I was thinking this past weekend about how best to get across the idea of appropriate nutrition and nourishment….appropriate amounts of nutrient dense foods, eating in a way to enhance both absorption and enjoyment, and how to make it real and do-able. When Chef Eben of the Yardley Inn and I were planning our recent dinner, he mentioned that one of his goals is to make cooking accessible and real—it’s not about celebrity chefs, or watching a lot of fancy cooking on TV, getting intimidated and then ordering take out.  I so agree with him.

So here are some basics.  Not new for some of you:

The healthiest forms of cooking are steaming, stir-frying, sauteing, using a slow cooker or pressure cooking.  All of these will cook your food either quickly or in such a way as to avoid losing nutrients (or both!).  I also roast both meats and veggies, but I have to admit that there is more nutrient loss doing this, due to the longer cooking times.

Notice that microwaving is not on this list.  Nor is frying, for I hope obvious reasons. Grilling can be both healthful and not; foods that cook quickly on the grill with minimal fats, such as fish and veggies, are fine.  However, grilling meats that take a long time and form a hard crust, likely are building up excess nitrates on the surface, which though tasty are not good for you.

This time of year, when fresh veggies are limited, what’s in our pantries and freezers are even more important than usual.  It’s hard to cook well if you have nothing to work with! Here are my pantry basics:

Canned tomatoes and beans, canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, all from Vital Choice), jarred salsa, roasted peppers and olives.  Also canned coconut milk and chilies in adobo sauce, just to keep things interesting!

Oils (olive for cooking, plus flavored oils for dressings and finishing dishes) and vinegars (apple cider, other flavored vinegars) are important as well.  Hot sauces (we have a ton!) and ethnic sauces like fish sauce, hoisin, and chili oil also are nice to have around.

We have the usual grains:  several kinds of rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat. We’re actually trying to use less of these, as well as less of the pasta we keep around.  We also have dry beans and lentils, which are especially good during these chilly months. The beans are mostly from Rancho Gordo, and are out of this world!

Produce in the pantry includes onions, garlic, shallots and ginger, as well as sweet potatoes, white potatoes and various squashes.  (The small delicata and the spaghetti squash are especially nice, since they cook pretty quickly).

Everything else is in the freezer.  What we’ve made ourselves:  red sauce from local tomatoes, pesto, stock, green mole sauce.  Ready for cooking:  fish, local chicken and meat.  Also corn that we put up, and some green peas and limas from the store.

So with all this on hand, it’s hard to imagine not being able to throw something together, even if we don’t have a lot of fresh stuff in the fridge!  It takes some time, sure, but not really all that much.  If you aren’t sure how to get started, come to our Healthy Living Food Group on the first Tuesday of each month.  Also see the “Healthy Eating” portion of the resources on our website–soon to be updated.  And maybe start by cooking soup.  It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s the right time of year!

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about appropriate nutrition, here are two books I’ve just finished and found fascinating:  Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD  and Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas.  Both are a bit dense and a little technical, but very understandable, and really important.  A good read on a chilly day while your soup cooks!