Daring to be Simple

“Is there enough of an idea there?” It’s something I’ve asked of so many recipes as a food editor over the years. If a dish felt too simple, too basic, did people really need a recipe for it? If they didn’t, was it worth giving it space on the page? Any simple recipe needed something to make it compelling, to make readers want to try it even if they never actually did.

Early on, this felt a bit hypocritical. It was nothing like how I cooked at home. I loved simply cooked veggies with a pat of butter, a squeeze of lemon. I lived for a plate of random ingredients in their simplest form. If I needed to develop recipes for work, I had to fight every instinct to take out ingredients, use fewer pots and pans, and strip a cooking method down to its most essential parts. To just let a tomato be a tomato.

Eating and cooking simply is actually kind of daring. In a social media sea of three-page recipes and twelve-ingredient grain bowls, it takes guts to say, “I had sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and an egg for dinner.” For years I felt like it wasn’t really cooking, wasn’t really worth sharing, wasn’t a voice people needed to hear. There wasn’t enough of an idea there.

The thing is, as much as I’m inspired by the incredible food I see in my feed, I also need the visual reminder that it’s okay to keep it simple. And maybe other single cooks who think all cooking involves big batches, long ingredient lists, and lots of cleanup need this reminder too. 

For me, cooking simply is about letting ingredients stand on their own rather than trying to transform them, of taking the quickest, un-fussiest route whenever possible. It’s often a “this plus that” assembling of components that you don’t think will make a complete meal until they meet each other on the plate. (A recent favorite: stir-fried broccoli, cold tofu, a soft-boiled egg, and rice noodles with TJ’s chili-onion crunch.) Cooking simply is skipping that fourth spice or third vegetable when you don’t have it or don’t want to bother. It’s not bland or boring, but minimal and thoughtful.

Once I owned this kind of simplicity as my personal cooking style, the ideas poured from me. I filled a notebook, created a hefty Google Drive, and started a blog. Keeping it simple isn’t just enough of an idea, it’s the whole idea. And I’m just getting started.