MAKING HOMEMADE STAPLES
FOOD SENSITIVITIES BY RECIPE
The kitchen is the focus of our home. We never meant it to be because it’s probably the smallest room in the house. Yet it’s the place where everyone hangs out, perched on stools at the well-worn counter, careful not to back up more than a foot lest they hit the wall—but that’s okay, because it’s still the best seat in the house. That’s the place where you’ll most likely be fed.
We do have a dining table where we eat many meals, but when someone in our house is cooking, the others always gather around that familiar counter. Maybe to prep some onions, or perhaps to help with dishes, but always to get a taste of what’s cooking. And it’s not always me at the helm. My husband, Jim, is an excellent cook, and when my girls, Anna and Camilla, take the reins, I’m buffaloed by their kitchen prowess.
Hours spent in this small room have become our family time—eating, talking, laughing, and learning. It is here, and around the dining table, that we share ideas and thoughts. It all happens around food.
Food is about community, and that’s why I cook. To feed myself, but more so, to nourish my family and friends. We don’t live in a mansion, and we don’t live on a farm, but our house is always open to visitors. Jim and I love to entertain, and we work together to prepare big meals using a multitude of fresh ingredients. Jim inspires creativity because he pushes the envelope to explore undiscovered flavors and new methods of cooking. It’s fun to see how people respond to these dishes. We thrive on the comings and goings of guests rich with knowledge and new ideas.
Over the years I’ve learned that sharing a meal is not about the perfect presentation nor elaborate haute cuisine—it’s about sincerity. Food that is prepared simply but deliciously is genuine. And it’s about love. Not just a love for the people with whom you share your food, but for the food itself. I can’t even begin to tell you how my heart surges at the first sight of plump sour cherries in summer. Or how my mood is elevated by the heady scent of freshly picked mint. I have such an enormous appreciation for good, fresh ingredients.
But that wasn’t always the case. Fifteen years ago when Jim and I would plan dinners, I’d want to know exactly what we were preparing before we went to the store. He’d say, “I’m just going to get what looks good.” In essence, he was buying what was freshest, what was in season. Me, I wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. Then I understood why he shopped how he did (and still does). Buying food seasonally is essential to good eating. Why in December would I eat unripe, flavorless strawberries that are white inside, when in June I can savor a deep red one with flesh so sweet and sumptuous its juices run down my chin?
My grandmother and mother always cooked this way, using seasonal, minimally processed, natural foods. It was their love of good food that brought people to the table. Over the years, though, there was a shift away from whole foods. Not for my grandmother, because she still doesn’t buy convenience foods, but for me. I always felt I ate pretty healthfully, but I really didn’t. I relied a little too regularly on white pasta, dry cereals, and white-flour baked goods. Sure, the cereals were organic and the baked goods were homemade, but they were still made from refined flours and sugars.
A SHIFT IN HOW WE EAT
Then came a time when my two girls started to ask for salads. They were young, eight and eleven, but they knew. Their bodies were telling them they needed to replace refined sugars with whole foods, and to them, raw greens from the garden made them feel good.
The girls had become aware of the relationship between what they ate and how they felt. It was at that time our family really started the conversation about healthy foods.
Our kids have good appetites, and have always eaten the vegetables I served, but now they were asking for them. I started to focus on whole food alternatives. I substituted brown rice for white (or sometimes mixed the two), then started using other whole grains, such as barley and quinoa.
Although home-baked goods may have gotten my girls to the table, now they were ready for more. The next few years became a time of great experimentation. I explored many new ingredients, from seeds to sea vegetables, and incorporated them into our daily meals.
Throughout all of this, my first priority has been the same: delicious food. I will not sacrifice a texture just so I can use quinoa flour nor will I add flaxseed if it adversely affects the flavor. I have worked to incorporate healthful ingredients in foods so they are nutritious, but more so, tasty. If I serve a dish that’s healthy but flavorless (believe me, my family kindly suffers through my failures), then it’s not satisfying. There is no joy in a dish that, while good for you, doesn’t taste good,
It was because of this way of eating—seasonally, whole, unprocessed—that I started developing recipes with vegetables, grains, and legumes as costars. My family has accepted these meals wholeheartedly. At least most of the time. Sometimes recipes are met with skepticism. When I cooked up whole freekeh for the first time, my husband neighed, insinuating that it looked like something horses eat, and my kids asked, “Wait, what is this?” One bite of the smoky, chewy grain, though, and they were hooked.
As I’ve been cooking this way, my tastes have changed. I no longer crave sweet things as I used to. My blood sugar levels are more consistent, without the highs and lows I used to experience when I ate more refined flours and sugars. This story of an improved diet is not new. It’s just that I’m excited to add my own ideas on how one can put plant-based foods first.
The mindset here is quality. I choose good whole grains over white refined ingredients; I buy seasonal produce over vegetables waiting to ripen on a ship. But this is not a diet book, and I’m not here to tell you what to eat. I’m here to show you how good good food can be.
WHOLE NATURAL FOODS ARE ABUNDANT IN PROTEIN
Vegetables have always been a part of my repertoire, but now they take precedence on the plate. I’m not vegetarian, but my family and I eat far less meat now than ever before.
The recurring question, though, is invariably asked, “How do you get enough protein if you’re not eating meat?”
And so my research began: How much protein do you really need? Can you get enough from a plant-based diet? Should you be supplementing with protein powders? My questions were numerous.
As you may already know, it’s easy. I feel people won’t even be asking the plant protein versus meat protein question in 10 years. No longer will anyone dispute the nutritional completeness of meatless meals.
Nature has made sure we are protected against a protein deficiency, as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources. Legumes, in particular, are rich in fiber, high in nutrients, low in saturated fat, and cholesterol-free.
Veg-centric eating is now routine for my family. One way I’ve kept my family interested is by offering a wide variety of foods. Kale is good for you, and you could eat it every night . . . but if that’s all you ate, you’d miss a whole fortune of nutrients supplied by the bounty of plant-based foods. Within these pages, I’ve included that same ample variety so you’ll find plant-based foods that appeal to you, provide you with balanced nutrition, and most important, taste good. I want to share with you my excitement for food because, boy, does a good, tasty bite make me happy—and hopefully will make you happy, too.
If you cook this way—using fresh, whole ingredients—you will see how easy it is to get the protein you need. So, let’s get started. Let’s find out what foods make you feel good.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF PROTEIN
Essential Amino Acids
histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine
Nonessential Amino Acids
alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cystine, glutamic acid, hydroxyproline
Conditional Amino Acids (essential in children, not in adults)
arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine
First though, I want to dispel some protein myths: Dietary protein is not only gained from eating animal products, and animal-based protein is not better for you than plant-based protein.
After water, protein is the second most-abundant substance in our body. It is the major structural component of every cell in our body, including our brain. In fact, our cells need protein. Without it, our organs cannot exist. Even hormones and antibodies are made up of proteins. About one in every ten of our calories consumed, or 10 to 35 percent of our daily calorie intake, should come from protein. It encourages weight loss, builds HDL (good cholesterol), and increases our metabolic rate.
Proteins are made up of amino acids—think of these as the building blocks of protein. There are 22 different kinds (and more are being discovered continually) that organisms use. Our body links amino acids together in thousands of ways to form protein molecules. We can produce 13 of the 22 amino acids and must obtain the others, called essential amino acids, from our food.
Protein is protein, regardless of the source. Yes, there is a difference in the amino acid profiles of animal- and plant-based proteins but, again, one is not better than the other. Animal proteins may be more bio-available than plant proteins, but the latter offers benefits that animal proteins don’t, such as fiber and phytochemicals. The proteins we ingest are broken down by our cells into their individual amino acids and then reassembled to build specific new proteins that our body needs. This process is called protein biosynthesis.
Proteins, and more so amino acids, are not only building blocks. They are extremely important to healing. I learned this firsthand when I was hospitalized earlier this year. I had a terrible burn on my leg and foot and was admitted to New York Presbyterian’s Burn Unit for a week. During this time, the nurses repeated over and over, “Drink your shakes, get your protein.” In addition to the three meals, the hospital provided ready-made nutrition shakes that each contained 13 grams of protein. They wanted me to drink three to four a day for increased healing.
However, when I read the ingredients, I realized I wasn’t only getting protein but also all these other things: water, corn maltodextrin, sugar, milk protein concentrate, canola oil, cocoa (processed with alkali), corn oil, soy protein isolate, and less than 0.5 percent of potassium citrate, magnesium phosphate, soy lecithin, sodium citrate, natural and artificial flavor, potassium chloride . . . and that was only the first quarter of the list.
What is all that stuff? After reading the label, I could barely stomach the shakes. The ingredients all seemed to have been extracted or created. Ugh. This made me even more focused on finding healthy, natural sources of protein. I wanted whole foods, not processed shakes.
Essentially all vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds contain some protein. The difference between animal- and plant-based proteins is usually the amount of amino acids they contain. So, while animal products provide complete proteins, most plant-based sources have some protein but are usually low in certain amino acids. Grains, for example, are low in lysine. Legumes, on the other hand, are high in lysine but low in methionine. Many cultures pair grains and legumes in traditional dishes—rice or corn and beans in Central and South America and soybeans and rice in Asia. The amino acids of the foods complement each other to create whole proteins.
The idea that certain foods are low in some amino acids was discovered in the early 1900s, but it was in the 1970s that the respected, well-known anti-hunger activist Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Books, 20th Anniversary Edition, 1991), suggested that combining foods with specific complementary amino acids at every meal was important. However, Lappé amended the statement a decade later, reporting that it was unnecessary to tediously count amino acids like calories, combining and recording them at meals. This is good news: You can get the amino acids you need from eating different types of plant-based foods and it doesn’t have to be accomplished in the same meal.
