Debbie Wong’s Easy Tips for Super Satisfying No Recipe Cooking

Debbie Wong’s Easy Tips for Super Satisfying No Recipe Cooking

From knowing your flavor profile, to making a great tasting one-meal bowl, Debbie gives you her best tips to make every meal easy and satisfying

Ok AFN readers, this is my wheelhouse, my specialty, my PASSION. I am such a champion for no recipe cooking, because it was what truly made me fall in love with food in the first place. The opportunity to improvise and incorporate mood and personality into your cooking is such a gift because that’s when you truly discover your taste (pun intended), develop your skills, and frankly find the real joy in cooking. You’re FREE, and that can be intimidating; but hopefully with these tips and ideas, you’ll fly. 

1. Ask Yourself, What's Your Flavor Profile? 

Fancy Chinese? Whip up a Chinese-style Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry with soy sauce, oyster sauce and fragrant sesame oil

When I’m cooking without a recipe, I always think in terms of flavor profiles, in other words, the unique combination of flavours that make a particular cuisine distinct.  Switching up flavor profiles is a great way to take a familiar dish in a completely different direction.

For example, the same veggie and tofu stir-fry over rice can be taken to China, Vietnam or Indonesia depending on the flavor profile.

For a Chinese/Cantonese inspired stir fry, use ginger, scallions, a combo of dark and light soy, and Shaoxing wine. Fish sauce, lime, birds eye chili, rock sugar and fresh herbs would make it decidedly Vietnamese. As for Indonesian, kecap manis, belacan, and of course, a side of sambal.

2. Check All the Essential Boxes for a Great One-Meal Bowl

Try out a bright quinoa-base salad bowl: Zesty Thai Style Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad

In the last couple years, ‘Bowls’ have taken over the modern food scene, and it’s not hard to see why. Bowls are versatile, healthy, full of texture and colours, and the best part: they’re a complete meal in one. When making your own Bowl, all you have to remember is to include at least 1 of the following categories:

  • Protein: any meat or fish, or the ever-reliable egg.
  • Veggies: think contrasts - sweet potato with raw bell pepper, a cabbage slaw with sautéed greens.
  • Starch: from rice to pasta to quinoa, the possibilities are endless.
  • Dressing: oil, acid, sweetness, and whatever flavourings you want.  

Need inspiration? Here's four meal ideas: 

1. Middle Eastern Inspiration

  • Protein: Grilled Haloumi cheese or shredded roast lamb
  • Veggie: Cucumber, tomato and red onion salad
  • Starch: Cous Cous
  • Dressing: Lemon, garlic, olive oil

2. Japanese-Style

  • Protein: Onsen egg or pan-fried fish
  • Veggie: Shredded cabbage carrots, spring onions
  • Starch: Cold soba noodles
  • Dressing: Miso, rice vinegar, sesame oil, mirin, soy

3. The Tex Mex Blend

  • Protein: Ground beef grilled or chicken  
  • Veggie: Avocado, bell peppers, chopped onions, cilantro
  • Starch: Rice and/or black beans
  • Dressing: Lime, sea salt, cumin, chili, touch of agave

4. Korean Star

  • Protein: Beef or pork bulgogi
  • Veggie: Kimchi, daikon, carrots, spinach
  • Starch: Multi-grain rice
  • Dressing: Garlic, sweet soy, gochujang, ginger, sesame seeds

3. Make Smart Substitutions

Miso, a great alternative to the savoury kick in soy sauce

I once had a roommate who wanted to substitute mustard for sesame oil. The poor guy had no clue. Substitutions are two-fold, they can be implemented when you simply don’t have the required ingredient, or if you’re just in the mood to switch things up-- but there IS one rule: when substituting, think of ingredients that have similar characteristics and serve the same function: 

  • Run out of soy sauce? Fish sauce, miso, or chopped anchovies are a great substitute.
  • Not enough fresh tomatoes? Add some tomato paste and water to stretch the sauce out.
  • In considering leafy herbs VS woodsy herbs for instance - if you can’t find the parsley-like chervil, try the equally delicate dill. No rosemary? thyme or sage will offer a similar earthy character.

4. Transform Leftovers and Takeaways

Leftover chicken? Try out this viral Rice Cooker Leftover Chicken Recipe

If you’re Asian, you definitely have leftover rice in your fridge. Other than turning it into the predictable fried rice, try one of my favorite childhood lunches, Ochazuke. Add piping hot green tea, leftover cooked fish—salmon is great, top with spring onions and nori, and serve with Japanese pickles. I dare you not to sigh with happiness after your first bite.

Leftover chicken can easily be transformed into chicken salad sandwiches. Chop cold chicken into bite size pieces, add mayo, a squeeze of lemon, chopped celery, chopped shallot, dill, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Put this gorgeous mixture along with some fresh crunchy lettuce between 2 slices of bread and enjoy in front of the TV. Seriously, it’s the best.

When I started my YouTube show, one of goals was to encourage my followers to cook to the beat of their own… drum? Stomach? I don’t know where I was going with that.

Anyhow, I truly hope you’re inspired and excited by these ideas. Now, put away that cookbook and get into the kitchen!

Debbie Wong is self-taught cook and classically trained actor based in Hong Kong. She is the host of Food Wars Asia, Kitchen Quickies, and her ongoing international culinary series on YouTube- Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong. Follow her on all socials @ms.debbiewong.

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