridge, and you can freeze lemongrass.
Dried mushrooms are your friend. More flavor than fresh, reconstitute in water, last forever, cheap at the chinese grocery.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:09 AM on July 11, 2015

Dal (daal) fits exactly. Lentils, Indian seasoning, as a soup OR stew, with or without any combination of vegetables you like. Greens, onion, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, whatever.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:44 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

i guess, for completeness, pizza belongs here, right? i mean, you can put lots of different things on it... and sandwiches!
posted by andrewcooke at 12:49 PM on July 11, 2015

What about cabbage rolls? They can be stuffed with most meats, and the sauce can range from a proper paprikash to an Italian tomato sauce. Savoy cabbage makes exceptionally pretty rolls.
posted by mal de coucou at 1:00 PM on July 11, 2015

This question has really piqued my interest and had me thinking all evening long about commonalities between dishes I prepare pretty habitually... a couple more "families" that resulted:

Middle-Eastern dips / sauces incorporating garlic, olive oil, lemon juice / zest, salt:

Hummus - plus chickpeas, tahini, cumin
Baba Ganoush - plus roasted aubergine
Tzatziki - plus yoghurt, grated cucumber
Skordalia - plus mashed potato
Tarator - plus ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, yoghurt

Salads / sauces incorporating tomatoes and onions:

Greek salad - plus feta cheese, olives, cucumber, oregano
Salsa - plus chilis, fresh coriander, lime juice
Fattoush - plus lettuce, spring onion, cucumber, toasted pitta bread, dried mint, sumac
Panzanella - plus stale / toasted bread, roasted peppers, vinegar, basil
Salade Nicoise - plus tuna or anchovies, olives, green beans, potatoes, lettuce, capers
posted by protorp at 1:12 PM on July 11, 2015

Excellent question. I think my brain likes to think this way as well. My two most common patterns are fried rice (an easy way to get rid of random leftovers, snip it into bits and fry them with onions before adding leftover rice) and breakfast burrito, but those are a bit starch focused for your family.

My other patterns are
1) Braised meats with root veggies
- I use my fancy rice cooker to do a spicy soy chicken (chicken drumsticks, potato, onion, carrot, with Korean sauces), but I've been pondering doing beef and pork versions using other flavor profiles (something more Eastern European with cabbage?). I assume a slow cooker would be even better than a pressure cooker.
2) Greens with bits of meat and some kind of acidic liquid (lemon, vinegar)
- Kale + good canned tuna + white beans can become soup; chard + sausage can be soup or the basis for a sauce?; collards + bacon/ham is a classic as well.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:48 PM on July 11, 2015

Start with a base of dried or canned beans and/or rice or other grains + some salad greens. Sounds odd but it works.
Then add some combination of: Veggies, nuts, dried fruit, chutney or other flavorings, cranberry sauce (may have too much sugar for you), sesame seeds, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, preserved lemon, fresh herbs, caramelized onion, fermented veggies, tomato sauce... pretty much any flavors.
Top with a fair glug of olive or other nicely-flavored oil, some vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix.

You may like The Flavor Bible (there is also a vegetarian version) which is basically an index for what flavors go together. I don't limit myself to what I find in there, but it's often good for ideas.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:13 PM on July 11, 2015

Dal (daal) fits exactly. Lentils, Indian seasoning, as a soup OR stew, with or without any combination of vegetables you like. Greens, onion, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, whatever.

I do something similar based around chickpeas/tinned tomatoes. Start with onion (and maybe garlic/ginger), add spices, add tinned toms, simmer a while, add chickpeas. Add any other veges (spinach, peas, cauliflower, potatoes, whatever). Serve with rice (but you could probably skip that). It's foolproof and takes half an hour max (e.g. this, or more simply this).
posted by Pink Frost at 3:58 PM on July 11, 2015

Fried Rice. Cold rice + veggies + protein + egg + soy, garlic, ginger
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:11 PM on July 11, 2015

Best answer: A nice twist on the standard braised-meat thing is to make the braising liquid something acidic, and possibly use it as a marinade before cooking. Works especially well with rich or fatty meats, since the acidity balances out the fat.
  • With pork, citrus and achiote, you get cochinita pibíl.
  • With chicken, citrus and cumin (or bottled mojo criollo, e.g. from Goya) and a trip under the broiler at the end, you get Cuban-style chicken.
  • With beef, a Cuban-style tomato-onion-pepper sofrito and alcaparrado (pimentos, olives and capers) you get ropa vieja.
  • With chicken or lamb, vinegar, garlic-ginger paste, hot peppers and Indian spices, you get vindaloo.
  • With beef, vinegar, root vegetables, bay leaves, cloves and juniper, you get sauerbraten.
  • With chicken, vinegar, soy sauce and bay leaves, you get chicken adobo.

posted by nebulawindphone at 4:30 PM on July 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Paella. There really is no one way to make it. And it's traditional to use leftover meat and vegetables. The most important thing is the rice.
posted by tully_monster at 10:46 PM on July 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I really like this formulaic approach/chart by Mark Bittman in the NYT: Too Hot to Grill? Try the Slow Cooker.
Here’s the “recipe,” such as it is: In an empty slow cooker, combine 1 pound of any variety of dried, unsoaked beans, ¾ pound meat (or more, or less, or none) and seasonings — including salt and pepper — to taste. Add about 4 cups stock or water — enough to cover the beans by ¼ inch to ½ inch. (Use closer to 3½ cups liquid if you want the mixture a little less saucy, and feel free to play around with stock combinations that include wine, beer, soy sauce or other flavorful liquids.)

On top of this, add 2 pounds of vegetables, cover and set the slow cooker to high. Cook for 6 to 8 hours, or until the beans are creamy inside but still intact. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can bake the mixture in a covered pot or Dutch oven at 250 degrees for 6 to 8 hours, but that does somewhat undermine the beauty of the crockpot in summer.) To brighten up the finished dish, garnish with some chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil or chives.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:25 AM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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