There's nothing inspiring about a bowl of bland, flavorless quinoa. Sure, it might be “healthy,” but where's the joy? Where’s the pleasure?
I’m a firm believer that, first and foremost, food needs to be delicious. As a professional chef, I’ve watched the Internet explode with endless amounts of healthy recipes. And while there are a lot of great ideas and dishes out there, I find that the little tricks based on generations of tradition are often overlooked.
Armed with a little knowledge, some specialty tools, and a well-tuned palate, you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
1. Season, season, season.
One of the most common mistakes home cooks make is not being assertive enough with seasoning. Often a little extra salt, pepper, and lightly chopped herbs will go a long way toward bringing out the natural flavors of a dish.
Just imagine a roast chicken without salt and pepper. (Blech!) Add some sea salt, cracked pepper, crushed thyme and rosemary, lemon zest, and maybe even some coriander and sesame seeds, and suddenly that pedestrian bird becomes a Middle Eastern masterpiece!
2. Consider the four elements.
Salty, sweet, sour, spicy — these are the compass points of a dish. Playing spicy off sweet (think mango and chilies) or sour off salty (this is why salt and vinegar potato chips are so addictive) can make a dish balanced and craveworthy.
I don’t always have these elements in equal parts. Sometimes you want one flavor profile to dominate the others, but having a balance makes for a successful and exciting dish.
3. Embrace the microplane.
Italian chefs know the microplane grater is the perfect tool for grating aged Parmesan, but there are many other ways to use it.
My favorite is finishing a dish with a quick zest of citrus. A little lemon brings a salad to life; lime gives a bright, floral and unexpectedly tropical jolt of flavor; and even grapefruit and orange are brilliant.
Ideally, I choose organic citrus (conventional citrus can have pesticide residue) and always wash the fruit before zesting. Try a roasted beet salad with grapefruit segments, pistachios, and a little grapefruit zest as a garnish.
I also use a microplane to grate a little garlic into a vinaigrette or some gently steamed or sautéed greens.
4. Remember: Blanch isn't just one of the Golden Girls.
Blanching just means bringing a large pot of well-salted water (think seawater!) to a boil and quickly cooking vegetables until they're about 70 percent cooked.
A few things to remember when blanching: