What's your number?

Is it 5? 6? 8? 10? This summer's cookbooks are having a silent contest for the hearts of cooks who subscribe to the "quick and easy" school of cooking.  How many ingredients do we want to see in a recipe?  Salt and pepper don't count, by the way.

America's Test Kitchen puts its bid right front and center with The 6-Ingredient Solution.  Like J.M. Hirsch's High Flavor, Low Labor, these recipes lean on flavor-packed ingredients (Peppadew peppers, chipotles, pre-made pesto, herbed Boursin cheese).

Raghavan Iyer's upcoming Indian Cooking Unfolded sets the threshold at 10 ingredients.  It's not much, when you consider that many basic Indian spice mixes have at least that many ingredients.

10 sounds pretty reasonable to me, for the way I cook. I wouldn't blink at 12 or 15 either.  But it also seems to depend on so many other factors, like whether one of the ingredients is a nested sub-recipe (if there are two, that's often enough to make me throw up my hands in frustration). Or how much prep is called out next to the ingredient (say, "finely chopped,"  as opposed to "roasted, peeled, seeded, and pureed").  Even the visual layout of the page might affect how open I am to a long list of ingredients.

How about you?  Is there a number beyond which you won't go?  Is there an "ideal"  number you find yourself gravitating towards?

7 Comments

  • CharmianC  on  7/29/2013 at 2:04 PM

    I'm the opposite. Long ingredient lists don't scare me. Short ones do. I see 5 or 6 ingredients and think, "That'll be boring." If it's not, the recipe likely keeps its numbers artificially low by relying on prepared sauces, which is also a big turn off. Of course, there are always exceptions.

  • aleciabangbang  on  7/29/2013 at 6:20 PM

    I'm not a beginner cook but I can be lazy. It's not just the number of ingredients for me, it's also the availability of the ingredients and the amount of prep. Long lists of spices don't scare me because there's no washing or chopping involved. I do have to agree that the visual layout of the page does make a difference--some cookbooks are "scarier" than others to me for that reason.

  • adrienneyoung  on  7/29/2013 at 7:44 PM

    Nested sub-recipes are a deal-breaker for me, for the most part. I'm happy to Spend almost a full day on a good bourguignon, but if you ask me to refer to page 67 for the sauce or the caramel or what have you... Not happening. It makes no sense, but there it is.

  • hihelen_westbrook  on  7/30/2013 at 6:35 AM

    It depends what I am cooking, if it's a week night and I'm tired and hungry I go for shorter ingredient lists (and generally quicker recipes) but I do enjoy a weekend spent pottering around the kitchen making up spice pastes, mixes, marinades, rubs etc. I think there's a time and a place for both types of recipe: the short and sweet, and the longer, more demanding but often more interesting flavour-wise.

  • Breadcrumbs  on  7/30/2013 at 11:50 AM

    I don't think I've ever discounted a recipe because of the number of ingredients. The number of steps or the duration perhaps but the number of ingredients...not so much.

  • SueLau  on  8/1/2013 at 8:43 AM

    The amount of ingredients doesn't bother me at all. I think it is important how the ingredients are used, and I am a firm believer in building complex flavors. I often find that recipes with few ingredients to be too simplistic and lack depth of flavor, regardless of how assertive those flavors may be.

  • Kathyann  on  8/3/2013 at 9:26 AM

    Like many people, I use recipes more as inspiration than written in stone. I adapt for how much time I have and what's in the pantry. A recipe with a long list of ingredients can be simplified, and vice versa. There is no "magic number" of ingredients that speaks to me.

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