Sam Sifton, the editor of the New York Times’s Cooking section, has done much to publicize the idea of the “no-recipe recipe.” In fact, he just published a book of them: a series of casual, conversational “recipes” that, for each dish, ditches the usual list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions, in favor of a chatty bit of advice on how, in general, to proceed.
The appeal of this approach is obvious. In fact, I’ve discovered three distinct personality types which, each in a different way, find not only satisfaction, but inspiration, in the no-recipe recipe.
The first—and, I assume, the group Sifton considers his main audience—consists of people who want to try a freer, less constrained, more creative approach to cooking. They aspire to be less tied to the regimentation of the standard recipe, and more at liberty to experiment. Call these The Improvisers.
The second group has a similar impulse, but from perhaps an opposite angle of approach. These are the cooks who are game to try this dish or that, but simply don’t have all the requisite ingredients in the fridge or the pantry, and would rather not have to make a special trip to the market to get them. They don’t have X on hand, but they do have Y. Will that work? The no-recipe recipe encourages them to try. Call them The Substitutionists.
The third group comprises those rugged individualists and no-nonsense “ordinary Americans,” so visible in social media and the news of late, who have no patience for so-called “experts,” have no truck with being told what to do, and reject completely the fancy-pants pretentions and tyranny of any recipe. Call them The Independents.
I’ve been experimenting with no-recipe recipes, too, so I decided to try a theme-and-variation version—a single dish, with no-recipe instructions (or, rather, suggestions) intended for each of these three constituencies.
Eggplant Parmesan Three Ways: A No-Recipe Recipe
1. For The Improvisers
Combine an eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese however you wish, with whatever you wish, seasoned with whatever you wish, and serve, or don’t serve, or whatever.
2. For the Substitutionists
Eggplant parmesan consists of slices of eggplant fried, broiled, roasted, or grilled, so try it with zucchini, summer squash, a watermelon, or a throw pillow. Then cover with tomato sauce or, if that’s not possible, with ketchup, a can of tomatoes, or just whatever stupid red piece of food you have hanging around, like an apple. Top with cheese, or with something else that at least looks like it could be cheese, if only from a distance, like coconut flakes or scrambled eggs.
3. For the Independents
You know what? Fuck this. Why should you make eggplant parmesan? Because some recipe says so? Or some no-recipe recipe pretends to say you don’t really have to but that is bullshit because you know, and we know, that it really thinks you should? But what if you don’t want to? What if you choose not to? Last time we looked, the Constitution doesn’t mention “eggplant” or “parmesan,” and anyone who says it does is a damn liar. Granted, if you choose to make it, you can combine eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese in a manner you see fit as an expression of your sovereign individuality as an authentic American. But make no mistake—if the snowflake libs try to come for eggplant parmesan and you’ve exercised your freedom not to make it, this will end in blood.