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  • Felipe Garcia

Three Ingredient Dishes

Many times when we think about sophisticated or comforting food, we think of complex dishes with many ingredients and many steps to make. I think of the French stew Boeuf Bourguignon that could have about 15 ingredients and take two hours to make. Or one of my favorites, Mexican Mole. I have tasted moles in the States of Puebla and Oaxaca in Mexico that uses more than 30 ingredients and takes hours to prepare.

I agree that complex recipes with many ingredients can be amazing, and could be the ultimate test for a chef. But unfortunately, it also can be a way to cheat. Let me explain...


Tortilla Española

Ingredient Fads

Throughout the years we all have seen ingredients and food fads come and go. I remember a time when wasabi was EVERYWHERE! Don't get me wrong. I do like wasabi but in my sushi. Wasabi mashed potatoes, wasabi fajitas, wasabi guacamole (I am getting nauseous just thinking about it), and even wasabi pasta!

At another time, (at least in the USA) it was all about garlic. Back again to mashed potatoes, but now with garlic, and other “interesting“ recipes. But the strangest was the perceived relationship between Italian food and garlic. There was a notion that the more garlic you put in your Italian dish, the more Italian it became. And there was also a perception of ”manhood” for using tons of garlic. I can just remember conversations like this from your dinner host: “People only put 2 cloves of garlic in their marinara sauce by I put 20!!!!....no one knows that I am 1/20th Italian on my mom's side“ and people would think “oh my gosh, he is so Macho...look at all the garlic he uses..." (DISCLAIMER: this character is fictional but I am sure we all have a 1/20 Italian friend you can nickname him the GARLIC MACHO).


What are you hiding?

So where am I going with the ingredient fads? Some of those ingredient fads gave chefs a creative way to explore new combinations. And some were not bad. But it also created an interesting way to hide things. What can you hide? Bad quality ingredients. At one point, chef Anthony Bourdain suggested not to eat fish on Mondays, especially if it was the lunch special and the fish was covered with some kind of sauce. Fish was delivered to New York restaurants on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so by Monday, you were eating leftover fish from the weekend. That is when chefs got creative and used sauces to cover the bad quality of the fish on Mondays. (Later on, Chef Bourdain said it was ok to eat fish on Mondays at good restaurants since fish supply had changed and you were able to get fresh fish with more frequency.)

“An ounce of sauce covers a multitude of sins.”

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


Three Ingredient Dishes

There are some amazing dishes that use three (or less) ingredients. And the beauty of this is that you need to use quality ingredients since you have no way to "hide" bad ingredients. And quoting again Anthony Bordain, you can have amazing food that is simple, just using fresh quality ingredients.


“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


“I saw how three or four ingredients, as long as they are of the highest and freshest quality, can be combined in a straightforward way to make a truly excellent and occasionally wondrous product.”

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


Here are some of my favorite three-ingredient dishes:



Molletes - Mexico

Bread+Beans+Cheese

Usually a breakfast dish. Inexpensive and served with some tomato salsa. Back in my college days it was an easy breakfast with a cup of coffee.

Pan Tomate - Spain

Bread+Tomatoe+Olive Oil

If you find tapas, you will find pan tomate. A simple dish of bread rubbed with tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil. Some people will process the tomato through a greater and use that to spread on the bread.

Cacio e Peppe - Italy

Pasta+Cheese+Pepper

Ok, you can say that technically this dish has four ingredients since you use two types of cheese (even though there is a debate on this). Spaghetti, pecorino, and Parmigiano cheese and pepper. That is it for this dish credited to the area of Rome. Please, use only Parmigiano cheese approved by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium.

Nigiri Sushi - Japan

Rice+Fish+Wasabi

Here is another dish you can claim has more than three ingredients. Sushi rice includes vinegar, so you can argue that there are four ingredients. So fine. But this is another example of a "simple" dish that you need quality ingredients. And I use quotations for the word simple since this is one dish that is not easy to make, and if you want to have the best, you need a well-trained sushi chef (just watch the documentary Jiro Loves Sushi)

Jambon Beurre - France

Bread+Butter+Ham

I was running to catch my train in a small town in France and noticed two people in front of me order a Jambon Beurre, so I said...when in France...do like the French...and I ordered one. I boarded the train and looked at my "sandwich". Mmmm.....interesting. Where is the mayo? No mustard? at least some tomatoes or lettuce? I took a bite of this confection and wow! It was amazing. This one on the picture was made with a croissant, but the original one (I have had many afterward) is made with a French baguette, butter, and ham (notice it is not a spread of butter, but actually a slice of butter). Simply amazing!

Broodhe Haring - Netherlands

Herring+Bread

This was another surprise in my culinary travels. In Amsterdam, I had to try a dish consisting of curated herring on a piece of bread and dressed with some pickles and onions. No idea what to expect, but what an amazing surprise. Please, do yourself a favor when in the Netherlands and have a broodhe sharing with pickles and onions (just carry some mints with you).

Langos - Hungary

Fried Bread+Cheese

After a day of walking and sightseeing in Budapest, make sure you try this simple but delicious food. The langos is a fried bread that has flour and potatoes and it is topped with cheese, ham and other ingredients. Check out my story about Budapest in this website.



Please share with me other ideas or three ingredients foods you have tasted home, or when traveling.

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