Recently, Mark Bittman–NYT writer and sustainable food proponent extraordinaire–chastened America for failure to cook. His Times article ended by drawing a clear link between a shift away from the purchased-meal, processed-food economy and a sustainable lifestyle:
By becoming a cook, you can leave processed foods behind, creating more healthful, less expensive and better-tasting food that requires less energy, water and land per calorie and reduces our carbon footprint. Not a bad result for us — or the planet.
Bittman drove home his points by providing three easy recipes that anyone who can (in however rudimentary a fashion) wield a knife, boil water, and get to a supermarket can make. He urges his readers to forward the article on to their friends who may not cook–a ripple effect of easy, approachable, healthful eating. The three recipes he provides are for a stir fry, a chopped salad, and a lentils with rice dish.
A good friend forwarded me a blog post from another cookbook author in response to Bittman’s challenge. The eponymous “Frugal Cook”, Fiona Beckett, gave her own recipes in keeping with the parameters and asked her readers to weigh in with their own. Beckett agreed with the stir fry but suggested a simple homemade tomato sauce and a vegetable soup instead of the other two Bittman recipes. Most of the comments on Beckett’s post, though, seem to miss the point: ingredients with mass appeal and good nutrition, and a method suitable for the most novice of cooks.
I’m embracing the weird meta-information aspect of the blogosphere and providing my own take on three recipes I think anyone and everyone could make. Over the next few days I’ll post the recipes themselves (yeah it’s a bit backwards…but this way you’ll come back and read more. Right? Right?).
Black bean soup. Almost infinitely mutable, the basic steps for this one-pot meal can be used to make dishes that range from a quick and easy soup, to chili, to a hearty chilled salsa. It can be made entirely with pantry ingredients or fancied up with dry beans and fresh veggies. It can be vegetarian, vegan, or full of sausage, but it’s always filling and nutritious.
Pasta with vegetables. I understand why Mark Bittman pushes the rice dishes, but frankly, rice can be tough for novice cooks to do well. Pasta is also more appealing to many Americans as a base for meals than rice is. Another benefit? Whole wheat pasta, like white pasta, cooks in about ten minutes; brown rice, 45 to white rice’s 20. Another excellent recipe starting point that can be adapted to suit whatever’s at hand or cheaply available, this uses seasonal veggies for variety and canned chickpeas or tuna for protein.
Roasted vegetables and chicken sausage. This is a personal staple. I think everyone should know that sticking vegetables into a moderately hot oven for 45 minutes will get you delicious results, kinda no matter what. If you throw in pre-cooked chicken sausage and serve this with bread on the side, you have a complete meal. The sausage can be replaced with almost any type of protein–normal sausage, pieces of beef, pieces of chicken, firm tofu–but for the true beginner, the chicken sausage makes this extra easy. Yes, it’s a processed product, but it’s a healthier choice than fast food burgers and a step in the right direction. If the whole point of this exercise is to find easy recipes that don’t rely on meat as a primary ingredient, and that sound enticing enough to draw newcomers to the kitchen, this one wholly fits.
Again, recipes are forthcoming; and meanwhile, think about your own suggestions and share them! What got you cooking when you were starting out in the kitchen?