Actually in my experience, various sizes often don’t fit me either, and it takes a lot of searching and failed attempts to find a piece of clothing that fits me perfectly. I can probably count the items on one hand, and not one of them is a pair of jeans. Clothing aside though, I think food is very similar. We all have personal preferences, likes and dislikes, and dietary requirements to consider when choosing what we eat – and what we cook. Like with clothes, it’s very rare for me to find a recipe and make it exactly as listed. In fact I can’t remember the last time I did.
Sometimes the substitution is as simple as I didn’t have the ingredient, so added something similar instead. My most common adjustments to recipes are swapping out onions for something else, or removing them completely – I really just don’t like them, and as they’re in a lot of things, this is a very regular occurrence when I cook from a recipe. But other times, I simply look at a list of ingredients and think, this would be good with a bit of garlic, or I’ll adjust the spices to suit my taste (usually an increase in quantity – I like strong punchy flavours!)
I’ve always assumed this was normal practice. After all, my Mum’s recipe books are covered in frantic pencil notes, accompanies with smudgy fingerprints, as she made last minute adjustments to recipes while cooking. A perfectionist, she is always changing, adding, fine-tuning a recipe to the best it can be, sometimes over a long period of time with many incarnations (marked in the book by scribbled out notes replaced by new ones). However, having started writing recipes for other people (you guys!) rather than just my own use, I find myself adding notes like ‘optional’ or ‘tip’ to my recipes, just in case. It has made me more aware that as everyone’s taste is personal, food should be adjustable to each individual – so you can enjoy it just how you like it!
This started me thinking about the way I write and think about recipes – as far as I am concerned, every recipe is fair game for adaptations, adjustments, and sometimes they inspire something completely different and new! No matter the authority of the person who wrote the original, food is a deeply personal thing, and there is no right or wrong answer to a recipe. So no, one size doesn’t fit all!
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how to adapt a recipe, using a recent example from my own cooking adventures! I tried out the recipe for Black Bean Mole Enchiladas from Nadiya’s British Food Adventure the other week. I made it (mostly) to the original, other than leaving out the onions, and toning down the chilli slightly, as there is a lot in it! And the result was not far short of fabulous! This is the first time I’ve made enchiladas without the help of Old El Paso, and the recipe really does win hands down. It’s going to be very hard to beat it – and is definitely my go-to enchilada recipe at the moment. I could eat these every day, so it’s lucky I made enough for my lunch the next day too! Thank you Nadiya, for your genius.
But this also got me thinking – what was it in the recipe that made it so good – and how could I apply this to my other ‘Mexican’ favourite – chilli? After some consideration, I decided on 3 elements to ‘borrow’ and add to my bean chilli recipe to add depth to the flavour. (I say bean chilli, as I have separate recipes for Smoky Chipotle Chilli con Carne, the meaty one, Chilli con Veggie, vegan and packed full of veggies to make it extra healthy, and now the new and improved Bean Chilli.
The 3 elements I ‘borrowed’ were a cinnamon stick, half a jar of jalapeño chilli peppers, and 4 squares of dark chocolate (an upgrade form my usual 2 square policy). I haven’t re-written the recipe itself, just added in these extras, and I have to say, the result is pretty damn tasty! So here it is, my new and improved recipe for Bean Chilli, thanks to a little inspiration from Nadiya and the most perfect enchilada recipe I have cooked to date (seriously, if you haven’t already, try it out!)
Bean Chilli Recipe
You will need:
2 400g tins black beans, drained
1 400g tin pinto beans, drained
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
½ jar of jalapeño chilli peppers, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika
4 squares dark chocolate
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Heat a casserole pan over a medium heat.
Gently fry the jalapeños, garlic and celery until soft and fragrant.
Add all other ingredients to the pan, and mix together.
Pop a lid on and bring to the boil.
Turn down the heat and simmer for at least 1 hour – longer if you want to! (The flavours will continue to intensify).
This is delicious over rice, with a little cheese. It’s also even better reheated the next day – so make sure you save some for lunch!
I would love to know your thoughts on adapting recipes! Are you a creator who likes to make something completely new, an adaptor who makes a recipe yours with a few adjustments, or a purist recipe follower? Let me know in the comments below!