My mom is a good cook. She is gastronomically adventurous, so she is always willing to try a new recipe or substitute ingredients. And it (almost) always turns out well. Once when I was blissfully enjoying some homemade tomato soup she’d made, I asked her what she did to make it so good. “I added,” she began, then paused for dramatic effect before revealing the secret: “...heat.”
The first time I saw my mother in law tossing spices into browned hamburger, I was both skeptical and in awe. In my house, we had always used one of those seasoning packets to magically turn boring ground beef into delicious tacos. I didn’t think it was possible to just make your own from scratch. I decided that my mother in law must have been some kind of culinary wizard.
Today, if you’re lucky, you can be invited to my house on burrito night. We cook pinto beans, my husband makes mouthwatering Navajo fry bread, and I can be seen wantonly tossing spices into a pan to make browned hamburger interesting.
Here are the secret ingredients: a lot of chili powder, cumin, and oregano; some cilantro (fresh or dried); and a bit of paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and maybe a few red pepper flakes just to make it look pretty. I’m sure you can look up the exact measurements of each spice somewhere on the internet, but where’s the fun in that? Measuring things exactly is not only tedious, it cuts down on the amazement that others have when they watch you toss ingredients around like a pro while still making sure the final product tastes good.
This way, when someone takes a bite of the delicious taco I made and asks me what I did to make them so good, I can reply, “I added,” and then pause for dramatic effect, flourishing as I reveal the secret: “...spices.”