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5 flavor-boosting cures for the food blahs

Hi all!

Before jumping into today’s post, Marco and I just want to thank you for all the book love. It’s incredibly gratifying to see such an enthusiastic response! A Good Food Day is in Amazon’s top 10 natural foods cookbooks and has been featured in Tasting Table, The Kitchn, The Wall Street Journal, and the February issue of Food & Wine magazine, among others. What?! It’s so exciting, and it wouldn’t be happening without your support. Thank you!

Ok, onto today’s topic. Let’s talk about a familiar phenomenon that’s rampant this time of year – falling off the wagon of healthy eating.

Lack of willpower and lack of time are the two reasons I hear the most. In many cases, neither one is accurate.

Willpower is hugely overrated. It’s only a small part of success and not a particularly reliable one because it’s a finite resource (so, have a little compassion for yourself, will ya?!)

The not-enough-hours-in-the-day reason “I don’t have time to come up with a shopping list, get to the store and cook!” is almost always a disguise for an uncomfortable truth – “this isn’t a top priority for me right now.”

So what throws off so many truly dedicated healthy eaters? I’ll share a common one that I see in my health coaching practice.

A case of the food blahs.

You know that sinking feeling you get when you look at the baked chicken breast dinner you’ve already had three times this week? That sad sigh you exhale as you lower your fork into same bowl of greens you eat for lunch everyday? Food blahs.

If you eat the same foods day in and day out, or prepare meals that lack flavor and an element of excitement, you’re bound to get bored.

You don’t feel satisfied. Old habits creep in. You start picking up more salt- and sugar-loaded processed convenience foods at the grocery store, dialing take-out joints, or mindlessly eating bigger portions than needed. Getting the food blahs is a sure-fire way to blow your good intentions.

I hear you…it’s hard to come up with new, creative ideas for meals when you’re in the go-go-go pace of everyday life. The good news is, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every meal you make or master complicated cooking techniques, you just need to add a boost of interesting flavor to keep things enticing.

Let’s tackle the food blahs head-on, shall we? Here are five easy tips and basic ingredients that offer the triple whammy of versatility, healthfulness, and flavor. You’ll be surprised at how much these little tweaks can make a tired dish seem entirely new and delicious. Give ‘em a whirl!

Parsley + garlic

I picked up this one from Marco as we were working on the book. I love it because I always have these ingredients around, and it works with just about every vegetable and protein (chicken, beef, shrimp, etc.). In A Good Food Day, it’s used in the Shrimp and Chickpea Trifolati (that gorgeous dish above). The recipe is included in the free downloadable preview of the book.

Trifolati refers to the classic Italian method of preparing mushrooms with parsley, garlic, and olive oil. All you do is finely chop a huge handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley and a couple of garlic cloves together. Make sure there aren’t any big pieces and that they’re well combined.

Toss just about any chopped vegetables – onion, carrot, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, etc. – and/or thinly sliced pieces of chicken, beef, or shrimp – into a pan with extra virgin olive oil and cook until the vegetable has softened a bit and the meat is not quite cooked through. Toss in the parsley and garlic mixture and cook for a few more minutes. You get tons of bright flavor – and fast!

Anchovy

If you heave at the mere thought of whole brown anchovies on top of your pizza, please know that’s not what I’m suggesting. I mean anchovies used as a background element in your cooking. They’re stealthy little flavor bombs, bringing depth of flavor and umami, a sense of savory meatiness, to your food. And you have no idea they’re there. I’m sure that if you’ve ever ordered Caesar salad, used Worcestershire sauce, or eaten Thai or Vietnamese food, you’ve had anchovies – and liked it.

Look for canned or jarred anchovies packed in olive oil (make sure it’s not vegetable oil) or salt-packed anchovies. The curing process softens them, so you can mash them into a paste that easily dissolves. Add a mashed anchovy filet to vinaigrettes, sauces, sautés, soups, and stews. If you have the book, you’ll find anchovies used in the Sweet Pepper Peperonata, Lemon Vinaigrette with Garlic and Anchovy, and Mushroom, Barley, and Kale Soup.

