Bored Palette! Need new recipe ideas.
First, I have to start off by saying that this truly a first world problem and I am very grateful for all the food that we're able to eat. Having said that, my dilemma these days is feeling like I'm cooking the same things over and over again, and even when there's some variation it's basically the same flavor profile. When I go online to find inspiration it seems I come across more of the same ole. It's tedious to wade through all of the same stuff on sites like Tastespotting to find those few dishes that stand out from the rest. Recipe sites like Epicurious or even Google show mostly popular dishes at the top of the search results.
I have to think, given how vast and diverse the food world is, that there are a large number of dishes out there I haven't tried. Just thinking about all the possible combinations of ingredients and cooking techniques! Lately, I've started doing more ethnic cooking but finding recipes beyond those top 5-10 popular dishes for each ethnicity is hard (at least finding good ones is hard). There's got to be more to Chinese cuisine than stir fries or more to Mexican food than tacos and enchiladas.
So I'm asking fellow Chowhounders for recipes that they think 80% of the cooking population haven't tried. These would be recipes for weeknight dinners that can be prepared in about an hour or so. They would have to be online recipes as we don't have the budget to buy anymore cookbooks. My wife and I are pretty decent cooks and since we live in a major city we have access to a variety of ethnic grocery stores. Thanks in advance!
Have you looked through the What's for Dinner threads on this board? There are a lot of great ideas in them for not-everyday dishes folks around here are cooking.
Also take a look at the COTM (Cookbook of the Month) threads for the main dishes. Many of the recipes are either paraphrased (to avoid copyright problems), or a reasonable facsimile of a similar dish is available online.
One better way to do this with "ethnic cooking" might be to find a devoted cookbook for a given cuisine. Not only will this tell you about more than 5-10 dishes in a cuisine, looking through it (and better yet cooking through it) will hopefully expose you to new techniques and ingredients and flavors that you'll be able to incorporate into your own repertoire, and that ultimately offers much more flexibility than just finding new recipes in a vacuum.
Rick Bayless' Mexican cookbooks are pretty good for branching out beyond tacos and enchiladas if you'd like to do that.
Here is a recipe for a dish that is memorable for tasting unlike any other. It's flavorful & I've had several requests for this recipe. In fact a woman requested the recipe just 2 weeks ago, saying she remembered how much she enjoyed being served it about 8 years ago & has regretted she never asked before, for the recipe. It's easy to make & the ingredients are readily available in any market. It is a vegetarian version of a Brazilian black bean stew. I got the recipe from a magazine called Vegetarian Times. The recipe says it serves 6.
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes (1 to 1 1/4 lbs.), peeled and diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 small hot green chili pepper, or more to taste, minced
2 (16-oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe mango, pitted, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp. salt
In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, until onion is golden, about 3 minutes.
Stir in sweet potatoes, bell pepper, tomatoes (with liquid), chili and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender but still firm, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in beans and simmer gently, uncovered, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in mango and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in cilantro and salt. Serve hot.
The public library is a great place to browse and borrow cookbooks.
My rec is to borrow one of the Ottolengi books and cook the ought it starting with the meatballs.
When I am in a slump I go to a market, an ethic market or better yet a farmers one and be inspired by the food.
To me there is nothing more palate awakening than the freshest veg , meat or fruit simply prepared, or prepared off the cuff with my favorite ingredients.
You might consider reading through the cookbook of the month archive. Find a cuisine/book you would like to investigate, get the book out of the library, stock your pantry and start cooking.
The great thing about COTM is that many of the recipes have been reviewed so you will know that others had success.
You don't need recipes, you need romance. I know, because I get bored too.
Don't just look for Mexican recipes, read Sophie Coe's wonderful book America's First Cuisine. Or a magical Mexican book/movie Like Water for Chocolate. Then don't look for recipes, explore the cuisine. If you can't manage a year in Mexico (and who can?), spend an hour in a vegetable market in the nearest densely Mexican neighborhood to where you live. Buy strange ingredients like cactus pads and prickly pears. Try imported Mexican cheeses. It's summer, strip fresh husks from ears of sweet corn and tie up your own homemade tamales. Take on an authentic ancient Mexican challenge like constructing meatless meals.
When Mexico pales, go to Thailand or Morocco. But don't look merely for recipes, dive into the entire cuisine, techniques, spice blends, patterns of organizing a meal...
Try doing this with your plain rice: Melt a whole stick of butter and in it saute' sliced onions, golden raisins, and curry powder. Cook a pot of white rice and, while it's hot, mix it with the other stuff. Good then, better the next day. Even if you have it with plain chicken, it picks up the meal.
melting a stick of butter in anything makes it taste good.
when i took my first job as a personal chef, i had NO IDEA of how to cook. the way i handled the inevitable disasters in those first few weeks was to use the "butter cheat:" just melt cubes of butter (or lard) over anything that doesn't taste good.
what is shocking to me is that many of the "famous" chefs out there are just using the butter cheat.
