What do you see in this photo? Beginning cooks may see some pretty ingredients, and that’s all. But the secret to a life of culinary adventuring starts with what you know, not with what you don’t.

beginning cooks
Beginning cooks may not see the potential in a gathering of ingredients like these.

For example, if beginning cooks know how to scramble eggs, perhaps they can see the start of a pretty good omelette here, filled with mushrooms, peppers, green onions, chiles and fresh herbs, with an avocado garnish. If an omelette feels too scary, a scramble with these ingredients added to the eggs would be just as satisfying.

If beginning cooks know how to prepare instant ramen, they may be surprised to realize that this could be a ramen bowl featuring a couple of gently fried eggs, sliced avocado, mushrooms, green onions and fresh herbs. That sounds good to me.

When you’re a cook who’s just starting out — or someone who believes they can’t cook at all — recipes look incredibly daunting, however. They can feel like a long road trip starting in Florida and heading to Alaska, but without GPS, road maps or directions. As a result, it’s not clear how to get from beginning to end.

Earlier, I wrote about the basic kitchen equipment one needs to start cooking. You’ll need less than you think.

Cooking is a life skill, like sewing or learning to balance the checkbook. We don’t start out knowing these skills instinctively; we must practice them to become adept.

The thing that sets cooking apart, however, is that knowing even the most basic cooking skills will improve your health, save you money and scratch your creative itch. You can take pride in your growing self-reliance.

My best tips for beginning cooks?

  • Start with what you know. If you know how to make ramen, any soup is within your reach.
  • Challenge your skills. Know how to scramble eggs? Practice fried eggs, or try an omelette. Even your failures will be edible!
  • Ask someone to teach you something you don’t know. Your mom or dad, an aunt or uncle, or a more experienced friend can teach you skills so you can take your cooking to the next level. If you’re that experienced cook, teach your favorite beginner cook something new.
  • Start slowly. I think the easiest dish for a new cook is roast chicken, because it’s almost foolproof: 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees for an average broiler-fryer chicken of 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. But if you don’t eat meat, maybe a vegetable soup or a stir-fry would test your mettle. Nevertheless, preparing even one meal at home every week earns you the right to call yourself a cook.

Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

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