I have a confession to make: I’m not really great at following recipes. I’m trying to think of the last time I cooked from a recipe and actually followed it truly. Honestly it has been, probably, about two years, and as we know, I cook a lot. I also try lots and lots of new recipes. Probably half of the cooking I do is trying out something new. So why don’t I follow directions? Almost always it is because I don’t have all the ingredients the recipe calls for and either those ingredients are too expensive for me to justify purchasing or I simply didn’t have time or desire to go to the grocery store.
Some would say the ability to substitute is a gift, a skill, a talent. I would not disagree. After all, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics between someone that ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ cook. I’m thankful for my ability to adjust recipes to what I have in my pantry at any given moment. Take, for example, what I made for dinner last night: Cauliflower and Potato Curry…which I based very, very loosely on a recipe for “Coconut Curried Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas.”
Cauliflower & Potato Curry
1 Tbs vegetable oil (or ghee, if you’re going authentic)
1 yellow onion, slivered
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3-5 dried red chilies, chopped (or red pepper flakes will work, too)
1/2 head of cauliflower, separated into florets
3-4 red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Anaheim pepper, chopped (or any kind of fresh, mild pepper, really)
1 (13.5 oz) can of coconut milk
1 (13.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes
Cinnamon, Turmeric, Curry Powder, Cumin, Coriander, Cloves
- Heat the oil over med-high heat and, once hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Then add the garlic and red pepper (omit if you don’t like spicy) until fragrant.
- Throw in the cauliflower, potatoes and fresh pepper and let those cook for a few minutes. On top of the vegetables, add a generous shake of each of the spices. Everything should be yellow from the curry powder and turmeric, and you should be able to smell the cinnamon. (If you are very concrete, go with 2 teaspoons of each and adjust from there.)
- Add the tomatoes and coconut milk, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the deeper the flavor will grow. It’s good to check in on it every 15 minutes or so, give it a stir, make sure it isn’t burning or sticking and test the flavor. After about 30 minutes, you can add more spices to suit your tastes.
- Serve over rice and/or with fresh naan.
So that’s what I ended up with, by straying far, far away from the initial recipe. Fortunately, the result was pretty good and my dear husband wasn’t over-powered by the chili pepper (surprisingly, my Tex-Mex-loving, born-and-bred-Texan husband has a much lower tolerance and/or appreciation for capsaicin as does his white-bread, mayonnaise Midwestern wife). But it could have gone terribly wrong. It could have been ridiculously spicy, with cold and crunchy potatoes. The spices could have been unnoticeable or subduing. Had it not been vegetarian, I could have given my husband salmonella poisoning.
Fortunately, this time I didn’t. I have not always been so lucky and plenty of times I have made the mistake of judging the original recipe as poor when my substituted, jerry-rigged pseudo-recipe doesn’t taste all that great. Perhaps it would have gone better if I had just obeyed the recipe.
Obedience is hard. It sucks. Let’s keep it in terms of cooking for now, at least. Here’s what it takes to actually obey a recipe:
- Deciding that the promised dish is worth the work. It’s worth the time required (e.g. marinating time, rising or proofing time, resting or chilling time, cooking time). It’s worth the price (e.g. the cost of the (proper) ingredients). It’s worth the effort (e.g. shredding the carrots, whipping the eggs or cream). To follow the recipe, you must believe that the result is going to be worth it.
- Deciding that the cook that wrote the recipe knows what s/he is talking about. This is hard. It means being willing to suspend your disbelief and also your pride. One of the beautiful things about cooking is that it is (mostly) chemistry, so there are some things you can know objectively and a lot you can learn from experience, but there is always the unexpected that, on paper, sounds like it will never work or won’t ever taste right (or adding rock sea salt instead of regular table salt would be significant), but it absolutely does. You must trust the author. Obeying the recipes demands that you put aside your pride and let someone else be smarter than you at least this once. That’s hard.
- Being willing to follow directions. This is a nuanced obligation because it not only requires our willingness, but also active participation. It is both an open mind and active hands. Reading the instructions with the intention to follow them isn’t much good if you aren’t paying attention to the clock when the recipe tells you to promptly remove the boiling cream after three minutes so it doesn’t burn. As we all know, ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’
All of a sudden, following a recipe seems a lot more complicated. Fortunately, though, most of those things are not that difficult to follow when all that is really at stake is dinner. But what about when it is something infinitely more consequential? What about when ‘following the recipe’ means not taking the job for which you have worked your whole career, your whole life? When it means breaking off an engagement? When it means moving across the country or across the world? Now it is getting serious.
Throughout scripture we are called to obedience. Sometime it is obedience to other people like our parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) or earthly authorities (Hebrews 13:17); other times it is obedience to God (Luke 6:46, 2 John 1:6, Deuteronomy 11:1, Joshua 5:6). Neither of these is easy and neither is in our human nature. At the very least, it is strongly counter to American culture. We love to hold on to control, to ‘make our own destiny.’ That’s not what God has in store for us. On the contrary, he has “immeasurably more than all we could ask or even imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) in store for us. Our plan could never be as good as His plan for us. (But we need to remember that His goals and our goals rarely agree, so while we imagine a destiny that brings us adventure, happiness, love or fame, he imagines a destiny for us that brings Him glory.) So I’ll ask you again those requirements for obedience:
- Deciding that God’s plan is worth it. It’s worth the time, the cost and the effort. It’s worth the discomfort; it’s worth the pain. God’s plan is worth it all.
- Deciding that God knows what He is doing. When you say it like that, it seems so obvious, but in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t feel obvious at all. We all too frequently feel that God doesn’t realize what He is asking of us or that He doesn’t understand our circumstances. We think we know better. To be obedient, we must trust His wisdom and humbly submit to His plan, His plan for good and not disaster, His plan to give you a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
- Being willing to keep his commandments. Not only must our hearts believe, but so must our actions. This is what James discusses in James 2:14-17: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” So are you willing to perform the deeds and not just have faith?
Obedience is difficult. God never says it won’t be. But He does always accompany it with a promise:
- He will never leave you, but will go ahead of you. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
- He will strengthen you.(Isaiah 41:10)
- He will provide for your physical needs. (Matthew 6:25-32)
- He will give you peace. (Matthew 11:28-29)
This list goes on and on. His promises to us our endless. And, thanks be to God, He is faithful even when we are not. He will send the quail and manna even when His people disobey and refuse to claim the land flowing with milk and honey.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23