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.”
As a finishing salt, she suggests the flakier, bigger Maldon Salt from England. Flavored salts like Black Hawaiian Sea Salt and Pink Himalayan Salt also are fun; you can often buy small quantities in bulk.
“Try the Smoked Maldon Sea Salt,” Huber said. “The smoked salt brings a sense of warmth to a dish.”
Fall is the perfect time to stock up on warming spices like coriander, cardamom and cumin. Huber uses them as a dry rub for her Spice Roasted Pork Loin as well as on roasted beets.
“Spices last about six months before getting stale, so get them in small amounts and blend and experiment.”
7. Nuts and seeds
Pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts play well with so many of the fruits and vegetables of the season, from winter squash to winter greens. And don’t forget to store your nuts and seeds in the fridge.
“You can toast them to bring out their flavor,” she said, “but I always do it on the stove top so I don’t forget.”
Honey and maple syrup are healthy ways to add sweetness to a fall dish, so make sure you have some on hand.
Aromatics provide the flavor base of almost every dish, so remember to invite the Allium family to dinner — garlic, shallots and onions, along with fresh ginger.
Huber also recommends Brussels sprouts, along with the winter greens — mustard, kale and escarole. “And winter squash lasts longer than you think, so stock up.”
Take a quick tour through your kitchen cabinets and drawers to make sure you’ve got all the pans and gadgets you’ll need to turn out fall stews and holiday feasts.
Huber recommends these as essentials: Good sharp knives and a big, sturdy cutting board; Y peeler to peel squash and root vegetables; melon baller to scoop seeds out of squash; Microplane grater for grating garlic, ginger and citrus zest; cast-iron skillet for searing and making root vegetable cakes; Dutch oven for cooking beans, braised meats and stews; stiff, metal spatula for scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan; spring-loaded tongs; heavy-duty roasting pan for roasting turkey and other meats.
The following recipes are from Lia Huber, creator of the Nourish Evolution website and the new, “Cook the Seasons” menu planning program. (cook.nourishevolution.com)
Spiced Pork Roast
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground fennel
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
2½ pounds boneless pork loin roast
Pound garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Add thyme and fennel seeds and continue to pound to a paste. Mix in remaining spices and 1 tablespoon olive oil and rub all over pork. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub pork with an additional pinch of salt.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sear pork on all sides, about 3-5 minutes total, and transfer pan to oven. Roast for 25-35 minutes, until a thermometer poked into the thickest part reads 150.
Remove from oven to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
“I love the convenience of pre-ground spices, but for this dish it’s worth it to toast whole spices for a minute or so and grind them yourself (it’ll take you less than a minute with a mortar and pestle, and easy cleanup).” Lia said. “Your mouth will start watering before the dish is even on the table. Feel free to use whatever beets you like best, or a pretty assortment of all kinds of colors.”
Oven-Steamed Beets with Cumin and Coriander
1 pound beets, greens removed
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets in a small roasting pan. Fill with ½ inch water, and cover tightly with foil.
Roast 30-60 minutes, depending on the size, or until you can slip a sharp knife through the center of a beet easily. Remove from oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Toast cumin and coriander in a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute or until fragrant. Transfer seeds to a mortar and pestle, and grind to a powder. Add salt and pepper. Whisk in vinegar and oil.
Peel beets. Cut into ½-inch cubes (or wedges if beets are small) and place in a medium bowl. Add dressing, tossing to coat. Can be served cool or at room temperature.
“This lentil recipe is the little black dress of dinner,” Lia said. “Toss a cup or two with a frisée salad. Serve it as a side with spiced pork loin or salmon. Leftovers make a fab lunch, gently warmed and sprinkled with a little crumbled goat cheese or feta.
1 cup Lentilles du Puy (or sprouted green lentils)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup peeled, finely diced carrot
½ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup finely diced green pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Bring to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Strain and return to pot.
In the meantime, heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, and sauté carrot, onion, celery, green bell pepper and garlic for 5-8 minutes, until deep golden brown but not mushy. Stir into lentils with vinegar, honey, salt and black pepper ,and up to a quarter cup of juice from any meat or poultry being served with the lentils (like duck). Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes to marry flavors.
Serve warm or cold.
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or email@example.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.