Shopping To Ingredients Over Recipes


My brother’s a very good cook. He insists on all the small nuanced details of cooking something to as close to perfection as can be done. I am inherently lazier on that front.

Christmas is always great – me being on the receiving end of the food and not inclined nor especially wanted in the preparation stages for the main feast. He literally starts preparing the meal months in advance. He knows how to combine ingredients better than I do, but I am quite sure that he thinks of food in terms of recipes much of the time. Most people do.

I am more likely to fire together what is lying around. I’m not very fussy when it comes to food, and that pragmatism has its advantages.

Focusing on highly transferable ingredients keeps the shopping budget low, food healthy, and the potential for recipe creativity very high.

Shopping to recipes is generally more efficient than eating out, or take-aways, but often not optimal.

Shop for ingredients you like, and the recipes will take care of themselves.

Of course this ingredient-first approach to shopping relies on an intuitive understanding of what can be created from them (i.e. recipes). It’s a matter of which is considered first (chicken and egg territory?).

Overall, ingredients which can result in many recipes over ingredients for specific recipes is the approach I’m getting at.

Take advantage of what’s available/on discount

Combining all fridge and assorted perishable leftovers can be very tasty. I cannot understand when fridges are full of food that is gone off.

Take the half empty spicy cous cous, cook up the sprigs of broccoli, unwrap that bit of cheese, the half-eaten avocado, and fire up the baked beans in a bowl with a bit of the tuna from two days ago on the side. You have yourself some eclectic non-Spanish ‘tapas’!

The discount section of large supermarkets are often full of great ingredients/ready to eat mini meals – unfortunately encased in plastic. On offer at half price, these are often on a par (once time is factored in) with something you can make yourself.

Plus I hate seeing food being thrown out. It’s shit.

Eating what’s in season

Lots of in season veggies. Don’t bother thinking about what will go with what, in what, served when. It’s all good and often discounted. Vegetables are a meal in themselves.

Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and green peas can all be served in a bowl with some butter, pepper, salt, and Frank’s Hot Sauce drizzled on top.

Very little to no waste

Focusing on using up all ingredients that are available generally ensures nothing goes to waste. Which is great on many levels.

Buy staples in bulk

Simple enough really. Lentils, beans, pasta, and tinned tomatoes top the list in terms of longevity and utlility. Nuts and nut mixes are pretty good too.

Cooking in batches

I’m shortly moving into my new apartment, where a big fridge freezer will be present. Funnily enough, it has been many years since I live with one of these. I am already collecting take-away containers to serve in my pre-made frozen regiments. I envision them all labelled and orderly ranked in file inside the top compartment. Awaiting defrost orders.

This is a particular style of cooking that necessarily focuses on recipes. In this instance, it makes sense to focus on the recipes themselves and the ingredients that will be needed for them. As the meals are to be cooked in batches, there will be economies of scale associated with relevant ingredients, along with potential to be reused in future recipes.

Shopping for batch-cooking can be a subset of an otherwise ingredient-oriented shopping.

2 thoughts on “Shopping To Ingredients Over Recipes”

  1. Sherry Niblock says:

    I love this! I often buy from the discount grocery store and in the clearance sections. I typically stick to the outside walls of a US grocery store and avoid the internal aisles where all the processed foods are found. I routinely pull nearly everything out of he fridge in order to figure out what needs to be used next and what I can combine with it. I buy in bulk, go to the U-pick farms nearby, order 1/2 beef at a time, cook in bulk, and can & freeze the results. Our family of 4 – including a tween and a teen who are ALWAYS hungry – spend roughly $200/month on food. I work full-time, am on the Boards of two non-profit organizations, and go to anything my kids are involved in. I don’t have extra time to be messing with exact recipes. My hubby used to be a recipe-only guy & now he’s gotten on board with what I call MacGuyver cooking. Tonight will be pizzas using ready-made crusts from the discount bakery, leftover spaghetti sauce, and any kind of meat & veggies I can find, all cut up. it’s a busy night so the ready-made crusts allow for a speedy meal…and they’re small so everyone can make a pizza to his/her own liking!

    1. earthworldjim says:

      Hi Sherry – wow $200 a month for a family, that’s great going. You’re a pro on this front. Yes, it’s amazing how far you can get with a few tweaks to the shopping. Mac Guyver cooking – nice one 🙂

      I have recently started a new job and the end of the second week someone complimented me that my lunches always look amazing. I was a bit surprise. Invariably they are leftovers from the previous night’s dinner plus whatever bits and pieces are in the fridge/lying around. Cous cous, avocado, pasta, bread, tomatoes, mushroom sauce, and the last bit of Camembert cheese….a meal ! My brother works in a bakery, so lots of spare bread too.

      I regularly buy meat (chicken or turkey works best) that is on discount the day before best before, boil it and then freeze it. Ingredients, discount section, then recipes. We hit about 250-300 euros per month for two, although I eat for about 2 people myself. I’m looking forward to batch cooking again, I think my girlfriend is in for a surprise when she sees me in full flight on that front!

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