Saturday, February 5, 2022

Anatomy of a Dish

“Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors - it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.” - Wolfgang Puck

Prepped Veggies
Prepped vegetables, ready to be cooked!

In order to be able to properly prepare a dish you need to understand what makes up a dish so you can successfully make the complete and final meal.  We already know that we need fresh vegetables, good olive oil, and fresh spices.  Good food at it's core, can and should be simple.  Think of cooking as you're just bringing out the inner taste of the food, what it was meant to be.  You're helping the main ingredient realize all it can be in this world.  So what makes up a dish?

It's quite simple actually, you have three main parts to a standard dish:  a base layer, the main ingredient, followed by seasoning.

Base Layer - This is the foundation for what you are making.  Some may call it filler but that sounds pretty bland so we'll avoid that word, not that "base" is any more exciting.  Your main ingredient is going to go on top of the base layer, essentially making it bedding.  Common base layers are:  rice, quinoa, couscous, beans, and noodles.  There are a lot of other base layers you can use and you can even mix and match them if you so desire.  Those are the base layers that I use regularly.  The factors to consider when looking at potential ingredients to use as base layers are cost and how easily they can be acquired.  You generally want your base layer to be cheap and very easy to buy.  Needless to say if you want to use seaweed from the deepest depths of the Mariana trench as a base layer.  That is not going to be cheap nor easy to acquire and thus not a good base layer.

Main Ingredient - The main part of your dish which is normally what the dish is named after and is the star of the show.  If you're making zucchini rice, zucchini is your main ingredient.  Spicy buffalo noodles?  Ground buffalo is coming right at you.  In the normal world, the main ingredient is normally the most expensive but also the most delicious part of the meal.  Meat from a local rancher can be more on the expensive side as can fresh, local vegetables.  However by growing your own food, that changes the game entirely.  Suddenly you have mass amounts of main ingredients for a fraction of the price.  You'll still need to buy meat from a local rancher, if you eat meat, but you have more money to do that with (if you want).  During the summer months, when the vegetables are plentiful, you may even opt to have your vegetables be both the base layer and main ingredient since you are rich with vegetables and you don't know what to do with all of them.  Then in the winter months when you're rationing your preserved bounty you rotate in the base layers listed above to stretch out your main ingredients with a very minimal additional cost.

Seasoning - The main way you are controlling how both the base layer and main ingredient taste in the final product.  Your newly acquired fresh spices will accomplish this nicely but there are other options as well.  Sauces, berries, syrups, reductions, etc.  are all additional ways that you can add more flavor and panache to the final dish to get the reaction and perception you want for whomever is enjoying your latest kitchen creation (even if that someone is only you).

As you can see, dishes are not complicated and are pretty straightforward but now you know exactly how to construct a dish.  This allows you to see how you can tweak the various ingredients you use to make a fulfilling dish with lots of left overs so you can continue to enjoy your tasty meal while keeping the more expensive (or less plentiful) main ingredients to a minimum while still thoroughly enjoying them.

Now we can get into the actual cooking!

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