Complementary amino acids do not need to be consumed at the same time, but may be eaten over the course of a day. So, if you eat beans at lunch and rice at dinner, it’s the same for your body as eating a big bowl of rice and beans together.
Not to get all science-y on you, but protein is truly fascinating. If this amino acid breakdown interests you, read on. Otherwise, just skip forward to the recipes!
The following page contains USDA daily recommended amounts of amino acids. By comparing tofu and brown rice, you see that 2½ cups of tofu meet those recommendations as do 16 cups of cooked brown rice. This chart shows all the necessary amino acids you’re getting that build proteins from two examples of plant-based foods. Of course, this is not how you should get your protein, as other nutrition would be forfeited, but I think this visual reference makes it easy to understand that plant-based foods are full of proteins.
The Center for Disease Control’s average requirement of protein for women aged 19 to 70 is 46 grams per day, and 56 grams per day for men over 19 years of age.
You can use this formula to calculate the daily amount of protein the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends you need:
Your weight in kilos × 0.8 grams = number of protein grams per day (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound)
Some sources say you may need as much as 1 gram protein multiplied by your weight in kilograms if you are getting only vegetarian protein to account for decreased protein bioavailability. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and even endurance athletes should consult the USDA website (usda.gov) for specific recommendations.
Source: Dietary Reference Intakes For Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2002 and 2005, THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001.
Amounts of amino acids are in milligrams. His=histidine Try=tryptophan, Thr=threonine, Iso=isoleucine, Leu=leucine, Lys=lysine, Met+Cys=methionine+cysteine, Phe+Tyr=phenylalanine+tyrosine, Val=valine
DAILY MEAL PAIRINGS
While it’s easy for me to say that protein recommendations can be met through a vegetarian diet, let me show you with numbers. This sample meal plan is not designed for cooking efficiency or frugal grocery lists; it is strictly here to show you how eating a balanced plant-based diet achieves, if not exceeds, sufficient protein intake.
The daily protein recommendations below are based on the Center for Disease Control’s average requirement of protein for people aged 19 to 70, which is 46 to 56 grams per day.
However, some sources* suggest a higher plant-based protein intake for vegetarians is needed to compensate for plant protein bioavailability. This recommendation is 1g protein × your weight in kilograms.
You can see that by eating a variety of dishes, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and some dairy, whether you go by the recommended 46g or 59g of protein per day, these intakes are easily met.
Keep in mind, this chart does not include other foods you may serve with a meal, such as a side of rice with a curry or a topping of fruit on oatmeal, which would only increase nutrition and protein values.
*Protein dietary reference intakes may be inadequate for vegetarians if low amounts of animal protein are consumed Kniskern, Megan A. et al. Nutrition, Volume 27, Issue 6, 727–730
“May I please have some more of that?” my nephew David asked of the root vegetable hash at breakfast one morning. “I just love it,” he said. My heart sang. Not because he liked my cooking, but because this kid was eating vegetables, and really good ones, such as sweet potatoes and turnips. You see, David once only ate white foods: white bread, white pasta, white cheese. Yes, turnip is snowy white, but it is also a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Tossed with some fresh herbs and paired with a buttery fried egg, this hash is simple to prepare. Roasting the vegetables sweetens them and a quick fry adds a gratifying crispy crust. This particular occasion gave me hope for anyone who claims not to like vegetables. If the vegetables are fresh and prepared to enhance their natural flavors instead of masking them, even the toughest customer can usually be sold on their divineness.
I admit, I once treated vegetables like second-class citizens. I would decide what meat I was going to prepare, then the vegetables would follow. Now, vegetables are my starting point. I choose what looks good when I get to the market and the vegetables I pick become the anchor for my meal.
Buying the freshest ingredients is vital to good eating. If you can buy them at a farmers’ market, fantastic. There has been over a 350 percent increase in farmers’ markets nationwide since 1994. The USDA estimated 8,268 markets were operating in 2014.
Understanding what you’re putting on your plate is a step toward a sustainable, local food system. These buzzwords—farm to table, local, sustainable—are used more often than they are understood. Other terms may be misused as well: One company actually labels its salt GMO-free—hasn’t anyone there noticed that salt is not a living organism? This is why it’s extremely important to know exactly how these words pertain to your food purchases. At a farmers’ market, you can ask the vendor how and where the foodstuff was grown and harvested. Some farmers don’t want to pay for an organic certification but they still use organic practices. You can find out whether the farmer sprays, and whether those sprays are harmful. Vendors are oftentimes brimming with a plethora of knowledge.
Since foods sold at markets come directly from farmers, they are fresher and retain more nutritional benefits than their mass-market counterparts. The produce farmers deliver is not sitting in storage waiting to ripen. Because there is less distance between you and your food, fewer natural resources are used to get the produce to you. A smaller carbon footprint is left. The food is usually less processed and not waxed. You don’t have to scan for unwanted ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup—not to mention there is no packaging label claiming health benefits. There isn’t even a package, for that matter.
That said, don’t fret if you can’t make it to a market. I certainly always don’t. Our nearby grocery store is starting to carry more and more local produce, which tells me there is a demand for fresh, whole foods.
