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How to Fearlessly Cook a New Cuisine

Don't be intimidated! Here are 7 ways to get started.

1. Embrace mistakes

If you're trying out a new recipe or cuisine, don't worry if attempt #1 is a mess. Laugh at it, document it, then move on! Figure out what went wrong and try again.

2. Keep a kitchen journal.

Buy a cute notebook and make an entry for each new recipe. Document what worked and what didn't. Let some sauces splash onto the pages. The dog-eared, splattered pages will serve as a colorful record of your progress. Put a star on the page when you master a new recipe.

3. Cook with a skilled friend.

Got a sidekick who knows her way around a kitchen? Ask her over and tackle the dish together! She'll be thrilled to help.

Pro tip: Befriend chefs and bartenders.

4. Train your taste buds.

It's tough to know whether a dish has succeeded if you don't know how it's supposed to taste. Is there a local restaurant that makes this cuisine or something similar? Become a regular. Sample the whole menu. (For even better results, see pro tip above.)

5. Explore international markets.

Don't be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients! When faced with a recipe of new-to-you ingredients, head to an international market — or one that specializes in the regional cuisine you're studying. Map out what's available and what you may have to order. Ask an employee for help! Or call that kitchen-expert friend back and take her shopping.

6. Start with the familiar.

For your first go at cooking a new cuisine, choose a recipe with familiar elements or techniques. If you're good on the grill, start with a recipe that involves grilling (such as the Khmer-style BBQ ribs recipe in SLOW NOODLES). If you're a soup veteran, make the soup base your usual way, then add flavors that will convert this recipe into a new dish entirely. For example, make chicken soup, then add lime and fish sauce and top with fried garlic. Presto! You're now cooking a Cambodian sour soup called s'gnao sach mouan.

7. Practice!

Stick with it! As you get comfortable with new flavors and techniques, your tastes and instincts will evolve. Foods you once found challenging will become go-to comfort foods, or resplendent feasts that wow your dinner guests. Keep moving! There's always more to learn.

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