Good Question: Why Is My Cooking Bland?

Dear AT:Kitchn,
As a less-than experienced and reluctant cook, I have begun to run through my cold-weather cooking repertoire and I'm disappointed.

In the last week i have prepared both arroz con pollo (recipe torn from a mag) and chicken curry (from the new Joy of Cooking) and found both to be good, but bland. Why does this happen? I followed the recipes to the t and yet found my meals to be less than flavorful. What am I doing wrong?

thanks!
bls

Dear bls,
This is a hard question to answer without actually tasting your dishes or seeing your recipes. However, we can hazard a couple guesses.

Number one: you may have a taste for stronger and spicier dishes than what will be produced by recipes offered up to the general public by Joy of Cooking and a food magazine. Their level of spiciness and flavor may be calibrated for a more cautious audience. We have found that with curry especially, it's best to stick to the most authentic recipes we can find. "Dumbed down" American versions tend to be, well, dumbed down, without the extensive cooking and techniques that produce a good curry. Rule of thumb: never trust a recipe that promises a "quick curry." It just ain't right. Do it right, or just get takeout.

Number two: As a newer cook, don't forget that you can taste as you go! Don't be afraid to experiment and add more salt and spices as you are cooking. Also remember that you can enrich flavor after cooking by pan-frying with additional garlic and red pepper; arroz con pollo could be really enlivened by a second-day frying session with lots of garlic and a little extra onions.

And finally, try these favorite cold-weather recipes. We can personally vouch for their strength of flavor and, in some cases, spiciness! We just made that lamb ragĂș (except with beef) and the power of the flavor that comes from cooking down nearly an entire bottle of wine is really something.

Weekend Cooking: How to Make Curry - An overview of basic technique for many Indian curries.
Recipe: Thai Green Curry - An easier starting-place curry, using a premade green curry paste.
Recipe: Malaysian Beef Curry - A long-cooked curry that is takes some time but yields a few days of leftovers.
Recipe: Green Coconut and Pork Curry - Very spicy!
Recipe: Lamb RagĂș - Braised lamb chunks simmered in red wine and tomatoes. Adapted from Jamie Oliver.
Recipe: Bacon and Artichoke Jambalaya - Rich, pearly rice fried lightly with bacon and simmered with frozen artichoke hearts, black olives, and canned tomatoes.

Related: From the Spice Cupboard: Cumin

(Image: Reader bls)

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