While I’m a fervent advocate of farmers’ markets, the most important thing to keep in mind here is to buy whole, unprocessed foods. Even plain frozen vegetables are better than a frozen casserole-type dish loaded with preservatives. The unprocessed vegetables from grocery and big-box stores are still that—good, unprocessed vegetables!
The recipes in this book cover a wide range of ingredients, from heirloom beans and farro to pea shoots and burrata. Never heard of these things or know you can’t get them at the market near you? No worries. I offer substitutions or suggested alternatives for ingredients that are just becoming available on a national scale.
If you haven’t yet but are interested in exploring new (ancient) grain varieties, seek out a health food store in your area. Most likely they sell these pantry staples in bulk. Alternatively, you can order them from an online resource. As for something like pea shoots, they’re only available for a short period, usually from a farmers’ market. In the particular recipe calling for them, I suggest arugula as an alternative.
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of your local environment. I don’t even mention ramps in the book because as far as I know they can only be foraged. I am so fortunate to be able to get them in the woods near my house—one of the benefits of living in the Catskill Mountains. I do oftentimes use them in place of scallions when they are in season, and I’ve included a photo (pages 6–7) because they are just so darn gorgeous. What do you get in your area that I can’t get in New York? Truffles in North Carolina or Oregon perhaps? I believe there are lots of hazelnuts in Oregon, too. And how about pawpaw in Ohio? This is an example of how to use what you can get your hands on. Maybe you don’t have ramps, but you can grow onions in a window box, so don’t hesitate to use them.
Our house is in the country, but our garden is modest and so is our harvest. Our friends and neighbors are so kind to share their yards and yields. They call to say we can pick blueberries anytime. My girls come home with purple-stained fingers—and lips—and baskets brimming with plump, juicy berries. When the peaches are ripe, our neighbors send bushelfuls our way.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on protein and know how much you need, let’s get to the good part: eating it!
The recipes in this book are ones I feed to, and have been vetted by, my family, friends, and neighbors. The dishes I used in the photos are my own, hence a small chip or imperfection, and everything was shot right in my dining room and kitchen. I tried to photograph things as they would be when I put them on the table. I find beauty in the rustic look of a stew served from a Dutch oven or vegetables piled high on a platter straight from the roasting pan. While we were photographing this book, neighbors sent over ingredients they had in abundance for the shoot—collards, kale, apples, squash, and eggs came from Holz Farm up the street. The Reisses sent over tomatoes, garlic, and lentils. We’re always borrowing something or another from each other.
This is where headnotes and cook’s notes come in. These tidbits of information are what I would say to you if I were cooking with you in the kitchen, just like I’d say to my friend or neighbor, “Hey there, I love this dish because . . .” or “What about using this ingredient instead?” I might also say, “Did you know this is good for you because . . .”
My hope is that after you’ve followed some of the recipes in this book, you start to experiment. The idea is for you to find what combinations you like, and then expand on them using the ingredients you have on hand or that are available at the market. You can and should most definitely follow the recipes as written, but you can also use them as guidelines. Insert your own flair and favorite flavors. I’ve called on my travel and culinary experiences to bring varied spices and ingredient combinations to the pages of this book. From Jamaican Rice and Peas (page 165) to Soba Noodles in Broth with Bok Choy (page 131), these recipes are reflective of travels spanning from Jamaica to Japan.
When you’re cooking, think in terms of your five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. If something seems flat, add some vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice. If it needs a fresh accent, throw in a handful of cilantro or parsley. Never shy away from salt and pepper.
Speaking of which, I use salt and pepper quite liberally. If you are on a restricted diet, of course amend the amounts to your needs. I talk more specifically about types and brands in the “Stocking Your Pantry and Fridge” section (page 17). In general though, if I say a pinch or two, it’s just under ⅛ teaspoon. I use kosher salt, so a pinch of that will yield more than a pinch of table salt. For other measurements, when I call for a heaping cup, it is a cup plus a small handful.
In recipes that call for milk, I either specify whole milk for cow’s milk or list the specific type of milk, such as almond milk, coconut milk, and so on. If you can use any type of milk—cow, nut, soy—in a recipe I say “milk of your choice.” Keep in mind that the protein changes significantly when you use nut milks in place of cow or soy milk. Nut milks are very low in protein.
I’ve also analyzed the protein content of a serving of each recipe, so when you put together a day’s meal plan, you’ll have a general idea of how many protein grams you’re taking in.
A good point of reference: a 3-ounce can of chunk light tuna in water has 16 grams of protein. Many of the lunch recipes contain around that on average.
In the dinner chapter, there are some recipes that contain less, but that is because I’ve written those to be eaten with other dishes. Pair several recipes together for a complete meal.
When planning the chapters, I’ve thought of the lunch dishes as more stand-alone, sandwich, and salad-type meals, while quite a few of the dinner recipes are meant to be paired with another dish, if even a salad. This is to provide variety of tastes and textures.
