Most of us aren’t chefs…and we typically don’t have mizuna (Japanese mustard greens!) and other exotic ingredients or a sous vide machine on hand. Our goal is simply to make food with big flavors to bring pleasure to ourselves and those we serve.

In 2015, Sam Sifton, a New York Times assistant managing editor and founder of the NYT Cooking website, introduced his readers to the concept of cooking without a recipe. Here, he tells us how you can get started on this culinary journey…

For the novice and the pro: You don’t need to be an accomplished cook to succeed with the no-recipe recipes listed on page 14. And each time you make one, it will taste even better than the last time.

Herbs and spices lead the way: These ingredients can transform an egg, meat or vegetables into a triumph. Just taste as you go, and you will figure it out. Hint: Eyeball a small amount of a dried herb or ground spice to see what one-quarter teaspoon looks like, and always start with a small amount.

Learn to balance flavor if you put in too much of an ingredient. It’s all about maintaining balance between the tastes—sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, astringent. That sauce is too sweet? Hit it with something salty, spicy, astringent or some combination thereof.

Pantry essentials: Make sure you have all the right ingredients listed here in your kitchen. Supplement with fresh vegetables, fruits and protein…

Alliumsonions, garlic, scallions, chives, leeks (any or all)

Bacon and other cured meats

Beansdifferent canned varieties, plus dried beans if you plan in advance



Canned fishanchovies (one or two adds great flavor), tuna, salmon, sardines

CheesesParmesan, cheddar, Swiss and feta

Citruslimes and lemons

Condimentsin addition to the usual mayo, mustard and ketchup, add an assortment of vinegars, plus capers, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce or ­sriracha, and an arsenal of Asian options such as fish sauce, gochujang, hot chili oil, miso, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, plus tahini, yogurt and sour cream

Dried fruits and nuts, including peanuts—great for salads and rice and for finishing dishes


Herbs and spicesbay leaves, black pepper, red pepper flakes, chile powder, cinnamon sticks, cumin, fresh ginger, dried rosemary, sage, thyme, smoked paprika and furikake (a Japanese mix of sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt)

Oilsextra-virgin olive oil, canola oil and sesame oil

Olivescanned or cured

Pastadried varieties and frozen cheese ravioli

Pickles and pickled vegetables

Ricelong-grain white, jasmine, basmati, arborio

Stockkeep containers of homemade stock in the freezer, bouillon paste in the fridge

Sugarbrown sugar, molasses, maple syrup

Vegetablescarrots, potatoes and celery, canned tomatoes and frozen peas


Black Bean Tacos


Olive oil

Chile powder

Canned black beans



Cheddar cheese

Crunchy lettuce


Sauté a chopped onion in a small pot with some olive oil, then sprinkle with chile powder, salt and pepper.

Add a can of drained black beans, and simmer until hot. Drizzle the beans with the juice of a lime and set aside.

Serve on warm tortillas with a shower of shredded cheddar cheese, some chopped lettuce and slices of radish.

Roasted Fish with Soy, ­Ginger and Scallions

Soy sauce

Rice wine or dry sherry



Fish fillets

Neutral oil

Heat the oven to 425°F, and put a sheet pan in to let it get hot.

Make a sauce in a small bowl—stir together a few tablespoons of soy sauce for every tablespoon of rice wine or dry sherry…a heap of minced or grated ginger…and plenty of thinly sliced scallions. Optional: You could put some garlic in there, if you like, and a dash of hot chili oil or sesame oil.

Salt and pepper the fish.

Pull the hot sheet pan out of the oven, and pour some oil on it.

Add the fish to the hot pan carefully, put it in the oven, and roast for a minute or so, then paint the sauce onto the fillets and cook for a minute or so longer, until the fish has just cooked through.

Bananas Foster

Unsalted butter

Brown sugar


Dark rum

Melt a lot of unsalted butter in a sauté pan with a big sprinkling of brown sugar. When the mixture foams, add peeled and halved bananas, and sauté until lightly browned. Add a jigger of dark rum to the pan, and tilt it away from you. The stove’s flame will ignite the alcohol (for electric stoves, you may need to ignite the alcohol with a match). Carefully spoon the sauce over the bananas until the flames go out.

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