Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How to Find... anything. #2: How to find recipes and nutrition information

 How to find Recipes & Nutrition Information 


Haven’t we all searched for recipes?    Whenever we’re trying to get dinner just right, or when exploring a new culinary idea. Sometimes we’ll do comparisons (how do other people make dinner rolls?), or sometimes we are looking for the best source of a recipe we have heard about (what was the original “no-knead” bread recipe?).  Then again, sometimes we are  just on the hunt for dishes that include our new ingredient obsession--this week it’s porcini mushrooms (got a great deal at the Farmer’s Market!), but next week it could be broccolini, kohlrabi, or maybe we’re just looking for new ideas for strawberry desserts. 

Image by Monicore from Pixabay

You can keep that trusty soup-stained cookbook on the shelf, it might have family heirloom recipes that you can’t find online, but this chapter is about how to find (and sometimes filter) recipes beyond the scope of even the largest cookbook you might have on your shelf. You can even please those picky eaters by improving your web search results to show recipes based on ingredients, cooking time, or calorie preferences. 

Practical tip: While we’re going to talk about searching for recipes and nutritional information, if truth be told, when we find a recipe we like, we make a copy of the online recipe (with attribution and any production notes we learn along the way).  Why?  Recipes have an unfortunate tendency to disappear on the web.  Besides, if we really like something, we’ll probably make it again.  Back up your recipes by having local copies, if only so you can re-find it easily. Or import them in a recipe app so you can edit, organize them, share them across devices and have a backup in the cloud.  


What are recipes?  

For the purposes of this chapter, a “recipe” is any written down list of instructions and ingredients that you use to put together a particular dish.  It might be extensive and careful, or it might be minimalist with just a few clues about how to put together a dish.  For our purposes, recipes are easy to find--just use the term “recipe” along with whatever you want to look up specifically.  

Notice that some recipes (such as Mark Bittman’s excellent collection) are more guidelines to entire categories of food, rather than just a simple step-by-step recipe.  Each recipe tells how to make the dish, but also ways to vary it and make many different variations on a theme. They’re on the borderland between a cooking encyclopedia and a recipe box. 

On the other hand, some recipes have tons of information about how to make that particular kind dish--they’re a little like mini-tutorials in the Spend With Pennies or Epicurious web sites. These recipes often have videos to show techniques, or background information on the cultural aspects of the recipes.  Fascinating stuff.   

And sometimes you want to look up a particular technique that’s linked to a food.  What really is “pressed duck” after all?  Can I make it at home?  How about phyllo dough?  In these cases, you also want a recipe, but you REALLY need to know the technique as well.  For such technique-heavy recipes, you want one of these “enhanced” recipes.  


What is nutrition information?  

As you’re cooking, or planning on cooking, there are times when you’d like to know what exactly it is that you’re putting into your dish.  It’s fairly easy to find the nutritional information for your ingredients with a query like this (suppose you’re making a passion fruit mousse): 

[ nutrition passion fruit

The result will have a panel on the right hand side of the search results page--it it look like this: 

Note that this will work for many fruits, vegetables, meat, fish (etc.), not ALL possible foods have detailed nutritional information that can be found on the Google knowledge panel.  As of this writing dragon fruit (a popular fruit native to Mexico and Central America, it goes by many names, including pitaya, pitahaya, and strawberry pear) doesn’t have detailed USDA information, although this will probably change over time.

But the USDA site does have an incredible range of nutrition information about foods that you might not expect.  Check out: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ for full details.  (For instance, did you know that goat meat has 143 calories / 100 grams?) 

By the way, using the USDA site you can also find that dragon fruit has 260 calories in each 100 grams of fruit, and is high in calcium to boot!  


Recipe Search Methods

Broadly speaking, these methods are all ways to translate what you know about an educational need into search-engine specific strategies.  

1.  Search by dish: This is often the way people think about cooking: “I want to make lasagna” or “I want to make pad thai.”  Unless you’re searching for a dish that’s incredibly obscure, a good search is something like this: 

[ recipe for lasagna

[ recipe for pad thai

Note that if you’re searching for a particular kind of national dish (e.g., goulash, which in Hungarian is gulyás), try searching for the name in the language of origin: 

  [ recipe for gulyás ]

If you can read the local recipe language, even better search in that language to find possibly a more authentic version. Usually you’ll find sites that are dedicated to transcending national boundaries--in this case, you’ll find recipes that tell you how to make an authentic Hungarian gulyás, along with helpful tips about how to substitute location-specific ingredients. (e.g., do you actually need to use Hungarian paprika?)

