How To Cook Without Exact Measurements: Tips For The Beginner

How To Cook Without Exact Measurements: Tips For The Beginner

Don't know what's a pinch and a dash, or have no idea what’s a cup worth of flour in grams? We’ve got it covered in this short guide.

Imagine this, you’re happily bustling around the kitchen and working on the recipe you’ve found, before you stumble over measurements like 5g of cumin or thumb-size knob of ginger. With no weighing machine and diverse variations like pinches, thumbs, handful, and goodness-knows-what-other-kinds of measurements, is there a safe way to recreate that tasty, beautiful dish you see in the recipe? Yes! You don’t have to be a seasoned chef to pick up a few tricks that will let you navigate the sometimes dubious cooking measurements. Read on for our handy guide to measuring out your herbs, spices, grains, creams and more below. 

Grains, Sugar and Flour 

Most recipes go by the cup when it comes to grains, making it straightforward when you want to prep your Pumpkin Seafood Fried Rice or Zesty Thai Style Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad. Pay attention to whether cooked or uncooked grains are needed, as cooked grains generally expand and weight less for the same cup. When making steamed rice or quinoa, simply use the exact same cup for both the grain and water measurements so your proportions will always be right.

Baking Jam Cookies or a Gluten Free Spiced Guava Cake? Depending on your flour type, its corresponding weight for a full cup might vary from 120g for all-purpose flour to 128g for coconut flour. As for sugars, a cup generally weighs in at 200g. 

Liquids 

When it comes to soup stock like a nourishing Apple and Pear Pork Rib Soup or Healthy Broccoli Spinach Soup, not getting the quantity exactly right down to the last drop is perfectly fine as you can add more water later or boil off the excess. For making pizza, noodle or cake dough, where too much milk or water might affect the texture, simply start off on the conservative side when mixing your dough and add the necessary liquid gradually if your dough is too dry and crumbly.

If you need to stick to a relatively accurate liquid measurement but lack a measuring cup, there are many alternative ways to figure out the right milliliters. Use household items like blenders which come with the liquid measurements on the side or go by the liquid level of standard milk cartons (they usually come in 1 or 2.5L size). Empty juice cartons or cans are also a great way to get a specific liquid measurement for desserts like Fragrant Purple Sweet Potato Kueh Lapis and Moss Jelly.  

Herbs

Recipes are generally pretty forgiving when it comes to herbs, and an extra bay leaf or an extra long stalk of lemongrass won’t ruin your Sai Oua or Nasi Liwet. What matters here is whether the recipe calls for fresh or dried herbs. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs roughly equates to 1 teaspoon of its dried version. Dried herbs should also be added earlier on in the dish so that they can soften in the cooking process. As for fresh herbs, if you wish to keep their shape and texture in the presentation, add them towards the end for dishes like Basil Prawn and Tumeric Fish Noodles. Fresh herbs tend to char if added too early on in fried or grilled dishes like steak and venison.

If a recipe calls for a cup of cilantro or mint like this Vietnamese Shrimps and Glass Noodles Salad recipe, simply keep it loosely packed – there’s no need to squash more into the cup!

Spices

A pinch of saffron, a knob of ginger, a dash of tobacco sauce…what?! For home cooks who value precision, these terms are all Greek to them. If you need to measure it all out, a dash is close to 1/8 of a teaspoon and a pinch is about  1/16, though a little more or less won’t really hurt the recipe. For classic Asian dishes like Soy Orange & Chinese Five Spiced Braised Duck and Seafood Curry the recipes might call for a knob of ginger or stick of cinnamon.  A knob refers to the protrusion of the ginger, and a good estimate to go by is a thumb-size, or 1-2 inches length of ginger. For cinnamon sticks, a 3-inch stick is roughly equivalent to half teaspoon of cinnamon powder. 

Creams and Yogurt

Who doesn’t love a luscious Keto Peanut Soup or a decadent Mango Lassi Cheesecake? It may sound tough to measure our 70g of cream or 250g of yogurt, but when you know 1 tablespoon of cream is about 14g and a cup of yogurt is about 245g, then it makes conversions easier!

Vegetables

We bet you’ve seen some monster zucchinis or tiny broccolis. With the exception of fruits that truly range from tiny to enormous like pumpkins and squashes, most recipes would assume you have an average-sized carrot or head of cauliflower. The serving sizes become a little clearer when you’ve chopped them up, hence some recipes also use cups for measuring out vegetables. In the perfect world, all our vegetables will come in perfect shapes and sizes, but nature has its own beautiful way to make everything unique. Just adjust accordingly - for instance, if you know your celery stalk is larger than usual when making a Comforting Wholesome Vegetable Chicken Soup, simply reduce the amount used. 

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