Tips for Home Cooks to Fight Recipe Fatigue from Nik Sharma | Civil Eats

Nik Sharma Offers His Top Tips for Home Cooks to Fight Recipe Fatigue

Sometimes cooking at home becomes a chore. The chef and cookbook author shares ideas for bringing joy back into the kitchen.

Nik Sharma baking at left, and tossing a chickpea dish at right. (Photo credit: Nik Sharma)

Photos courtesy of Nik Sharma.

A version of this article originally appeared in the “Revitalizing Home Cooking” issue of The Deep Dish, our members-only newsletter. Become a member today and get the next issue directly in your inbox.

Whether you’re a chef, cookbook author, recipe developer, or home cook, the act of cooking— not to mention preparing to cook and cleaning up after—can sometimes be a slog. Whether you’re trying to cook with the seasons and facing yet another market basket of leeks and spinach, or you’ve hit a rut with recipes, cooking can become exhausting.

Cookbook author Nik Sharma is no stranger to the challenges of recipe and cooking fatigue: His latest cookbook, Veg-Table, is focused on putting produce at the center of the menu, which can require more prep and clean-up, two of the more time-consuming aspects of cooking.

Recognizing that, we spoke to Sharma recently about his approach to keeping cooking interesting, engaging, and joyful. Here are some of his favorite tips.

Seek out entertainment while you’re cooking.

There are non-cooking things you can do during cooking. When I cook, for example, I’m either listening to my favorite soundtrack, or I’m watching a show—something on design, or something silly like the “Real Housewives.” But it has to be something unrelated to what I’m doing at the moment, so I don’t get fatigued and bored and tired and fed up.

Add meaning with non-food elements.

One of the things recipe writers do a lot is to get inspiration from other people or countries. So when you travel or go to a restaurant, try to remember things that you enjoyed. I learned this from an author Diana Henry, who is known for romanticizing meals beautifully. She loves to collect tablecloths and cute little wine glasses, and they’re all mismatched, but there’s a story behind everything and it brings back memories during a meal. It doesn’t have to be always the dish that creates the memory for you.

Roast chicken with citrus and peaches. (Photo courtesy of Nik Sharma)

Roast chicken with citrus and peaches. (Photo courtesy of Nik Sharma)

Cook the same foods different ways.

Although there’s a lot to be said about the joys of cooking seasonally, there are some downsides too. I did a CSA [community-supported agriculture] when I lived in D.C., and they would send us lettuce all the time. I once found a recipe for a French lettuce soup just to try something new, and it was the most disgusting thing. Even in California, you can get the same things all the time in season. It does get boring.

This is where there are easier fixes: Suppose you’re making potatoes two times a week. Maybe you change the method of cooking—one day you roast them, the other time you boil them. Or maybe you use the same technique, but then you can switch the spice plan. Spices are the easiest way to revamp a meal, to make something familiar more exciting—you roast potatoes with salt and pepper one time, then in harissa the next time, and maybe the third time use garam masala.

There’s no shame in shortcuts.

I tell people, if they want to make it easier, if the budget allows, go and buy pre-prepared, pre-cut ingredients, it’s OK. It’s a little more expensive. But if you can, do it if it makes your life easier. There’s no shame in taking shortcuts.

One of the pressures, especially in countries where we’re privileged enough to get access to ingredients all the time, is that there is a shame around buying canned foods and frozen foods. There are definitely good quality brands that are already prepared, so you don’t have to soak your beans and stuff like that.

Frozen foods can actually be nutritionally better than fresh foods because the vitamin content often lasts longer. If you buy a whole vegetable, depending on the time it takes to get from the farm to the market, the nutritional quality keeps decreasing as soon as it’s pulled off from the plant. With frozen vegetables and fruit, it’s flash-packed, so the nutrients don’t degrade as fast.

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Simplify your prep.

If you’re actually going to sit and cut everything, it’s OK to prep the night before. If you want to spend time on a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday prepping for the week, it’s totally fine to prep and freeze. And if you have a food processor, those chop up pretty nicely—it’s easy to use tools like those.

I know professional chefs and recipe developers always encourage people to do the mise en place, like, get all your ingredients ready in separate bowls. And people don’t like to do this because then they have to wash more dishes—and the mental notion of washing a lot of dishes is just off-putting. Just have the ingredients in front of you at the table in the kitchen and work with them.

“No one’s coming to your house to judge you. As long as it tastes good, it’s fine.”

It’s not about looks.

Instagram, Pinterest, and all these things are all responsible for this desire for everything to look perfect—and of course I’m partly responsible for it too, because I always have to take a good photograph or video to sell the product.

But you also have to keep it real. For me it’s a professional challenge. So I just tell people directly, don’t be ashamed of how it looks. Because first of all, no one’s coming to your house to judge you. As long as it tastes good, it’s fine.

Kosher salt is silly.

Another thing home cooks hear all the time is, “You have to use kosher salt—Morton or Diamond.” It’s nonsense, because that’s not going to make them a better cook. There’s nothing magical about it. And it’s infuriating to me because, first of all, the price of those salts are actually quite high compared to just regular sea salt.

Some chefs will say, “Oh, I can grab kosher salt better.” You can also grab fine sea salt better, unless your fingers are made of, like, stainless steel, right? And some chefs will say, ‘It dissolves really fast.’ But I did a time experiment side by side and there was no difference. Telling people to use something so specific, when it’s not going to make them a good or bad cook—it’s silly.

Don’t go overboard so you can actually enjoy the meal.

We do a lot of this to ourselves—we’re trying to replicate what’s online or what’s in a restaurant, and you don’t need that at home. You can just have a lovely meal, entertain your guests properly. When you’re entertaining or feeding your family, don’t go overboard, because at the end of the day, you actually want to enjoy the meal and spend time with them.

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Accept help, including from kids.

If you can, get help from family members or friends. Maybe not even meal prep, but putting things away, cleaning up, setting the table—take it, take it. You don’t have to do it all yourself, especially if you have kids. One of the things that I enjoyed as a child was always being asked to be part of what I call transformational steps in cooking.

My grandmother would do this thing whenever she was making sweets for Christmas. In India, it’s a huge process—there’s a month-long thing for Christmas and Easter where the Christian community does sweets. My family would start a month ahead of time. And I would be involved always at the end stage where we were shaping sweets; as a child that was always fun. Or when my grandmother was making something savory, again, that involves assembling.

In Veg-Table, there’s a recipe for her cabbage rolls; that’s a dish that I learned from her because it was so much fun to do, stuffing things and rolling leaves. And I call those transformational recipes because, as a child, you start to get fascinated by your ingredients. They’re changing in front of you. You’re actually involved at the end and, as a child, you can say, “I made that.”

Not everything needs to be made at home.

Just this morning I saw a video on how to make mayonnaise at home. Why would you make it at home when you can buy it? You make this giant batch and then you have to eat all that mayo within a certain time period. Condiments—and spices especially—are the easiest way to make a meal more interesting. Just buy them from the store; it’ll probably actually taste better.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Matthew Wheeland is the managing editor of Civil Eats. He is a long-time environmental journalist and has covered a wide range of environmental, sustainability, and social justice subjects over the past 20 years. His reporting has appeared in The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications, and he previously worked as managing editor of GreenBiz and AlterNet. He lives in the Bay Area with his family and is a big fan of navigating the complexities of the food system. Read more >

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  1. Hasan Jaffer
    Valuable insights from a renowned chef on combating monotony in the kitchen. Thanks for sharing these expert tips—we're eager to rejuvenate our cooking routines and reignite our passion for creating delicious meals at home!

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