Know your source. Aggregators like Google or rated-recipe sites like Epicurious are good for popular recommendations, but then that's not going to help you open any doors into unknown territory. If you really want to know a different cuisine, CH turns up a wealth of information through the Cookbooks of the Month threads as well as numerous threads offering recommendations for recipe sites organized by cuisine. If you are a bolder person, try visiting an ethnic market and asking the grocer what he would do with a given ingredient. Culinary tourists pose me these questions all the time.
As for Mexican and Chinese recipes that 80% of American cooks haven't tried, I would recommend pork with purslane and salsa verde, salsa macha and brisket salpicon for the former; whole steamed fish, bang bang chicken or red cooked pork for the latter.
not what you asked for, not specific recipes, but specific TYPES of recipes:
1) i spent a month this winter cooking various punjabi curries.
2) salads made with legumes was the theme for a month last summer
3) one August, when living in Sacramento, i spent the better part of the month focusing on RIPE TOMATOS
You get the picture. . . .
re: cookbooks, since you live in a major city, most libraries have extensive collections of cookbooks and of cooking magazines.
another way to approach this is to go to some ethnic grocery stores and buy:
a) amchur powder
b) hing (Asafoetida)
c) tamarind paste (seedless)
then spend a month figuring out how to cook with each of them
Korean pajeon are quick and easy yet slightly unusual. This recipe uses green onions but there are versions with different kinds of shredded veggies or even mixed seafood added in
Look up your favorite ethnic restaurants' menus and mark what sounds good as a starting point. Then look up the recipe or ingredients needed and go from there.
I didn't realize there was so much more to turkish food until i went to a few markets in a turkish neighborhood and now i'm obsessed!
I'm biased but I'd say give Iranian/Persian cuisine a try. I'd recommend the cookbook New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking but since you don't want to buy any cookbooks, a good alternative is the blog My Persian Kitchen and the blog Bottom of the Pot. I've introduced a lot of my friends to Persian food and they are often blown away by the unexpected flavors.
Thanks everyone for the replies! Sorry if anyone thought I was giving up on some lifelong dream of becoming an artist, I meant palate not palette.
There were some wonderful suggestions. The combined ideas of checking out cookbooks from the library and cross-referencing agains COTM threads is brilliant. When I step back and think about my problem though, it isn't just finding things that are different but that are also good (or at least good to me). Having limited time and money makes experimenting a lot more daunting.
This reminds me of what Chris Anderson talks about in his book The Long Tail and I think the phenomena applies to the food world. The theory describes how culture and markets are moving away from the small number of "hits" (things that are mainstream) towards the larger number of niches in the long tail. The food world is a lot like this where things like hamburgers and enchiladas appeal to the mainstream whereas things like Larb and Shakshuka appeal to a smaller segment (at least from a US-centric view).
In this age of internet technology and social media, I wish there was a better way to help people find the good stuff in the "long tail" of food. I know forums like Chowhound are great but not exactly the most efficient. Blogs are great but there are so many of them (not all are great).
Oh well, to the library!
" it isn't just finding things that are different but that are also good (or at least good to me)."
I'm not sure I understand. Within any cuisine there must be thousands of dishes. On any restaurant menu, there could be a dozen to many dozen dishes. Within CH COTM deals with dozens of dishes. Peruse 'different' dishes, check out the recipes and if it's foods you like, cook it. If you go to a restaurant, order something you've not had before that has ingredients you like. Go to a farmers market and buy a vegetable you've not had before. Of course,it's trial and error but how else will you break out of your rut?
Look at all cookbooks by Paula Wolfert. They are all authentic ethnic recipes.
Browse at eatyourbooks.com. You can browse without joining. From cookbooks, you will not find recipes, but rather a list of recipes, with every ingredient in the recipe listed. They have also indexed (meaning captured every ingredient in every recipe) lots of online recipes and blogs. For example, I went to "library" then "recipes" and searched for larb. Got 78 results. Could give you ideas for which cookbooks you want to get from the library. There are 23 online recipes for larb.
Have you tried Middle Eastern food? The Arab Table, Olives Lemons and Za'atar, Jerusalem and Flat Breads and Flavors are good cookbooks. I like Vietnamese cooking and Andrea Nguyen's books are all good (I've been a tester for her) She has a new book coming out on Banh Mi coming out soon. I like Suvir Saran's books American Masala and Indian Home Cooking.
Before I decide to buy a cookbook I check it out at our public library. That is how I found the new book Fried and True. It is a book about fried chicken all over the world. It just came out last month. I have suggested it for COTM. I decided i had to have it and am planning on cooking from it once a week. It is not all southern fried chicken. There are recipes for SFC and they vary. The recipes were gleaned from restaurants and has a recipe from Husk in Charleston S.C. and Nashville, Tn. for fried chicken skins. I had them for the first time last summer and I am taking them to a July 5th (Saturday) dinner party as an appetizer. My butcher shop saves chicken skins for me when they are processing boneless skinless chicken parts and doesn't charge me for them.