To find recipes within a given country, use the site: operator to search ONLY in that country.  Just use the country code.  (List of all country codes.)   Note that you’ll have to use the local language word for “recipe.”  For example, here’s how to search for Bolognese lasagna recipes from Italian web sites. 

        [ ricetta lasagne alla bolognese  site:.IT

2.  Search by ingredient: So you couldn’t pass up the rutabaga at the farmer’s market but you’re not exactly sure what to make with it? Now you can slice and dice your farmer’s market bounty into tasty dishes by searching by ingredient. Simply type rutabaga into your search and get plenty of ideas. 

[ recipes that use rutabaga

This works especially well when you’ve got a few random ingredients in your kitchen and need to find a recipe that uses them.  In this case, just list all your ingredients, and see what you can discover!  For example:  

[ recipes rutabaga spinach cheese

3. Search by holiday or event: Hosting a baby shower or event and need to whip up some mouth-watering dishes to feed 50?  Simply type the event name + recipes and you’ll see plenty of dishes. 

[ baby shower recipes ]

[ kids birthday party recipes ]

[ traditional Swedish holiday recipes ]

4. Search by calories: Are you trying to consume fewer calories or have less fat in your diet?  Search for recipes with descriptive terms.  Examples: 

[ lasagna recipe with fewer calories

[ lasagna recipe healthy

[ lasagna recipe less fat

5. Search by cooking time:  When you’re pressed for time, you might want to find recipes that can be done in a certain amount of time.  Here, the trick is to search for recipes with a time that’s specified.  When you do these searches, try to use times like “30 minutes” or “1  hour” since that’s what people usually write.  Searching for recipes that take 48 minutes to complete probably won’t work well.  Here are some sample timed recipe searches: 

[ recipes under 15 minutes  ] 

[ stew recipe 2 hours

[ vegan chili recipe under 3 hrs ]   — hrs is a common abbreviation 

You can also use descriptions of the amount of time:  

[ soup recipe long slow

[ slow food confit recipe ] 

6. Search by favorite chef or restaurant: A handy search method is to search by celebrity chef name or the name of a restaurant that has a dish you want to emulate.  You can’t always find the exact recipe, but there’s probably a pretty good version of it out on the internet. 

[ recipes by Poilâne ]  (note that [ recipes by Poilane ] also works)  

[ recipes by Jose Andres ]  (or, José Andrés also works)  

[ recipes by Greens Restaurant

7. Search for video:  Learning a cooking technique is usually MUCH easier if you have a model to follow.  Remember to search in videos to learn the techniques or methods you want to learn. 

In Videos: 

[ how to make paneer

[ how to make an omelette

[ how to make strudel dough

8. Search by images:  Looking for a picture of something will often let you hone in on the thing you want to make, but don’t know the name!  For instance, if you’re looking for a kind of cheese appetizer that came in a little cup-like thing with turned-up corners, a search like this will get your an answer quickly: 

Note the second row of suggestions (party, toothpicks, easy, prosciutto, puff pastry, etc.).  Those can also be very handy in finding what you seek.

Searching for images is also a very good way to learn how to plate and present the food in an aesthetically pleasing way. We start eating with our eyes first, think when you go to a great restaurant and their presentation of a dish. 

It’s also a great way to learn what a particular kind of food / fruit / vegetable looks like--it will make your shopping experience much simpler if you can recognize it in the market!  We were looking for a Buddha’s hand fruit, but didn’t quite know what to look for in the grocery.  This is what it looks like: 

9. Search by cooking technique or cooking tool  

Many times you want to expand your knowledge of a cooking technique (e.g. sous-vide) or a tool (cast iron). Other times you are a big fan of a particular cooking technique, (e.g. steaming) or you are cooking at a friend or family’s location or you are travelling and cooking in a rental and you have access to a limited set of tools or, maybe to a set of tool you do not know how to use (pressure cooker) 

[ cast iron peppers]

[ steamed broccoli]

[ pressure cooker rice]

[ slow cooker chili ] 

10. Search within your favorite recipe website

This search is a bit different because it assumes you have a favorite or a set of favorite recipe websites. The more you search for recipes the more you will learn which ones you like--then you can use the site: operator to search within them.  

Some recipe websites are subscription based, so not all recipes and techniques are available for free.  Sample searches that we use inside a site are: 

  [ site:epicurious.com vegetarian bean chili ] 

[ site:nytimes.com no knead bread ] 

        [ site:jamieoliver.com hot cross buns ]


Conversions:  How many tablespoons in a cup?  Or, going from ounces to grams!   

The quantity of a recipe can be written in different measuring systems. So you might need to convert quantities from one measurement to another.  European recipes often give quantities in metric measurements (grams), while US recipes often give them in quantities (cups, tablespoons).  

