It’s easy to “get into a groove” in the kitchen. Having honed your skills on five or six (admittedly delicious) dinner dishes, you cycle through them until the tastes of each become commonplace, familiar. You might observe the classic taco Tuesday, fish Friday, Sunday roast and Monday fridge clearer. And you coast through the same old aisles at the grocery store, laser-focused on those ingredients you know and love.
But there’s something missing – maybe that “groove” starts feeling like a rut. And, in a burst of creative excitement, you aim to expand your culinary repertoire, encompassing new cultures, techniques and flavours.
Where do you begin? Thankfully, here in Canada, it’s easy to break out of the dinner rut with stocked international food aisles, homegrown online food resources, and access to diverse cooking equipment. All it takes is a little forethought.
Take a Deep Dive into World Cuisines
The best way to start your kitchen journey is by exploring world cuisines. Think of yourself as a “gastronaut,” exploring new lands and open-mindedly researching the deep well of culinary knowledge already out there.
A fantastic resource for deep-diving into world cuisines is the Foodwiki on SkipTheDishes. The Canadian food delivery service has compiled a compendium of international dishes spanning diverse cuisines. The encyclopedia is easy to navigate, detailed in its information, but accessible enough for the amateur home cook to understand. Whether you’re looking for a deep dive into Indian saag paneer, or a broad survey of Japanese dining etiquette, you’ll find it here.
Make a Detour Down the Spice Aisle
They say that “variety is the spice of life.” You could just as easily flip the maxim on its head to say, “spice is the variety of life.”
As you shop for your meals, leverage that newfound culinary knowledge from your research to detour down the spice aisle. Linger at the spice display, considering how you might blend star anise, cassia bark and Sichuan peppercorns to create a punchy Chinese red-braised pork dish. Grab some asafetida and fenugreek to punch up your next Indian curry. Or boldly grab that exotic-looking package of annatto seeds to lend a rich, red colour to your tacos al pastor.
Switch Up Your Cooking Vessel
Expanding your culinary repertoire is as much about exploring new methods as new flavours. In the same way that cultures developed idiosyncratic flavour combinations over the centuries, they also developed unique methodologies for mixing fire and food.
Consider experimenting with a North African tagine to create long-braised dishes that meld flavours through top-down steam accumulation. Crank up the heat with a carbon steel wok for that smoky “wok hei” taste typical of great Chinese stir-fries. To get the ideal socarrat (those crispy rice bits at the bottom of a paella), toast your bomba rice in a paella pan. Or break out the handi for your next North Indian chicken korma.
You’ll be surprised what new kitchen equipment can do for your skills.
Designate Nights of the Week for Experimentation
Finally, systematize your efforts by designating certain nights for experimentation. Instead of taco Tuesday, make a resolution to try an entirely new dish each Tuesday. Instead of that Sunday roast, earmark your Sunday dinner for experimenting with new spices, condiments or proteins. Use the food wiki linked above as continuing inspiration. And try not to get frustrated if your first few attempts don’t resemble restaurant food. Expanding your culinary repertoire is a work in progress. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with great food, new cultural appreciation, and a formidable new set of skills!