A phrase I keep hearing is “Work with what you’ve got”……It’s a good phrase. It’s one I hang onto with magic, and it’s also one I like nowadays in the kitchen. Wait….kitchen? Magic? Pfft, all the same I’d say! Like magic, there are staples you need, flour, butter, eggs, sugar for that all important cake. And like magic, you don’t necessarily need hideously expensive items to work wonders.
Okay, what sparked this line of thought? I read a post in a cooking community, where someone had run out of salad oil, and wondered if they could use their olive oil in place of it. Now a little bit of research led me to realise that salad oil is a catch-all term for an edible vegetable oil. And I giggled, partly because I wouldn’t dream of using a “salad” oil, when I have virgin olive oil, but also because it made me realise how I feel about my food. I like to know what’s what – and because I have a tendancy to want to understand it. And boy, does it get complicated these days. We package, name, rename, have different blends for this and that, and completely ignore other foodstuffs, like edible flowers and wobbly gizzard bits. We dry out what doesn’t need to be dried out, we add water to things which are fine as they are, we add salt to sweet things, sugars to savouries, and do all sorts of dispicable things with items intended for the mouth.
But you gotta know the basics too, you gotta know the basics. Otherwise you’re stuck when you want that “salad oil” to drizzle over your salad!
I’ve done it with Moroccan food. I’ve taken the basic knowhow, read up about it, and how it would be cooked in Morocco, what would be served with what, and how herbs and spices would be used, and I can cook a pretty mean tagine these days – with some scrummy salads and sides from my trusty second hand Moroccan cookbook to make a real meal of it. But I can also nip into the kitchen and make something swift and Moroccan inspired, with just a bit of the basic spices that are used in a lot of dishes.
Knowing your basics allows you to do that. To learn the flavours, to fall in love with flavours, to guage how much to use. By all means I could have bought a Moroccan spice mix, but that would have meant I’d never have used ras al hanout in cream with honey drizzled over strawberries. Or in my coffee. Or in chocolates. A little research goes a long, long way.
I said it’s like magic. It is, and in some ways too, it’s like building relationships with deities, with spirits. You work with them enough, you build up a good, great even, relationship. You’ll learn what’s pleasing, you learn what you’ll never want to be without. And you’ll work with what you’ve got.
Because what you’ve got is what you love.