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gourmet doesn’t have to be laborious
In America today it seems like we can either have fast food or healthy food, but it’s rare to find both at once. When it comes to nutrition and taste, there’s no substitute for old-fashioned home-cooked food that is lovingly prepared. But that doesn’t mean that we have to spend all day slaving over a hot stove in order to have food that is delicious and nutritious. Gourmet doesn’t have to be laborious. A little knowledge is all it takes to make the difference between taxing and tantalizing.
Knowing how different foods work in your body is a good place to start in order to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. For example, if you know that tomatoes are a nightshade that can deplete you of valuable B vitamins, your anti-stress vitamins, you might not want a sauce full of them that often. Some doctors and nutritionists advise eating tomatoes for the lycopene they contain. Lycopene is a powerful anti-oxidant that can help lower bad cholesterol and might protect you from some diseases.
But the question is how much of them to eat. The answer depends on each individual’s needs. A couple of slices of tomato rather than a whole plate of them might be a good choice for someone looking for a happy medium. If you are feeling run down and want to eat foods that will give you more energy, then choosing foods and cooking styles that will offer a pick-me-up can be a great remedy. An uplifting salad of hearty blanched greens and vegetables like kale and watercress with sliced carrots, onions, asparagus or broccoli is not only fast and easy, but will provide a great energy boost as opposed to a bowl of pasta that might encourage drowsy contentment.
Using strengthening vegetables in your vegetable dishes like hardy burdock, a blood-cleansing vegetable you can find in most health food stores fresh or dried via mail-order food sources, will give you more lasting energy than a piece of fruit that will burn up very quickly. Adding a little oil to food can prolong the time it takes to digest and keep your blood sugar stable for longer. Avocado is a terrific brain food and can be tossed into water-fried greens or eaten wrapped in a piece of toasted nori, a sea vegetable that is power packed with wonderful minerals, and a dab of ume paste. Umeboshi products have been used in Japan for centuries as both food and medicine. In certain circumstances, eating an organic umeboshi plum free of dyes can be a fantastic fast remedy for upset stomach, headache, indigestion and more.
Once we know what we should be eating, the question is how to cook it in a way that is quick, easy, tasty and enticing. Putting foods together in one dish is one way to speed things up. There are entire cookbooks devoted to one-pot meals. Getting familiar with cooking styles and how to prepare food can also speed things up. The first time you make a dish always takes longer than subsequent efforts. Once you understand how to prepare something, you will find your own shortcuts to make things easier. Sometimes cooking delicious food can be simplified down to one step. For example, you can set your oven to 350°F and place a whole onion in its skin on a baking dish and let it bake for one hour. The result is a buttery sweet onion that makes a great snack or side dish. All you need to do is discard the outer skin. Baked butternut squash, sweet potatoes, eggplants and more can be done the same way but always remember to stab these vegetables so there is an air vent.
There are also ultra fast options like the whole meal blanched salad mentioned above. One of the beautiful things about this idea is that there is just one pot of boiling water so the clean up is a snap. Here, the one thing that can take time for some people is chopping up the vegetables. Learning cutting techniques speeds up the process of chopping enormously. Using a good sharp knife, keep the tip of the knife on the cutting board as you cut. Let the knife do the work for you. If you’re cutting a carrot into small rounds, lay the washed organic carrot down horizontally on the cutting board in front of you. There’s no need to peel the carrot if it’s organic and much of the nutrients are right under the skin so you’ll want to preserve them. Then position the knife so the middle portion of the knife is poised over the carrot with the tip of the knife resting on the board. Slice down, not moving the tip of the knife at all. Keep slicing with the tip of the knife stationary, steadily pushing the carrot and keeping your fingers out of the way. While chopping up different vegetables for the salad, bring the pot of water to a boil. This sort of multi-tasking will get easier and more instinctive the more you practice and learn all the steps of preparing a dish.
