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Photo © by Erin Kunkel

Photo © by Erin Kunkel

Cooking without knife skills
(excerpted from Simply Ancient Grains)

If you come to my house on a Tuesday night, don’t expect to be served a perfectly composed dinner plate, restaurant-style. Much of my weekday cooking is fast, easy, and restrained—a quick wholesome pasta, fish and vegetables with leftover grains, or a toss-it-all-in soup or grains salad. My cooking during the week is often improvised and so low-key that, as a professional food writer, I should be embarrassed. But I believe in home cooking. I was raised on it, and today I pride myself on it.

So how do I cook every day? Mostly I prepare modest and practical meals, trying to bring dinner to the table without exhausting myself. I never went to cooking school. I learned by doing, mostly by failure.

Cooking every day is a compromise and a lesson in simplicity. During the week, I have no time to cook up complicated sauces or spend an hour washing piles of dishes in the sink. Instead I rely on the basics: my hands and a few sturdy pots and pans. So, if you struggle to prepare a home-cooked meal more often, here are a few things I hope will ease your life at the stove. It is a no-nonsense laundry list of things you don’t need to worry about.

First, please don’t fret about your knife skills. You don’t have to attend classes on wielding large chef’s knives to become a solid home cook. My mom doesn’t have any knife skills and, boy, does she cook. Neither does my Indian mother-in-law, who has prepared elaborate meals for a crowd of thirty all her life, with not much more than a beat-up paring knife.

I must admit that I have no knife skills myself. None whatsoever. I tried to hide this when my first cookbook came out. I have since learned not to pretend anymore.
 I cut my onions differently than you learn in cooking school, but fast and, may I add, just as well. Certainly good enough for dinner. I never went out of my way to practice cutting carrots or potatoes into chunks of similar size. I simply learned it over time by doing, especially when I noticed that differently sized pieces cooked unevenly. So just get started with any knife you have. And if you want to learn to use a chef’s knife, go ahead. Just know that it’s not mandatory.

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