Last week I had the absolute pleasure of teaching a group of incredible people at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for Nutrition and Cooking Immersion (a program I co-taught for over a year). My esteemed colleague, John Bagnulo, MPH, PhD talks nutrition and health (plus farming, food politics and everything in between) in the morning and in the afternoon, I have the great pleasure of cooking with all my students (and picking up where John may have left off). On the first day of class, I make this promise to roughly thirty-two people who seem overwhelmed by the mere fact that they signed up for a program that will inevitably change their relationship with food (a scary thing)—cooking can be simple, nutritious and delicious. And my words are often met with wide eyes, subtle chuckles and range of eager yet slightly neurotic questions (and I only mean that lovingly to all of my students)! So for a week we jam in the kitchen. Literally. From knife skills and cooking techniques to ways to use basic ingredients like fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and more to create dishes where nutritious always meets delicious. And while I didn’t use these exact words last week, I basically tell all my students to undress their food.
What I mean by “undress” is let go of what you know or think you know and allow yourself to touch, smell, taste and appreciate the colors of fresh, know where your nourishment comes from food. Cooking does not have to be complicated and flavors don’t need to be complex. Food can be tasty with the simplicity of oils whether extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil or walnut oil; citrus like lemon, lime, orange or even grapefruit; fresh herbs and spices; and simple condiments like salt, tamari (a type of soy sauce), mirin (sweet rice wine) and vinegars.
As a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts food as health was always first but I had the opportunity to learn about the French julienne (food that is cut into perfect “matchsticks”) and how to make a béchamel sauce, one of the mother sauces of French cuisine (a precise mixture of butter, flour and milk often used as a base for many other sauces). And while I appreciated every bit of that education, who the heck wants to take the time to cut the perfect carrot and to sauce up your sauce? In the end, I always saw food as pure nourishment and finding the quickest and healthiest way to get from A to Z with clients meant dressing down, not dressing up.
So, a few tips for you if you want nutritious to always meet delicious:
- Loose the desire to make your food look perfect
- Choose simple recipes to follow (if you like following recipes)—you can check out Power Up by Dr. Woodson Merrell and Kathy Merrell as I have 70 recipes in that book; or some of my “go to” cookbooks
- Ditch the store bought sauces
- Invest in the basic ingredients
- Start simple
As for my students in general, they often say, “I never realized that cooking can be this simple.” As for my inspirational group last week, they now feel liberated with respect to cooking and decisions about cooking. You can too. So, please undress your food and know that simple is the solution.