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Cooking is Like Programming

by | Aug 27, 2015 | Last updated Mar 21, 2023

Programming is my job, but cooking is my hobby. In my mind, cooking is very much like programming – just like a program obeys the laws of the hardware and OS environment it’s running in, cooking obeys the laws the physics. Recipes are similar to programs in that they are a set of instructions. And of course, just like open source software, recipes are often shared, changed, remixed and adapted.
This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s Sloppy Joes recipe in his cookbook “How to Cook Anything Fast.” When I originally made this recipe, I didn’t have the right ingredients and ended up making some substitutions. My family liked the modified version so much that we keep making the it all the time. Instead of serving on buns, we serve it chilli-style in tacos or with rice. This recipe is also paleo friendly (if you omit the beans and rice).
NOTE: Be advised that this recipe needs time – allow at least a half hour.
The substitutions are made are as follows:
– No celery and zucchini, I used a large purple onion and fresh mushrooms instead
– Shawarma mix instead of chilli powder
– Garlic powder instead of garlic
– Beans and rice to the final step to make it more filling
– Various different directions that worked better for me
– 1 large purple onion
– 1 red bell pepper
– 1/2 pound of fresh mushrooms (or an 8 oz can)
– 1/2 – 1 pound of ground beef, depending of your preference
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil for sauteing
– Optional – 1 can, canned beans, any variety
– Optional – 1/2 cup of quick cook rice, any variety
– 1 teaspoon garlic powder
– 1 teaspoon of salt
– 1 teaspoon of cumin
– optional – 1 teaspoon of taco, chilli or shawarma spice mix
– 1/4 cup ketchup
– 1 teaspoon soy sauce
– 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
– 1 can (14 oz) of diced tomatoes
Cooking utensils needed:
– 1 very large frying pan or wok (I use a 13” steel wok)
– 1 spatula for mixing
This recipe consists of three stages:
Stage A – Saute the vegetables (10 mins)
1. Core, and dice the pepper, onion and mushroom
2. On a low fire, put up a large frying pan or wok. Add 1-2 T of olive oil.
3. Add the cut up vegetables to the pan/wok
4. Spice with garlic and salt, and mix
5. Saute on low fire for about 10 mins, occasionally mixing, until soft

Stage B – brown the meat (10 mins)
1. Move the vegetables to one side

2. Add ground meat
3. Spice with cumin and taco/chilli/shawarma seasoning, and mix
4. Brown the meat until cooked and no longer red on a low fire, stirring occasionally

Stage 3 – mixing everything (30 minutes)
1. Mix the vegetables and meat

2. Add diced tomatoes, ketchup, soy sauce and worcestershire sauce
3. Optional – add canned beans and/or rice
4. Mix everything together, and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
Serve with tacos or rice.