Nina’s Tips & Techniques: New Year, Fresh Start

I ate WAY too much sugar, wine, and cheese over the holidays and now I’m feeling sluggish. What are some tips for making easy weeknight meals that are on the lighter side, but don’t sacrifice flavor?

I hear you. It makes me sad that lighter, healthier food gets stigmatized as being lesser in flavor. I believe that simple, fresh ingredients are wonderful and special on their own and that you don’t necessarily have to do much to them to highlight their unique flavors! At this time of the year, I like to go back to simple, seasonal produce and lean meats.  I also love toa dd lots of nuts and seeds for added texture and flavor. Good cooking technique is always the winning ingredient in any dish so I encourage you to think more about HOW you are treating each ingredient rather than finding a complex recipe to offer a hit of flavor. I’ll give you an example of what I mean…The brown color that develops on vegetables when you cook it at high temperatures or for a long time adds flavor to the ingredient. That brown color is caramelization of the natural sugars in the food. Take butternut squash for example; if you cook it at low heat and don’t develop any color on it, it will be mildly sweet, but rather flavorless. If you cook the same ingredient at a high temperature and let it get  roasty-brown all over, it will taste richer and sweeter and give your dish a totally different depth of flavor. Little things make all the difference, like not rushing or trying to use shortcuts. Technique is always king! I find that focusing on cooking technique can really improve the flavor quality of any dish, and when I simplify my diet I always try to focus on this first and foremost.

Ok, I get that simple ingredients do pack flavor, but something about my simple dishes fall flat. Am I not seasoning things well? How do I bring out more flavor in my food?

Seasoning is definitely a necessary part of every dish and without proper seasoning your food will taste flat. But salt is not the only component to seasoning! Seasoning is a term that suggests a dish is balanced for every part of your pallet. Using acid, salt, and sweetness help balance flavors and enhance dishes. When food tastes bland people tend to add salt, but what most food really needs is something acidic – like lemon or vinegar. I always keep a bag of lemons in my fridge and add a squeeze of lemon juice to my finished dishes. This helps brighten flavors and reduce the amount of salt needed. I also find that the thing most dishes lack is some kind of sauce that ties everything together. To keep things simple, light, and  to add seasoning try using infused oils or simple vinaigrettes to finish your dish. A very easy olive oil, with lemon juice and fresh parsley can go on almost anything and brighten a dish.


Featured Recipe: Garlicky Broccolini