Of course, I hope you’ll combine any and all of these recipes without feeling you need to follow a prescribed mealtime or plan. Have breakfast for dinner. We often do.
Also note that serving sizes are general. Most recipes serve four, but some serve more, some less. For example, I generally make smoothies for one or two. You can easily double those recipes, though. I base the recipes on what I feel would feed the average woman (like myself), so adjust portions accordingly.
STOCKING YOUR PANTRY AND FRIDGE
Nearly all of the ingredients in this book should be available in most parts of the country. The food landscape has changed—ingredients that I could have never sourced locally (or even known about) 10 years ago are now sold at my nearby grocery store. I try to gauge availability by what’s at our small market upstate where I can now find millet, chia seeds, and farro.
Adding new healthy foods to your pantry doesn’t come cheaply, though. I do find a little goes a long way. Just a splash of a complex balsamic vinegar can brighten a dish and a good jar of honey can last for months.
barley, brown rice, old-fashioned rolled oats, farro, freekeh, amaranth, whole buckwheat groats, quinoa
Keeping an assortment of grains in my pantry encourages me to break routine and cook with variety. While amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are actually seeds and not grains, I’ve included them here because they’re treated like grains. Grains vary in taste, but can often be substituted for one of a similar size and texture in many dishes, so don’t hesitate to experiment.
If your local market doesn’t carry a particular grain, check out a health food store or look for a retailer that sells Bob’s Red Mill products. The company offers a large selection of organic whole grains and legumes nationwide.
If gluten is an issue when you’re cooking, for yourself or others, be sure to avoid barley, rye, and wheat, including all varieties such as freekeh and farro (emmer, einkorn, and spelt). Buckwheat is safe though. Also, although oats do not inherently contain wheat, they can be cross-contaminated, so use only certified gluten-free oats and oat flour.
white whole-wheat, spelt, oat, rye, light buckwheat, almond, quinoa, and coconut flours
If you have a high-powered blender, I encourage you to take a stab at grinding your own flours (page 37). It takes seconds, and making nut and grain flours is much more cost-effective than buying them. I am a big fan of King Arthur Flour products for both ground flours and whole grains.
I have replaced the use of all-purpose white flour almost exclusively with white whole-wheat flour in my kitchen. White whole-wheat is the same as whole-wheat flour in the sense that it’s ground from the entire wheat kernel—unlike all-purpose white flour, which is bleached and the bran and germ removed. The difference is that white whole-wheat flour is ground from a hard white wheat berry instead of a red wheat berry, like traditional whole-wheat flour. The result: a flour that has all the nutritional advantages of traditional whole-wheat but with a lighter color and milder taste.
Oat and almond flours are two of my favorites for gluten-free baking.
chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, cannellini beans, red beans, heirloom bean varieties, edamame
Both dried and canned beans are easy to store, so I keep an abundance of them in my pantry. There is no question that dried beans are tastier than canned. The texture is firmer and the taste is more prominent. Canned beans work well though when you’re pressed for time. While some say beans store indefinitely, they are best used within a year of their expiration. The longer you keep beans, the longer they take to cook (old beans could take as long as two hours).
NUTS AND SEEDS
almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, nut butters
Nuts and seeds are compact protein packs. These nutritional powerhouses are high in healthy fats, too, such as omega-3s. I tend to store the bulk of my nuts and seeds in the freezer though, because they can go rancid quickly due to their high fat content. I keep smaller amounts in airtight lidded glass jars. A handful of nuts or seeds sprinkled on a dish adds interest to any meal. You’ll notice I include peanuts in this grouping, which I do because, although they are legumes, they are treated as nuts in the US.
DRIED MUSHROOMS AND SEA VEGETABLES
porcini, shiitake, kombu, nori, arame, hijiki
Both mushrooms and sea vegetables (seaweed) are thought to have great healing properties. Sea vegetables are good sources of minerals—iron, calcium, magnesium—and mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants. I especially like to use both of these ingredients for making broths.
OILS AND FATS
cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil, sesame oil, a neutral oil such as canola or grapeseed, hot chili oil, grass-fed butter
Fats were once shunned and low- or nonfat diets were touted as healthy. We now know that healthy fats are essential for proper body function—fats help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and some high-quality oils can actually increase good HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Good-quality, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is my go-to fat. I buy it by the liter and use it on most everything. I even use it for popping corn. I once made popcorn with canola oil and my kids asked why it wasn’t good. Aah, no olive oil. Oils add flavor and rich texture to foods when you use them. We are satiated when we get the fats we need.
12 PROTEIN-BOOSTING PLANT-BASED FOODS
1 cup cooked lentils = 18 grams protein
1 cup shelled edamame = 16 grams protein
1 cup cooked black beans = 15 grams protein
1 cup cooked quinoa = 8 grams protein
3 ounces soy tempeh = 16 grams protein
3 ounces tofu = 8 grams protein
2 slices whole grain bread = 7 to 8 grams protein
2 tablespoons hemp seed = 8 grams protein
15 almonds = 4 grams protein
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes = 8 grams protein
1 cup raw spinach = 5 grams protein
1 whole avocado = 4 grams protein
Substituting a few protein- and fiber-rich foods for less nutritious ingredients commonly found in pantries can make a big difference.
