We all talk about eating for our health, but sometimes even the best intentioned cooks have a hard time walking the walk.
It takes time to plan, prep and cook all those vegetables and whole grains, especially if you want to make your beans and greens really sing at the center of the plate.
Healdsburg mom Lia Huber, creator of the Nourish Evolution website, understands this dilemma better than most. This summer, she launched a seasonal meal planning program that helps people stock their kitchen pantries with flavor-boosting ingredients.
“It’s easier to make a vegetarian meal when everything on the plate has flavor,” said Huber, who learned a few kitchen tricks while working as a professional food writer and recipe developer for magazines such as Cooking Light.
Here are the Top 10 items Huber recommends stocking up on this fall, from vegetables like Brussels sprouts and squash to hearty nut oils and balsamic vinegars.
1. Beans and legumes
A delicious, heirloom bean from producers like Rancho Gordo of Napa can elevate your cooking to another level, but it’s also good to have some canned beans on hand for those days when you don’t have much time. Try to stock up on a wide range of beans and lentils, like black beans and white beans, green and black lentils.
“They are a great vegetarian protein alternative,” Huber said, “and a great way to make a light dish heartier, like a salad or a soup.”
Depending on the kind of flavor profile you’re working with, you will need a range of oils to call upon.
“If it’s Mediterranean, I will choose an olive oil, and I’ll look for really good, filtered extra-virgin olive oil for finishing beans and salads,” she said. “For Asian flavors, I”ll use coconut or canola oil.”
Fall is also a perfect time to play around with nut oils, which need to be stored in the fridge. Try buying small amounts of toasted walnut or hazelnut oils, which go really well with fall fruits like pears.
These are good to use in salad dressings but also can add complexity as a finishing touch for sauces and bean dishes.
“I use a light palate of vinegars in the summer,” Huber said. “But in the fall, I dig into a heartier palate of deeper, richer flavors like red wine, balsamic, sherry and apple cider vinegars.”
4. Whole grains
Farro is a delicious fall-winter grain, along with barley and freekeh, a cereal made from green wheat. All can pinch-hit for rice in a cozy risotto made with autumn’s mushrooms and butternut squash, but don’t forget about brown and wild rice.
“Those are really fun to play with, and they have a lot of flavor,” Huber said. “Lundberg (Family Farms) does a fun mix of artisanal rices for different flavor profiles.”
Salt is a great way to boost flavor, since that is its raison d’etre, but not all salt is created equal. There are cooking salts, and then there are finishing salts, Huber said. “I really like to cook with Real Salt, a fine-grained salt that comes in a blue pouch ... It has the trace minerals.”