Sunday, September 23, 2012

Course With No Name

My first rule of home cooking is: never cook a dish with a name.

Dishes with names are restaurant food, and restaurant food nearly always requires health compromises - grease, salt, simple carbohydrates, etc.. And, worse, you won't add the insane quantities of those things that a restaurant would, so the result will disappoint. It'll be both overly healthy and not healthy enough - the worst of all worlds!

I do my restaurant eating in restaurants. When cooking at home (which I try to do as much as possible), I'm craving the opposite extreme. I want healthy food that leaves me not impressed but deeply nourished, my batteries refreshed.

So I cook like an athlete. I balance protein (clean, low-fat), carbohydrates (complex and low-glycemic), and fat (monounsaturated). But, unlike athletes, I go to great trouble to make things delicious. It's easy to make food superficially tasty via butter, cream, salt, and frying. Those are cheap shortcuts, albeit effective ones. But deliciousness is possible without those things; it just requires a bit of care, effort, and ingenuity.

Here's an example:

Take a pound of ground turkey breast (beware other cuts of turkey, which contain as much saturated fat as red meat), and break it up gently with a spatula over medium heat in a non-stick pan with 2-3 tablespoons of stock. Cook covered for 2-3 minutes, until no longer visibly red.

In a mixing bowl, mash one baked yam or sweet potato with half a package of tofu. Season with marjoram, ginger powder, black pepper, and cumin. Lightly mix this in with the turkey, and cook uncovered until excess moisture is gone and bottom of turkey is barely beginning to brown, flipping once. Toward the end, mix in spinach leaves.

Remove from heat, and cut up a juicy fresh tomato over the pan. Allow the tomato to heat, and give up a bit of juice, but not to fully cook. Drizzle with great extra virgin olive oil (I like Trader Joe's California Estate) and serve with steamed broccolini (with more drizzled olive oil).

It tasted affably easy. Not a voluptuary experience, though enjoyable. But it felt really good. I felt better, physically, after eating it than before (there will be no heartburn, blood sugar spikes or troughs, or after-dinner cravings), and that's not something I experience from restaurant cooking. It comes from fresh whole foods combined in perfect nutritional balance without any cheats or compromises.

I've come to perceive the wellbeing-after-eating feeling as a sixth taste, and one I sorely miss when I've been eating out too much.

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