Note that when doing weight measures to volume measures you will have to look up the conversion rate.  If a recipe asks for 500 grams of flour, but you have only US measuring cups, you’ll have to figure out what the conversion rate is.  A quick trick is to do this query: 

  [ grams of flour in cups ] 

Google will then show you a handy conversion chart: 

Of course, if you want to just convert from grams to ounces (or the other way around), you can just do the conversion query: 

[ 25 grams in ounces ] 

[ 1 pound in grams ] 

This is also really handy for conversions within the English (or Imperial) measurements: 

[ 16 tablespoons in cups ] 

Or you can ask a question: 

[ how many cups in a pint? ] 

Another kind of common searches while cooking are for ingredient substitutions. For example, you want to make tamales and you do now have or cannot easily find corn husks. What can you do?  This works well for exotic ingredients that  you might not have, such  as corn husks (used in tamales), or asafoetida (an Indian spice):  

[ tamales corn husks substitution ]

[  tamales corn husks alternative ]

[ asafoetida substitute

Cooking Techniques  

A common search is for methods of doing particular skills in the kitchen.  For example, if you’re  not comfortable with your knife chopping technique, consider doing a search on how to handle knives.  A search on: 

[ How to cut an avocado ]

[ How to cut a bagel ] 

[ How to chop onions ]

might avoid a trip to the emergency room.   In the same vein, learning how to sharpen a knife, mince garlic, or make a perfect crepe are all easy searches.  

Recipe apps

Recipe app web, desktop, or mobile apps allow you to write, organize, store, and import recipes from the web. These apps can save you a lot of time and help you to build your own cookbook. You could start by typing your grandma’s favorite recipe on the app and use it on your smartphone when cooking, even when you’re not in your own home.  Apps also allow you to quickly scale a recipe depending on how many people you need to cook for.

These apps generally allow you to export and share your apps with your friends and family including adding pictures.

Dealing with variation between recipes

As you’ve probably noticed, there can be many different versions of a recipe.  Few people agree about the right way to roast a chicken, make cupcakes, or bake bread.  Part of the joy of cooking is learning to understand the variations between recipes.  

For this reason, we typically look at more than one recipe when making a particular dish.  A search for something simple, say… 

[ recipe enchiladas ] 

[ recipe lasagna ] 

Will quickly show you the huge variation in styles, ingredients, and methods (do you want fast, low-fat, for parties, meatless, with red sauce or bechamel).  

Don’t be intimidated by the number of different variations on the theme, but use them to compose and create your own masterpiece.  




In this chapter we’ve shown you how to search for: 

  • Nutrition information

  • Recipe search methods 

1. by name of dish 

2. by ingredients 

3. by holiday or event 

4. by calories 

5. by cooking time – times, durations 

6. by chef or restaurant 

7. search for videos 

8. search for images 

9. by cooking technique or tool 

10. search inside a recipe website 

  • Conversions (metric to English, and back)

  • Cooking techniques (and tools) 

  • Recipe apps (to manage your recipes) 

  • Dealing with variation between recipes


Key lessons:   

A.  There are many ways to search for a recipe--by dish, ingredients, style, time-to-cook, etc.  Just add in the extra search terms to search by those different properties. 

B. Using the conversions methods (e.g., grams to ounces) is incredibly useful when using metric recipes.  This is just as true to convert measurements within the English units as well.  (We can never remember how many tablespoons are in a cup.  Can you?)  

C. Search for images and videos to help deepen your understanding of what the different foods and techniques are.  The number of methods and technique videos are astounding.  They often can teach you a method that was previously available only by a long apprenticeship.  Watch those videos before trying it on your own.  (There are important methods to know, ones that could prevent a cooking injury or make that omelette just perfect.)  


  1. Thanks Dr. Russell. Fantastic and very helpful. I'm sure soon we will have nutrition facts in dishes not just in products. About Nutrition Facts, here in México we have a new way to show which product is healthy "or not" using stamps. Now packages looks awful and if you have stamps then you can not use Tony the Tiger or other similar. Plus even with stamps people keep buying what they like.

    In points 4 and 5, can we use operator (..)? I think so and also mix operators and still get recipes? I'll try that too.

    I already trying like [recipes Delicious Martha]

    Also tried [Passion Fruit] I got: A summary, translation to Spanish, nutrition facts and recipes.

    Lots of fun and things to discover. That after will be an awesome dish.

  2. Usually, the searches that you post are just learning opportunities or challenges that have no particular use except to challenge my mind. This one is very different and useful. I forwarded it to friends who would find it useful in daily life. Thank you

    This however I thought might have wider interest.

    1. Good to hear. We'll try to more of these that are directly useful! Have any topics in particular that you'd like to see done in this style?