Delicious meals don’t require fancy ingredients or the latest kitchen gadgets. We’re all capable of cooking our tastiest meals by boiling it down to simple recipes and real food ingredients.
BY: MARCY GASTON, MS, RD, CD
I’m going out on a limb here and state: cooking is not rocket science. Rather, cooking is a skill that most people can learn.
I hear the groans out there as you read this. I hear the excuses everyone makes. Most people want convenience and want food served quickly. Your lives are busy. That’s why you opt for ready-made meals, fast-food, or take-out. I get it. To you, cooking (and shopping for food) takes time. It does. I fully admit that. But why does one person in the house have to do all the cooking and shopping (and kitchen clean up)? Maybe it’s time for the family to pitch in and help out. You don’t need to use fancy cooking techniques or ingredients. No one needs a sous vide machine or to use black garlic. These things just are not necessary.
Here’s the main secret to cooking: use real food.
What is real food? Food that is minimally processed. Specifically:
- Fruit and Vegetables: either fresh or frozen; canned beans and tomatoes are fine
- Meat & Poultry: Organic or grass fed (or pastured/free range)
- Seafood: wild caught fish (although, farmed mussels are prevalent where I live)
- Dried pasta
- Bulk items — rice, nuts, grains, etc.
- Dairy: full-fat dairy because it has the absolute best flavor
- Oil: olive oil (my preferred oil for almost anything, even baking)
- Spices: I have a whole cupboard full of spices, most of which I bought in the bulk food section at the supermarket
I have come to realize that the best recipes are the most simple in nature, using simple ingredients. For example, my favorite meal is roasted chicken. Why? Because it is simple and fills my home with lovely aromas. I make a rub with lemon zest, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil that gets spread on the meat under the skin and all over the outside of the chicken. Rosemary stems and quartered lemons are stuffed into the cavity before being baked. That’s it. Simple meal.
What to serve with that roasted chicken? Your vegetable of choice —either sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and a touch of red pepper flakes or roasted in the oven with the same ingredients. You can vary it up by adding different spices or herbs (rosemary with potatoes, allspice on carrots), but that’s up to you. I’m telling you — do not make it hard.
We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that processed food equals tasty. Or that processed food equals easy. Is it really easier? Is it really tastier than a meal made with real food? To me, highly processed food equals poor health. For instance, to make low-fat or fat-free foods taste good, manufacturers add salt and sugar or other additives to make it taste better. The more ingredients on the label, the more processed it is and the furthest it is from nature. And quite honestly the worst it tastes.
Simple ingredients equals delicious meals. It’s time to stop watching the Food Network competition shows and actually step into the kitchen. You can make a simple pesto pasta in under 20 minutes. And that includes making the pesto at home (as opposed to store-bought).
Not convinced yet? Let’s look at cultures who have the most centenarians (people who live to be 100) — Okinawans, Costa Ricans, and Italians. What do they eat?
Simple. Real. Food.
Their cuisines vary but share a lot of similarities — a plethora of fruits and vegetables, seafood as often as possible, some meat and poultry, and healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, full-fat dairy). What’s absent from their meals? Processed food. They take time to cook simple meals. They take the time to cook and enjoy food.
Because food should be honored and enjoyed.
So, I challenge everyone to learn how to cook and appreciate the joy of simple food. Forget complicated recipes with many steps and a list of ingredients only found in specialty shops. It’s time to learn how to cook and eat again. And appreciate what good, simple food should taste like.
HEADER IMAGE: KATIE SMITH
Marcy Gaston, MS, RD, CD is a private practice dietitian and chef based in Whidbey Island, WA. With a focus on integrating cooking and sustainability, Marcy guides individuals towards healthy eating habits that mutually support the food system in order to protect future generations to come.