There’s also anchovy paste and anchovy liquid extract, if you want the umami but don’t have or don’t like the whole filets. And if you want to go next level with anchovies, you can try Marco’s new thing: dehydrating anchovies, crumbling them, and sprinkling them on a salad like a salt.

Acid

Have you cooked a dish that tasted good, but you knew something was missing? You probably added a bunch of salt, and it still tasted flat. That’s because the dish needed acidity. The brightness from a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar perks up the flavor of just about ANYTHING you make, savory or sweet. A few ways to do this:

Lemon juice – there’s really nothing that can’t benefit from freshly squeezed lemon juice. Lemon is a go-to for fish, meat, salads, and vinaigrettes.

Vinegars – there are so many different kinds, and they vary substantially in flavor and acidity level. Red wine vinegar is very sharp, apple cider vinegar is mellow (and comes with medicinal properties, so I use it often), sherry vinegar is super complex and potent, and balsamic vinegar has a sweet-sour quality. Anytime I sauté vegetables in garlic and olive oil, I add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar in the last couple minutes of cooking. That little tang it adds makes all the difference in the world.

Grated citrus zest – add finely grated zest to anything from meatballs, soups, and salads, to smoothies, cookies, and granolas. Citrus zest has highly concentrated flavor, so a little goes a long way. Ideally, you can use a Microplane, but if you don’t have one, use the fine holes on a box grater.

Animal fat

Just a little fat from a grass-fed or pastured animal can add immense flavor and richness to your food. You know about butter, of course, but there is a whole wide world of animal fats out there! Ghee, lard, chicken fat (schmaltz), duck fat, pork fat, and beef fat (tallow, suet), to name a few.

The best places to find quality animal fats are your local farmers’ market and butcher shop. Whole Foods and similar stores will have good options too. If you pan-roast a duck breast or cook bacon, save the pan drippings! I’m a Southern gal, and I was taught early on that those drippings are liquid gold.

Use animal fat when you scramble eggs, brown meat, sauté or roast vegetables, make pie crust, bake cornbread and cakes.

Remember, you don’t need to fear the saturated fat found in animal fats (and other fats, like coconut oil). Despite what we’ve been told, saturated fat is NOT associated with an increased risk of heart disease (or being fat!). It’s a natural fat, unlike processed vegetable oils, and has been a staple of a healthy human diet for thousands of years. If you’re totally horrified by this idea, check out Chris Kresser’s post on this, or read The Great Cholesterol Myth or Nourishing Traditions.

Condiments and sauces

Plain, intact grains like quinoa and brown rice day after day gets old, but if you stir in a spoonful of pesto one day, your favorite hot sauce the next day and a little tamari the day after that, you won’t get bored eating the good stuff. The same is true for eggs, raw, sautéed, or roasted veggies, roasted and grilled meats and fish, sandwiches. A few of my favorites for adding a pop of healthy flavor to meals:

Pesto

Romesco – a Spanish sauce made with red peppers, nuts, garlic, and olive oil (recipe in A Good Food Day)

Hot sauce – I’m a Cholula fan for life

Preserved lemons – chop them up and add as a condiment to roast chicken

Harissa – a North African paste made with hot peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices

Salsa or pico de gallo

Chimichurri – great on grilled foods, it’s made with finely chopped parsley, garlic, oregano, olive oil, and vinegar

Tahini – a paste made from ground sesame seeds. You’ve had it in hummus, but I love it as a salad dressing base.

Olive tapenade

Tamari – similar to soy sauce, but smoother, less salty, and it’s gluten-free

Homemade mayonnaise – store-bought mayo sucks because they’re all made with highly processed, omega-6-loaded oils, namely canola oil. Making mayo at home requires nothing more than four simple ingredients and a blender. I love this recipe by the Whole 30 folks.

Which one of these flavor-boosters are you most looking forward to trying?

Do you have another cure for the food blahs?

Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell/ harlanturk.com

 


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  1. Hmm, looks great. I like salad all year too, but warm is good this time of year. I’ll be doing this and your super immunity soup very soon, love it!

    February 28, 2015 • 8:59 am •
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