Coconut oil is another favorite, as is organic butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows. There really is no replacement for the taste of creamy butter. But for all fats, moderation is key.
SALTS, HERBS, AND SPICES
salts include Diamond Crystal kosher salt, Maldon sea salt; herbs include fresh thyme, tarragon, rosemary, basil, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, oregano, and dried bay leaves; dried spices include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, garam masala, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and black peppercorns in a grinder
Proper seasoning heightens the flavor of foods. I used to be hesitant with salt—now I find it enlivens flavors, as does the liberal use of fresh herbs. If you find a dish is missing something, often it can just be the lack of salt. I am a Diamond Crystal kosher salt devotee. It has a wonderfully coarse texture that allows you to control the amount when adding a pinch, which is hard to do with table salt. It also has no additives.
I always try to have some fresh herbs on hand. Just a sprinkle can elevate most any vegetable a notch. If I could only grow one thing in my garden, herbs would be it. Don’t ask me to choose which one though . . . I don’t know that I could. Basil? Thyme? Rosemary? I buy spices I don’t use often in small amounts to ensure freshness and aromatic flavors.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of a pepper mill. There is no replacement for freshly ground pepper. Pepper that is purchased already ground seems absolutely tasteless. A grinder that you can use to crack the peppercorns right over your food is key. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t use my pepper mill (unless I eat all my meals out!).
balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, umeboshi vinegar, rice vinegar
It can be tempting to buy the cheapest vinegar on the shelf, but with this pantry staple, you most definitely get what you pay for. For example, true balsamic vinegar is concentrated, fermented, and aged. The result is a dark, rich, and thick vinegar to be used sparingly. Likewise, raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized vinegars are very different from the refined and distilled ones usually found in most supermarkets. When vinegar is pasteurized, it is heated to a degree that beneficial nutrients are removed. While those refined vinegars are fine for cleaning, look for Bragg brand cider vinegar or other naturally fermented ones to use when cooking.
pure maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar
Sugar is sugar is sugar when it comes to calories. Whether it’s honey, brown sugar, or molasses, they’re all quite comparable. There’s so much controversy regarding sugar these days. My thought: Use less. When I do use sweeteners, I prefer maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar because they are close to their original source. I use very little granulated sugar anymore.
DAIRY AND EGGS
milk, buttermilk, cream, yogurt, butter/ghee, ricotta, eggs
When it comes to dairy products, I try to buy closest to the source whenever possible. I now seek out cheeses at the farmers’ market and always try to buy natural dairy products that are made from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows.
Organic products can be outrageously expensive though, so I use them in moderation (but still splurge on higher quality for more nutritional value—and taste!). Compare, for example, butter from grass-fed cows versus grain-fed ones. The butter from cows who eat grass has more vitamins and omega-3s, plus it’s golden, creamy, and delicious.
Likewise, I seek out eggs from pastured chickens, ones that are out running in fields. Again, a farmers’ market is a good source for fresh eggs.
DAIRY AND EGGS PROVIDE HIGH-QUALITY PROTEINS
1 cup Greek-style yogurt = 20 grams protein
1 cup plain yogurt = 12 grams protein
1 cup kefir = 11 grams protein
1 cup whole milk = 8 grams protein
1 ounce Parmesan cheese = 10 grams protein
1 ounce Cheddar cheese = 6 grams protein
¼ cup ricotta cheese = 7 grams protein
1 large raw egg = 6 grams protein
KITCHEN TOOLS TO CONSIDER
As for kitchen tools, I have listed the 12 items I use daily. Of course, I could make do with less, but these are what I consider my essentials.
No fancy equipment or tools are required for recipes in this book. However, I do use a trendy little spiralizer for one recipe, and if you have a mandoline, that could come in handy, too.
The three appliances I use again and again are a food processor, blender, and stand mixer. In addition to these items, I’d say good knives and cutting boards are two of the best investments I’ve made.
If I could take one kitchen tool to a desert island, this would be it—inexpensive yet sturdy. Most anything can be cooked in a cast-iron skillet, from stir-fries and sautés to breads and pancakes. I kind of wonder how I ever lived without one. When treated properly, a seasoned cast-iron pan has a wonderful nonstick surface that is great for searing. I never use soap when washing it. I just scrub it clean with hot water and heat it on the stovetop immediately until it’s bone dry, to prevent rust from developing. Never let your cast-iron sit in water. If you can’t clean it right away, you’re better off leaving it to sit with food debris until you’re ready to clean it.
A good-quality enameled or cast-iron Dutch oven is a beautiful thing. It can go from stove to table; it conducts heat well; you can fry in it, braise in it, and make soups in it.
