Giants in the Kitchen
A simple pleasure. Culture. Most of us enjoy eating out. Most of us may fall in the often, seldom, or somewhere in between. Some of us may have attempted, at least a time or two (or more), to replicate take-out or convenient meals at home.
As ambitious and determined as we may be, there’s good reason why most pre-packaged convenience foods can’t be replicated at home. Even with the best foot forward, we may get close, but how often do we hit the target?
What Michael Moss in his book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Got Us Hooked, defined as the holy trinity of processed foods has conditioned our taste receptors to seek more of the same. On the quest for flavor, feel good chemicals and feeling of satiety, many convenience foods are over-saturated with the wrong ingredients while downplaying the quality and benefits of the ones it lacks. It’s easy to see how it has become the obsession that it has in our time.
Salt, sugar and fat are used to enhance, mask flaws, improve texture, maintain the appearance and preserve the quality of processed foods. There are big giants in our kitchen too. Here, we can better manage the salt, sugar and the fat. We can unhook ourselves.
It can be done, but maybe even better. At the least, we have more control of what goes in, what’s left out and exactly how much of what will dominate the overall meal. This fact alone makes better, attainable.
The Good, The Bad, The Fat…
Whether we like it or not, we need it. We know this because vitamins can’t be absorbed without them. The good stuff. The coconut, palm, olive, avocado, nut oils are great for us. Fat in our diet also adds to the satiety factor. The danger lies in that too much can lead to problems with cholesterol and diabetes. And not enough can lead to overeating, depression, increased cancer risk and an imbalance of nutrients. If less fat is your aim for whatever reason, cooking techniques can help. I swear by my cast iron griddle. It gives food more crisp, with less fat.
The Salt, Sugar Factor…
Good sugar. Bad sugar. Good Salt. Bad Salt. By any description, we are eating more of it. Both have its place. Raw cane sugar is a good sweetener for baked goods, tea, as are agave, maple syrup and coconut milk. Other great, but more expensive alternatives are brown rice syrup, beet sugar and coconut sugar. There is a positive side to having so many choices. Take your pick.
If we think about salt only in the context of table salt, then the salt confusion will be ongoing as well as the imbalances it can create. However, salt, unrefined, pink or black, are great replacements. Another source of iodine is seaweed. Dulse, kelp, nori, wakame, can all potentially taper the need for added salt. Fermented condiments like soy sauce, tamari, shoyu or liquid aminos are also worth consideration.
Spice it up…
We can redefine the “bliss point”, by consuming more of some things and less of others. We can do it with SPICES. Spices are some of nature’s most basic building blocks that will give food flavor without going overboard on salt, sugar and fat.
Spices can transform the most basic meal and make it extraordinary. They are at the heart of ethnic foods. They make marinades nothing less than lip-smacking deliciousness. They’re versatile nature and shelf-stable ways makes it easy to use on most, if not all foods. Their aroma alone makes a makes a vast difference in the kitchen.
- Spices typically don’t spoil. But they can become less potent and less effective. Less potency translates to compromised flavor. The best environments for spices are dry, cool and dark spaces.
- Store spices and herbs in airtight preferably, glass jars to keep moisture out.
- Keep spices away from heat. This applies to storing spices above stoves and ovens.
- Only buy 6 months worth of spices. Use them at their peak and reduce waste.
- For super-driven home cook, buying seeds when you can and toasting them before use will maximize the aroma and taste of the spice. It’s the spice at it’s best. It also makes them easier to grind. Cast iron pans or small pots are great to have for this.
- One of the most inexpensive ways to go about grinding spices is to invest in a mortar and pestle if you have the time to grind. If not, an electric spice grinder also does the job in less time.
- Play with different spices. Expand your spice knowledge. Create blends, test them out on your favorite foods.
For the home cook, taking good care of spices is an essential part taking control of our health. In the home kitchen, spices are the giants behind the meal.
I craved Indian so I went with a tandoori spice on this one…