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Secret to Cooking Healthy is Flavor

New book sheds light on idea that the “secret to a healthy, sustainable diet (is) flavor."

I love when I come across something written by someone else that elaborates on or gives professional credence to my own theories and opinions about our daily diet. So I am looking forward to reading a new book by Peter Kaminsky, Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well). Despite the odd and rather unappealing title of the book, a Washington Post review reveals that it’s actually focused on the idea that the “secret to a healthy, sustainable diet (is) flavor."

The pages contain history, theory, and analysis, but Kaminsky’s bottom line and heartfelt argument is that good home cooking is the answer to many of the deficiencies in the daily diet. Kaminsky maintains that restoring us to healthy eating habits requires “obtaining high-quality ingredients, letting your imagination lead you to what to combine them with and then preparing them with skill.” And I am not even sure that you need skill, such as some technique you can only learn in a cooking class. I am living proof that the desire, will, and commitment to experiment on your own or follow a recipe is really all you need to cook at home for yourself and others.

Kaminsky’s three tenets are:

  1. Don’t buy processed foods;

  2. Buy the best, most full-flavored ingredients you can afford; and

  3. Make those ingredients even better by cooking.

He does recognize that there are obstacles in our way including the “bland, year-round produce and tasteless meat” in grocery stores. Also concerning him are the “fast-food outlets and industrial producers with their insidious concoctions emphasizing the addictive but ultimately unsatisfying combination of salt, sugar and fat” — made more dangerous for us, I believe, because those ingredients are in foods where they are not needed or expected. (Read this article to learn more about the preservatives added to packaged food and how they ruin flavor.)

I ordered the book today and will report more on its findings and recommendations later this summer, but I have to mention how the review took me back to my own bookshelf and to my very favorite cookbook. Not Afraid of Flavor was written by a married couple who now own and have spawned several very well-regarded and popular restaurants in the Durham–Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. My family knows Ben and Karen Barker, and my deceased sister, Debby, once worked with both of them in their early days of working in other restaurants in that area. Maybe because they began to cook in the midst of Carolina farmland and near a great farmers’ market, they committed themselves early on to seasonal cooking.

In the introduction to the book, Ben describes his cooking as “bold and exciting, often featuring layers of flavors, contrasts in temperatures, and textural foils, with honest, gutsy appeal.” Many of his recipes do have quite a few ingredients, sometimes a third of them herbs and other flavorings, and in some cases many moving parts which are prepared separately and then combined for service. But all are well described and accessible for the home cook. And I love the ones I have tried as well as the ones I have just read about.

Just look at this list from the book and tell me your mouth isn’t watering:

  • Spicy Green Tomato Soup with Crab and Country Ham
  • Marinated Goat Cheese on Warm Field Pea Vinaigrette
  • Spicy Grilled Shrimp with Grits Cakes, Country Ham and Redeye Vinaigrette
  • Summer Shell Bean Minestra with Tomato Bruschetta
  • Fried Green Tomato Sandwich on Buttermilk Bread with Arugula, Country Bacon and Black Pepper Aioli
  • Beef Short-ribs in Barbecued Onion Sauce with Grilled Spring Leeks and Roasted Garlic Grits

The truth is that you can make every one of these dishes if you put your mind to it — and if you have ever made the succotash recipe we hand out at our markets, either the summer or winter version, you have already made one of their recipes. In the book it was a component of a recipe for pork roast.

The flavor starts with those great local ingredients from the pastured pork to the free-range beef, from the heavy-duty cream to the thick and creamy yogurts, from the intensely juicy tomatoes to the sweet and toothsome corn — and goes through every berry, peach or apricot you bite into. Just make up your mind to start with the best-tasting ingredients you can buy, fresh and local and full of flavor, and then spend just a little time and energy adding another layer. Next time you can add a few more.

See you at the market!

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