MY 12 MOST-USED KITCHEN TOOLS
Two sharp knives
Wooden cutting board
Good baking sheet
TWO SHARP KNIVES
Good knives are critical to success in the kitchen. Have you ever tried cutting a squash with a dull knife and had that knife slip? It’s really scary. A dull knife is actually a hazard just for that reason. Professional chefs carry their own knives so they can keep them sharp and cared for. Keeping a knife clean and dry is extremely important to the life of the blade. Knives should never be stored loosely in a drawer. Either a knife guard or sheath works if you don’t have a knife block or rack for storage.
While a cast-iron skillet is my true kitchen darling, I’m very fond of our Sabatier chef’s knife. This high-quality knife is well worth the expensive price tag. We have accumulated several knives over the years, including a boning and serrated knife, but my second most used knife is a paring knife, good for peeling and sectioning fruits.
A knife sharpener is essential too. It need not be fancy. A small and inexpensive handheld one does the job just fine.
WOODEN CUTTING BOARD
I prefer wooden cutting boards over plastic because I feel they’re gentler on knives and respond better to a blade. I have a number of them and use one specifically for onions and garlic. I’ve made the mistake of cutting a sweet tart on a board that was used for onions earlier in the evening, which although it had been washed, still made dessert taste oniony.
There are now many different types and sizes of Microplane graters. I have several, but the one I use most is the classic thin zester/grater. It works for lemon zest as well as finely grated Parmesan.
I like a good, sturdy colander with a base and handles for rinsing vegetables and draining beans and pastas, but I use my long-handled fine-mesh strainer for most everything else: straining nut milks, sifting flours, draining grains, and making cheese.
A large set of glass bowls was not a purchase I expected to appreciate as much as I do. They work for many different purposes with prepping, mixing, or combining a large number of ingredients. They’re also compact because they nest, so they fit nicely in a small cupboard space.
There is a large crock next to my stove jammed with spatulas, whisks, and wooden spoons of many sizes that I’ve collected over the years. I once stayed in a rental house without wooden spoons—only plastic ones—and was surprised at how much I missed their sturdier cousin. A wooden spoon is strong and feels good in the hand, plus, although they can burn if put near flames, they don’t melt.
I use a simple wooden reamer, which is basically a handle with a pointy, tapered, ribbed spherical cone attached. I have three other kinds of juicers and never bother to use them as this little handheld tool is the quickest and most efficient.
Cooking by weight is important when preparing food in large quantities, especially when baking. For this book, though, I use cup and spoon measures because it is the standard for most US kitchens. I do try to include weights of foods that are not measured by cups; for example, whole eggplants or potatoes. I have a digital scale that cost less than $30 and serves me very well.
There is no replacement for a good baking sheet. Cheaply made pans may not heat evenly and may cause foods to burn. Thick aluminum, rimmed pans (11 × 17 inches) are my absolute favorite. In fact, I have no others. I roast directly on the pans and they have developed a nice patina, which gives them a nonsticklike finish. I have two pans that I keep just for baking, almost always with parchment or a silicone mat, so they remain pristine.
Baking sheets and parchment paper go hand in hand. Lining trays and pans with parchment prevents foods from sticking to them when cooking and can also aid in lifting baked goods out of pans. It makes clean up really easy too. You can also use parchment as its own self-contained baking pan (see page 159, cooking en papillote). I always buy two rolls at a time so that I’m never without.
While I truly believe whole, fresh ingredients are the secret to good cooking, mastering some basic techniques can make food preparation much more enjoyable. Cooking a perfect pot of beans comes strictly from practice—knowing to check them after a certain amount of time, continuing to test them until they’re done, and not worrying if they still need to cook after an hour of simmering time. This kind of confidence comes from cooking beans again and again. Just like roasting vegetables. You’ll recognize the familiar smell of carrots caramelizing and know it’s time to toss them. No recipe needed. The following chapter provides a quick lowdown on a handful of techniques I use daily. These are not novel and certainly an experienced chef will be familiar with them, but they are essential to many of the recipes in this book. You’ll find other cooking methods and preparations, from quick pickling to frying, described within the recipes, but the following how-tos will give you a good start.
Whole grains, as opposed to processed grains, are the most beneficial to any diet. They still contain the bran and germ, which is where most of the protein and other nutritional content is stored. The outer layers of a grain kernel, including the bran, are removed from processed grains.
Whole grains do have a higher fat content than processed grains, which means the oils can go rancid faster (which is one reason processed grains gained such popularity—their long shelf life).
Grains can be soaked to shorten cooking times, but overall, most grains are cooked on the stovetop with a 2:1 liquid-to-grain ratio. More liquid may be needed for particular grains, such as barley. Generally, grains and liquids are brought to a boil, then the heat is lowered to a simmer, the grains are covered, and they are cooked at a low temperature until tender.
TO SOAK OR NOT TO SOAK
Nuts, seeds, grains, legumes—I use loads of them in my cooking, and in this book. They all naturally contain phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to minerals and prevents them from being absorbed by our body. It’s debatable whether phytates (phytic acid) should be of concern. However, to avoid them, you can soak nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Not only does soaking reduce phytic acid, it also neutralizes enzymes, which some say can cause trouble with digestion.
