Learn to Cook Without a Recipe

Have you ever wondered how some people can look in their refrigerator and all of a sudden throw together an amazing meal? That is such an amazing skill in my opinion and I wanted to be able to do it.  

I learned to cook in college because I had moved out of the house and my options were to cook or starve. I started with a small "5 ingredient" cookbook that was a huge lifesaver. It made cooking simple enough that I wasn't overwhelmed and I could be successful and like what I had made. I gradually moved on to recipes with more than 5 ingredients and today I actually really enjoy cooking, especially baking.  

About 6 months ago I was at home with my husband; we were staring at each other and asking "what's for dinner?". I was starving and so I just started pulling things out of the refrigerator. We ended up creating the absolutely most delicious stuffed shells I have ever eaten. I wish I would have been paying attention to the ingredients we used because I would love to re-create them someday.  

From then on, we cooked without a recipe often. Since we had success the first time, I had more faith that what we made was going to be good and that we wouldn't have to throw out all the ingredients we just wasted and order a pizza.

I started paying attention to what we did when we cooked without a recipe to make sure it tasted delicious. I have documented those steps and ideas here for you in hopes that you can give it a try someday as well and learn to cook without using a recipe.  

Good luck! 

You can download the below instructions here.

A recipe I created through the below process of cooking without a recipe is now one of our favorite recipes - the mango salsa makes it so delicious. It is our Mexican Fiesta Pie - I hope you love it too! 

How to Cook Without a Recipe

You Need

  1. Base
  2. Vegetables
  3. Protein
  4. Sauce
  5. Additional Add On’s (Optional)

Examples of Bases are:

  • Bread (any kind, including English muffins, French bread, rolls, etc)
  • Tortillas
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Tortilla Chips

Examples of Vegetables (including herbs) are:

  • Mushrooms
  • Green onions
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Peas (snow peas, snap peas, etc)
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley

Examples of Sauces are:

  • Marinara pasta sauce
  • Alfredo
  • Pesto
  • Ranch
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Enchilada sauce (green, red, etc)
  • Cream of mushroom soup (cream of chicken, cream of celery, etc)
  • Sour cream mixed with a seasoning packet
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Examples of Proteins are:

  • Beans (black beans, garbanzo beans, white beans, pinto beans, refried beans, etc)
  • Chicken (canned is fine)
  • Beef (ground, canned, etc)
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Pot roast
  • Meatballs
  • Fish (salmon, tilapia, mahi mahi, etc)
  • Shrimp
  • Crab

Additional Add On’s

  • Cheese (feta, shredded cheese, blue cheese crumbles, parmesan)
  • Spices (paprika, sage, rosemary, lemon, cayenne pepper, etc)


  • You want just one base and one sauce
  • You can have more than one protein if you would like, but I try to keep it to one.
  • You can have as many vegetables as you want
  • You don’t have to have any add on’s, but you can have as many add on’s as you want. I try to keep it to one kind of cheese.

How to Put it all Together

  1. Prepare your base (if it is pasta, boil it with some salt and either butter or extra virgin olive oil so it doesn’t stick together). The pasta is done when you can cut a piece of pasta in half and there isn’t any white left in the center of the pasta piece.
  2. Put some extra virgin olive oil in a pan on the stove to heat up on medium to medium-high heat.
  3. Cut up the vegetables and meat you want to use.
  4. If your meat is raw, cook it first. Put your meat in the pan and cook it until it is about ¾ of the way done.
  5. Then add your ‘hard’ vegetables to the pan and let them cook for a while. Hard vegetables are the veggies that take longer to cook. Examples of hard vegetables are: onions, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc
  6. After the hard veggies are about ½ to ¾ done cooking, add in your ‘soft’ veggies. Examples of soft veggies are: green onions, mushrooms, cilantro, etc.
  7. If your meat is pre-cooked you can add it in to the pan with your soft veggies.
  8. Add in your spices at the same time as your soft veggies.
  9. Once everything is just about done, about 7/8 of the way cooked through, add in your sauce. Let your sauce simmer for a while (maybe 5 minutes) to make sure everything is cooked and to coat your meal in the yummy sauce.
  10. Put your mixture on top or in your base, add your cheese if needed, and enjoy!

Make it Healthy

  • Use whole grain bases (tortillas, bread, etc)
  • Don’t use heavy cream based sauces, use light sauces
  • Focus more on vegetables than proteins
  • Use Parmesan cheese if you are going to put cheese in your meal
  • Use beans for your protein