Like most skills, cooking becomes easier the more you do it. You start with simple recipes first and then move on to more complicated ones. If you find you really enjoy getting creative in the kitchen, you can learn techniques that help you focus on cooking without having to follow step-by-step recipes.

Learning how to use aromatics is one of those techniques. If you’ve ever sautéed garlic and onion in oil before adding ground beef to make something like lasagna or baked ziti, you’ve already used aromatics, even if you didn’t know it.

What are aromatics?

Aromatics are herbs, spices and vegetables (and sometimes meat) that are cooked in oil as a base for the flavor of a dish. Cooking them in oil helps to release their flavors and aromas, creating a deep flavor foundation for soups, stews, sauces, meat fillings and more.

Most cuisines have a traditional combination of aromatics. In French cooking, the combination is the classic mirepoix — the holy trinity of onions, carrots and celery that are sautéed in butter as the base of so many dishes. Italian cuisine uses the same combination of vegetables sautéed in olive oil, calling it soffritto, and the same concept is called battuto in Italy. And in Spain, soffrito always includes tomatoes. Meanwhile, German cooks use uppengrün, which typically consists of carrots, celery root and leeks.

Aromatics by cuisine

This infographic from CookSmarts does a great job of breaking down aromatics by cuisine:

Recipes that use aromatics

In my own cooking, I’ve seen how using the aromatic technique can make my favorite Chicken Noodle Soup recipe better. It calls for just adding the onions, carrots and celery to the broth, but a few years ago I started sautéing the vegetables in a little olive oil first. Using the aromatics technique turned my really good soup into an even better one with deeper flavors.

Try one of these recipes from a wide variety of cuisines that start off by sautéing aromatics:

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.