Cooking times depend on whether the grain is whole, hulled, pearled, polished, or rolled, among other processes. For actual cooking times, refer to the package or the directions available in the bulk grain section for the particular grain you are preparing.
Sturdier grains, such as rice, barley, and farro, can be cooked in big batches and frozen in dinner-size portions to have on hand for quick weeknight meals.
DRIED BEANS, NUTS, AND SEEDS
Unlike grains, which are pretty standard in their cooking times, dried beans can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours (or possibly even longer) to cook.
Soaking beans overnight not only reduces cooking times but it also breaks down gas-producing compounds in beans. Beans can double or triple in size when soaked, so put them in a large container and cover them with ample amounts of water. Pick over your beans for pebbles or other debris before soaking them and remove any beans that float while soaking them.
After you have soaked the beans overnight (or for 8 hours), rinse and drain them well. Put them in a cooking pot and add enough water to cover them by at least an inch or two. At this point you can add a bay leaf and even a mix of diced carrot, celery, onion, and herbs tied in a cheesecloth for flavor. Bring the water to a boil. Lower heat, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer gently until tender.
There is no exact science to cooking beans. Lentils tend to take only 30 minutes or less to cook, whereas dried kidney beans can take up to 2 hours. After about 40 minutes, check your beans periodically, about every 10 minutes, to see whether they are tender. When they are, drain off any excess liquid and use as desired. Conversely, if the beans look as if they may boil dry at any point, add some extra water or stock. Some recipes do require you to save the cooking liquid, though, so check before discarding it.
Add salt when the beans just start to become tender. If you add salt at the beginning of the cooking process, it can cause them to become tough.
While sprouting may sound intimidating—because if you don’t have a green thumb, growing anything can seem daunting (believe me, I know)—sprouting beans and seeds is actually a lot of fun. There are no weeds to pull, either!
You can sprout most type of beans, including adzuki beans, peas, and lentils. You can also sprout seeds, such as pumpkin. I call for sprouted mung beans in Crunchy Mung Bean Sprout Salad (page 93), so mung beans could be a good place to start. Sprouts can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days to grow, but most grow within 2 days. The most important element when growing sprouts is to rinse them at least two times a day.
To sprout beans, put ½ cup or so of dried beans in a large bowl and cover them with several inches of water. (The yield is at least two times, if not four to five times, their original size.) Cover the bowl with a plate or towel and leave the beans to sit overnight.
In the morning, drain and rinse the beans. They are now activated. At this point you may keep the beans in a strainer over a bowl covered with a light cloth, continuing to rinse them every 6 hours or so (two times a day minimum). You may also do this same process in a jar covered with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Fill the jar with water and turn it upside down to drain out the water through the cheesecloth.
Over the next few days, sprouts will start to appear and could be anywhere from ⅛ inch to 2 inches. Keep the sprouts refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Toasting nuts and seeds heightens their flavor because, like whole grains, they have a high oil content. Toasting also makes them crunchier.
The most common ways to toast nuts are in the oven or on the stovetop. I prefer the stovetop because you can better control the end result.
To toast them on the stovetop, place the nuts or seeds in a dry skillet and heat over medium heat for several minutes (usually 3 to 4 minutes), stirring constantly or continually shaking the pan.
Because of the high fat content, nuts and seeds tend to burn easily. Stop as soon as you see the nuts or seeds turning slightly golden—or when you smell a fragrant, toasted aroma. Use your sight and nose to judge doneness.
Transfer the toasted nuts or seeds immediately to a bowl or plate, as they will continue to cook in the heated pan even if it’s off the heat.
ROASTING, SAUTÉING, AND STEAMING
Gone are the days of boiling vegetables until they are unrecognizable. Vegetables are now the stars and cooking techniques should only heighten their flavors. I favor roasting. It is relatively easy, can be fast, and deepens their taste. The oven’s heat caramelizes the vegetables’ skins while it softens and sweetens their interiors.
I routinely toss sliced or chopped vegetables on an 11 × 17-inch rimmed baking sheet with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a heavy pinch or two of kosher salt. I add a few grinds of black pepper and roast at 400°F for anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on the vegetable. I toss them occasionally with a spatula to ensure even cooking. You will find this method used religiously throughout the book.
Second in frequency to roasting is sautéing, which I do almost as often. The base of many of my savory recipes starts with sautéed onions, garlic, and carrots or other vegetables, such as leeks or pepper, a mirepoix of sorts.
Steaming vegetables, or cooking them in a steaming basket over rapidly simmering water, cooks them quickly while retaining their nutrients. I prefer this method to boiling because it preserves their flavor better, too.
With all of these techniques, I find the more I use them, the more they become second nature. If these are new to you, with practice, you will soon know the cooking times for your oven and pans and will be able to whip out some roasted veggies without looking at a book.