Cooking 101: SPRINKLE

The third and most creative of The 5 Moves.






Sprinkle is where the artistry happens.

It is the second of the “active cooking” moves: CHOP, SPRINKLE, and POKE.

In Chop, you broke down your ingredients from their raw form and got them ready for the next two moves, SPRINKLE and POKE.

SPRINKLE is where you apply your seasonings.

You don’t need recipes to season your food appropriately. You need STRATEGIES.

Seasoning strategies are your new best friends

In this White Belt Lesson we will cover two seasoning strategies. There will be more later.

We will use these two strategies for both the Yellow Belt and the Orange Belt Cook-Along Lessons. They are MUST HAVEs. They are the easiest to remember, the most flexible, and most impactful. You can, of course, read ahead to other lessons, but I implore you to stick with just these two strategies through the Orange Belt so you can truly understand their power.

Confessions of a Recipe Follower

After all the recipe bashing I’ve been doing, I have a confession to make. Before developing Kitchen Karate, I learned to cook by throwing dinner parties for two years. Each week, I would invite six guests to be my guinea pigs as I tried my hand at a new cuisine: Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Thai, French, Caribbean, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, German, Moroccan, Cajun, and more.

I would pull recipes off the Internet for the most popular appetizer, entree and dessert from the cuisine of the week. I would then spend five or more hours following the recipes to the letter as I shopped for and cooked up the dishes. I billed myself as “America’s Top Recipe Follower,” and I had a lot of happy customers.

Deep down I’m a recipe sympathizer. I believe recipes are a great way to record and share culinary ideas. You can even learn to cook by following enough of them. My big beef with recipes is that they are presented as a solution to everyday cooking needs. Cooking skills, not recipes, are what people need first and foremost. Once you know how to cook, then recipes are a great way to communicate with other people who know how to cook. Take it from someone who spent 1,000 hours following recipes, it’s much faster to just learn how to cook.

Ok, now on to the seasoning strategies…

Strategy #1 :The Starting 5 + Whatever’s Clever

I noticed two things throughout the course of my around-the-world dinner party adventures: One is that following recipes is beyond time consuming. Two is that every cuisine in the world shares five seasonings. Can you guess what they are?

The Starting 5
Olive oil (or the fat of your choice)

I call them The Starting 5 because they are the foundation of flavor.

A Thought Experiment

Think of any vegetable. Now imagine adding salt, pepper, olive oil, onion and garlic and cooking it up. It’s going to taste pretty good, right? Now imagine any meat or meat substitute and do the same thing. The Starting 5 will make any whole fresh ingredient taste savory. Powerful stuff, right?

Here’s why they work so well:

Salt is a flavor enhancer, making meat taste meatier and broccoli taste more brocollicious.

Pepper warms the dish and leaves a comforting afterglow in your mouth.

Olive Oil (or fat of choice) adds what’s called Umami, a deep down satisfying taste you get from meats.

Onions when cooked down, go from spicy to sweet. They add a spicy sweetness to a dish which is pleasing.

Garlic is in the onion family and functions the same way but with a different flavor. You can use either onions or garlic or both or neither!

Combine all and get enhanced flavor, warmth, deep down goodness and a spicy sweetness. What’s not to like?!

Add nothing but The Starting 5 to any ingredient, cook it up and you will get compliments on the dish. It might not be the biggest outpouring of praise, but you will definitely get head-nodding and appreciation, which is a passing mark. This is a huge accomplishment for non chefs. That one moment can switch you from “can’t” to “can” in the cooking department.

If the Starting 5 is so effective why not just season everything with The Starting 5 and be done with it?

Variety is the spice of life

On average we eat three meals a day. That’s 21 meals a week, and 1,092 meals a year. If you seasoned everything with The Starting 5 you would get bored… and fast!

To give the dish that something “special” you can add an extra seasoning or two.

I call this Whatever’s Clever.

You probably have seasonings in your pantry or on your refrigerator door which you haven’t used in months because you bought them for some recipe and never touched them again.

Here’s your chance to dust them off and break them out.

With the Starting 5 you are working from a position of strength. You already laid down a foundation of flavor. Now add a zing of this or a twist of that. You are not going to ruin your dish or overwhelm it. Be bold. Grab “whatever” and put some in the mix.


Since we are not relying on recipes, we can’t look to see if it’s a teaspoon of this or a tablespoon of that. Instead, you are going to be seasoning by eye, feel, and smell.

Is there anything more ridiculous than a 1/4 teaspoon?

Precise measurements matter in baking but not in cooking. Next time you look at a recipe and see the seasonings amounts listed in teaspoons and tablespoons read it not for the specific measurement but for the RATIO. A tablespoon of this is about four times as much as a teaspoon of that. But really you don’t need to look at measurements at all. You can do it by eye and learn on the fly.

Here’s some guidance:

  • Let’s say you have some chopped up cauliflower in a bowl. When done seasoning it you should be able to clearly see, smell, and feel that it is well seasoned.
  • It should look coated with seasoning
  • The smell of seasoning should come from the bowl
  • You should feel a grittiness
  • If you are wondering if it is seasoned enough, it probably isn’t
  • Err on the side of too much seasoning until you get the hang of it.  You will learn a lot more by over-doing something than under-doing it.
  • At first, limit the number of “whatever’s clever” seasonings to three or less, so that you can clearly identify the flavors when you plate up the meals later in the week.
  • Taste seasonings you are unfamiliar with before adding. That will let you know what you are looking for when you taste the meal. All seasonings will taste STRONG alone, so don’t let that deter you from having a heavy hand.
  • Don’t fear mistakes. The worst that can happen is you ruin one component of one meal that week.
  • Eat your mistakes. You don’t like it so much, keep eating it. It’s the best way to learn!

Strategy #2: The Starting 5 + Something S

Using The Starting 5 + Whatever’s Clever is a great strategy if you are just starting to get adventurous with seasoning. It’s simple and effective and fun, which makes it perfect for first time meal preppers and novice cooks.

If you are already familiar with seasoning you might want to take “Whatever’s Clever” to the next level. Instead of grabbing seasonings at random, think about grabbing 1 seasoning from at least 1 of the following S’s:

+ Something Sweet (honey, agave, maple syrup, etc)

+ Something Sour (vinegars, citrus, etc)

+ Something Spicy (hot peppers, mustards, ginger, etc)

+ Something Savory (pretty much any herb, spice or bottled sauce that doesn’t fall into the other categories)

(Note to my experienced chefs out there: I know Savory is not a “taste”, but I like to use it as a catch-all in this context)

You don’t need to grab 1 from each of the 4 S’s (although it wouldn’t hurt!). The point is that you don’t need more than 1 seasoning from any of the S’s. That would be redundant from a taste point of view.

This is the start of Taste Balancing which we explore in greater detail during the Freestyle 1 Week. For now, you can use the Starting 5 + Something S in a paint-by-numbers kind of way.

Questions and Comments on This Lesson?

Drop me a note in our private forum The Dojo Lounge. I will respond during office hours.

Up Next

Cooking 101: Poke