Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cooking by the seat of my pants

When and why do I modify recipes? Because I lack one or more ingredients. Because I think an ingredient will clash with another dish I’m serving. Because I’m in the mood!

Sometimes a recipe serves more as a description of a technique for preparing a particular ingredient, and then I modify the ingredient list to suit my needs. The Quinoa pilaf I made for the dinner party (see previous post) is an example.

The original recipe (Food and Wine Jan. 2003) calls for 12 ingredients, creating a wonderful blend of strong flavors. I followed it exactly the first time I made it, and I loved it! But this time I just needed a refresher on making a pilaf with quinoa – how long to cook it, the proportion of grain to liquid (although I modified that as well!). I planned to serve this pilaf with a braised chicken sort of stew with an assortment of root vegetables, seasoned with paprika and herbs, and I wanted more of a savory accompaniment, less of a bold statement. I didn’t have the zucchini or fresh tomato on hand, plus I felt that the more summertime feel of tomato and zucchini wasn’t appropriate for the meal. I also thought the mint might clash with the other flavors I was serving. While I like the flavor of the chili powder the recipe calls for, I wanted a rich rather than tangy flavor, so I used Ancho chili powder instead. I kept the turmeric, which created a lovely color, and kept the sautéed onions but also added scallions (the whole thing, white and green parts) for color and added sweetness. I garnished with parsley, and the result was a savory but subtle, nicely textured accompaniment to my chicken dish.