Do NOT make this recipe at home!

So many recipes suffer from unnecessary precision, pressuring home cooks to buy ingredients they don’t need. On the other hand, a lot of great food can’t easily be prepared with a recipe because there isn’t any one way to make it. Here’s a tasty leftovers concoction we made recently that, if written up as a recipe, perfectly captures the absurdity of precision in a creative kitchen.

  • 1/2 cup shredded goat meat (remnants from bones boiled for stock)
  • 3 cups cubed roasted sweet potatoes (stored in our pantry, roasted for previous meal & leftover)
  • 2 cups cooked buckwheat (purchased)
  • 2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (preserved from previous butchering)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (stored in our pantry)
  • 1 quart roasted tomatoes (frozen in our case)
  • 1 pint shelled edamame (frozen)
  • 1 cup sweet corn (frozen)
  • Salt

To make this as a stand-alone recipe for Goat and Buckwheat Goulash:

  • Boil goat bones for stock & remnant meat (1-2 hours)
  • Cube & roast sweet potatoes (30-45 minutes)
  • Cook buckwheat (20 minutes)
  • Mince & saute garlic in chicken fat
  • Add tomatoes, edamame, & sweet corn. Bring to a simmer.
  • Strip goat meat from bones and add, along with buckwheat and sweet potatoes.
  • Simmer for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Salt to taste.

Almost everything in this dish came from our farm, but good luck making this affordably or practically from the grocery store if you have to shop for each individual ingredient! It would take hours, start to finish, and you’d end up with all sorts of odd quantities of leftovers and a lot of wasted time & money. But when thrown together as a fridge clean-out, it was quick and easy.

This recipe could easily be recast as a more basic approach to Seasonal On-Hand Goulash:

  • a handful of protein (legume, cheese, and/or meat; pre-cooked leftovers are ideal)
  • a nice dose of carbohydrates (grain, potatoes)
  • enough liquid to moisten…but not so much to turn it into soup (tomatoes and/or broth)
  • a generous quantity of mixed vegetables (anything on hand that you think would taste good with the other ingredients)
  • some alliums for flavor (onion, leek, garlic, etc.)
  • Saute alliums, then simmer everything together for 30 minutes and eat.

You would have a hard time going wrong with the “recipe” above, but few cookbooks take such an approach. Instead, all too many home cooks would be paralyzed by a recipe like the first version, because they don’t have buckwheat, don’t like goat, don’t know where to find edamame, or whatever. We suspect this is one barrier to using more local produce: many home cooks feel obligated to follow a precise recipe precisely, rather than adapting the recipe to what’s on hand.

Learning to understand what a recipe means, rather than what it says, is a major step in more efficient cooking. Either way you’re likely to end up with a tasty, well-balanced meal, but the second way fits much better with a seasonal, budget-conscious approach to kitchen management.

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