Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Do you know your cooking style?

Do you find your cooking settling into a personal style? Over time, I've noticed that in response to my personal taste, food experience, and general lifestyle details, I've come into a very specific style. I guess everyone's particular life details predicate their own.
arugula and chickpeas in mustard vinaigrette
Paltry cubicle lunches may require a big dinner, a work-at-homer might be able to grocery shop daily; a lactard spouse may mean no cheese for you, and cooking for kids changes the whole game.  I'm a nine-to-sixer with the unusual (and amazing) office perk of an incredibly well-stocked commissary that feeds me free breakfast and lunch every day.  As such, I'm tired and lazy when I come home (not to mention hungry and impatient), I don't go through a lot of produce at home, and, since lunch is by far my largest meal, I'm never in the mood for anything big or particularly meaty.

eggs over basil-stewed tomatoes
All this is coupled with a cooking sensibility that is part California sunshine, salads, and ethnic hodgepodge, part Middle Eastern emphasis on real foods and bold flavors, and a big part just tannaz-style minimalist deconstructionism.  On top of that, a few sessions with our company's nutritionist (yes, I actually do work at the best place ever (well, top ten anyway)) taught me some things about balancing vegetables, protein, and whole grains in every meal, and I strive to fit that formula whenever I prepare food at home. 

Greek-salad-style lentils
This has led to a million simple off-the-cuff dinners based on whatever was on hand, and you know, a lot of it comes out pretty good.  My thought process as I taste these creations always takes the same path:  first I think to myself, hey, this isn't half-bad.  Maybe it should go on the blog!   Then it's like, this is hardly a recipe; it's just a bunch of things I've thrown together.  Besides, those cucumbers are looking a little haggard -- there is no way I'm posting a picture of that.  Yet, I take a picture or two just in case, promptly forget the details of the recipe, and move on with my life as myriad orphaned dinner photos pile up on my laptop.

deconstructed puttanesca with artichoke hearts
But, for some reason, the same phrase always pops into my head:  well, this is one for the salad book.  There is no book, and often it's not even a salad I'm eating, maybe bread and cheese and some fruit, a simple soup, or a noodle or brown rice dish.  But all these things feel kind of salady, and for whatever reason, that name has stuck.

tofu and yu choi over brown rice
I'm going to try to be better about posting these recipes, and the posts will always be labeled with 'saladbook'.  I think it's worthwhile: for one, I think we're all trying to find quick ways to feed ourselves delicious, balanced meals made from real food.  For another, I don't want to forget these recipes!  And finally, I just like the fact that I have my own style, that my cooking, as simple as it is, says something about me.  So, here are my cooking rules, some hazy guidelines that have developed organically in my kitchen:
red quinoa salad
- Measurements are approximate, and substitutions are welcome.  This is about using what is in your kitchen (hopefully from your local area), and preparing it to your taste.  I'm no authority on your kitchen, nor are you on mine.  Exacting devotion to a recipe is eschewed, but recipes as inspiration and starting points are very much welcomed.

 - Most dishes are vegetarian, or have small amounts of easy meat or seafood.  I'm lazy about buying, thawing, cooking meat, and don't really need it.

 - Whole grains and legumes are king.  These things cover you for fiber and often, plant-based protein -- both pretty key.  Quinoa cooks fast and has lots of protein.  Lentils, soba and whole grain pastas are also awesome.  Explore bulgur and whole wheat couscous.  Nuts, in reasonable portions, are good for you in a million ways. 

 - The pantry is your friend. (Think capers, olives, spices, dried herbs.)  So is the freezer (for chopped spinach, nuts, artichoke hearts, and tons more).

 - Fresh herbs are both awesome and annoying.  They are expensive, and for me, I use a small fraction of a bunch, and the rest turns to mud. Growing fresh herbs is the best idea ever.  It will enhance your life in ways you can't imagine (e.g., chicks will dig you.  It's true).

 - Variety is not a priority.  I can't have a bajillion different fruits and vegetables on hand.  So, I buy a couple things, and combine them in creative ways over the course of a week.

 - Be stingy about equipment.  My apartment has a dishwasher, and her name is Tannaz.  She's kinda lazy.  I see no reason to make a dressing in one bowl, then toss it into a salad in a separate bowl.  Mise-en-place in cute little ramekins?  Will never happen. 

 - Bread is minimal, again, because it doesn't last.  I mostly stick with whole-wheat pita, and whatever whole-grain crackery product I have on hand.

 - Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper: your best friends.  Often that's all it takes. (Try it on roasted broccoli.  Insane.)

  - Balance deliciousness and health.  You gotta enjoy it.  Figure out what you are willing to give up or substitute (for one, I always choose Greek yogurt over sour cream), what you can sneak in (but, I will never choose weird lowfat cheese over the real thing -- I'll just use tinier portions of better-quality cheeses with stronger flavors).  Not that it's a choice:  Good in-season produce and lots of the other ingredients mentioned above, thoughtfully prepared and well seasoned, can be absolutely delicious and should be eaten with no guilt.

nothing like succotash: fresh corn, edamame, tomatoes and hearts of palm
So, those are my rules.  That's weeknight cooking, Tannaz-style.  I'll follow this up tomorrow with a recipe for Friday night's dinner:  smoked trout and green bean salad with horseradish dressing.  Sounds fancy, but it was easy, healthy, and totally satisfying.  And I'm curious: what dictates your kitchen style?  What cooking rules do you find yourself following?


  1. Great post and great pictures. The lentil Greek salad is genius.

  2. ooh, thanks t! come over and i'll make you greek salad lentils!