Planning ahead is another key to creating healthy fast food. If you know that you would like to have a Chinese-style fried rice dish for dinner when you come home for work, then cooking some brown rice while you are making breakfast prepares you for the evening meal. If you’re the type of person who can plan your dinner menus in advance, you can cut up all the vegetables in the morning. Then they will be ready for the evening meal in far less time. Planning out what you want to eat sets the intention and speeds up everything from shopping to clean up. If you like to plan the whole week out and make a list, you might find yourself having extra time and energy for other things. You will be able to streamline things easily and see where things fit in the day or week for you.
One way to streamline the cooking for the week is to do your prep work on Sundays, putting together groups of prepped ingredients that can be kept in the refrigerator and then used during the week when you’re ready for them. Whether you’re making dishes to reheat or prepping vegetables that can be kept in separate containers all washed, cut and ready to go, this simple step can cut a lot of the time and more importantly, energy, spent on planning and preparing meals during the busy work week. Another planning ahead trick is just to make a lot of something that you like and keep the leftovers in the freezer in individual serving sized containers. A creamy garbanzo bean soup seasoned with white miso is a very fast and simple soup to make, but also freezes well. If you take the trouble to make it with homemade broth and a lot of vegetables, It’s worth it to make extra and freeze some for a quick meal that requires no planning.
Freezing works especially well for baked goods. Cookies, breads, pies and cakes all take a bit of time to prepare so you can double the recipe and freeze the leftovers. They’ll defrost quickly in the oven or a steamer to be used whenever you need them. Cookies can be a great base for super-fast desserts by using them as a base for a brown betty or a topping for a cobbler. Store-bought un-yeasted breads, like Pacific Bakery’s Spelt white bread, makes a super fast sandwich. The bread is much tastier, simply pulled from the freezer and steamed for a couple of minutes. A five-minute breakfast might be steamed bread slices with almond butter, or once in a while a little of your favorite organic fruit spread.
Taking a simple dish and making it more exciting keeps the fast foods vibrant. Millet is a wonderful whole grain that is terrific for the spleen, stomach and pancreas, according to the traditions of Chinese medicine. It’s a quick cooker too as it only takes 15 minutes to cook if you have pre-soaked the grain. Cooked with a little extra water, millet is creamy like polenta and will set up just the way polenta does. Have some freshly cooked for breakfast and stir in some blueberries and then spread the rest without the blueberries in a baking dish to cut into squares for snacks or as part of a meal. Use the squares like bread and spread on your favorite nut-butter, guacamole, spread or topping. Herbs are a wonderful way to dress up a simple dish. Experiment with fresh or dried herbs to find the ones that you especially love.
One of my friends has determined that basil is her favorite herb. She asked me to make millet burgers one night for dinner and I wanted to make a new and different sauce to go over them. I simmered some garlic in olive oil over low heat until the garlic browned and then removed the garlic so I now had garlic oil. I added quite a bit of cut up basil and carrot juice, sea salt and white pepper and let the sauce simmer for several minutes to blend the flavors. It was a wonderful glaze and could have been made thicker using kudzu or arrowroot powder. The carrot and basil combined beautifully and were a terrific addition to the burgers to make them much more gourmet and tantalizing. Once you have a recipe like this that you like, you can then switch the basil out for another herb like thyme or mint and then play with different combinations to find out the blends you especially like. Mint with coriander or sage is much different from mint alone, just as an idea. Cinnamon, usually thought of for sweet things, combines beautifully with nutmeg and ginger but it can be used with the savory herbs once in awhile to achieve a whole new dimension to your creation. You can always add more, so start sparingly and taste along the way.
Kids of all ages respond to food that looks fun. If you have millet squares that you want to quickly jazz up, you can cut them out with cookie cutters into fun shapes before you top them. Maybe take leftover soup and add some more seasoning and thicken up by simmering some of the liquid away or adding a thickener (kudzu) and pouring over your cutouts. This is an example of taking one dish and turning it into something new. Cultures all over the world have done this for thousands of years. Leftover noodles can be fried up to make noodle pancakes for breakfast or anytime. Or roll your leftover noodles with vegetables in Nori to become noodle sushi. Made too much oatmeal for breakfast? Spread it into a baking dish and cook in a 350°F oven for an hour to make oat crackers.
With a little investigation and practice, you will be cooking healthy fast food quickly. You’ll save money on going out, and have more time and energy for things you love doing. Enjoy!