Welcome back to the third and final post in our traditional eating series that we began a few short weeks ago. Just to refresh your memory, we’ve discussed eating locally– that is eating what is traditionally available in your region. We’ve also discussed eating seasonally, which is eating what is ripe and freshly harvested during a given season. Today, we’ll get to the last ‘cornerstone’ of traditional eating and that is eating simply. How I’d define eating simply would be something like this: eating foods as close to the way they were originally grown as possible by choosing whole, unrefined, seasonal ingredients and preparing them with as little processing as possible. Our definition touches on 2 aspects of eating simply, beginning with the most wholesome, simple ingredients and simple preparation, so let’s take a few minutes and touch on each of those.
First, let’s choose wholesome, unrefined ingredients. Meats should be recognizable, not mechanically separated, extruded and chemically treated. Opt for whole roasting hens or bone-in, skin-on chicken quarters in lieu of nuggets. The same goes for fish! Opt for wild-caught filets over sticks or nuggets. Fruits should be whole, raw or very minimally processed. If you *have* to buy canned fruit, choose fruit preserved in fruit juice instead of syrup…but fresh or frozen are by far the superior choices! Veggies should also be whole and minimally processed, with fresh or frozen being the optimal choices. If you must use canned, be sure to choose cans without BPA linings–the packaging should proudly advertise that fact. For dairy, choose full-fat, unsweetened and, if possible, non-homogenized products. Be sure your cheese is actually cheese and not a “pasteurized cheese food product”. It possible, buy your eggs locally; if not, free range is best. Choose beneficial fats like butter, coconut, olive and avocado oils. Avoid margarine and seed oils like the plague, my friends. If you eat grains, choose whole grains. Now let me add a caveat here: I KNOW some budgets won’t allow for these choices. And depending on your region, some of these choices aren’t available. That’s okay; no guilt, my friends. These are guidelines directing you toward optimal choices but you have to tweak your choices to fit within your budget, region and lifestyle. You’ll receive no shame from me if you need to make other choices. This is totally a no-shame zone!
Second, let’s talk about simple preparation. Let me begin by saying that I’m a bit of a minimalist in the kitchen. I don’t care for a lot of gizmos and gadgets. I don’t care for elaborate recipes that require odd ingredients I’ll never use again. And I loathe overly complicated, fussy directions. You know the kind I’m talking about. Here’s my thinking: if we begin with quality ingredients that were raised responsibly and harvested at their peak, we shouldn’t need odd spices, expensive gizmos or elaborate directions to create a delicious dish. The point behind seasonal, local eating is that ingredients should be the “stars” of the dish; all we need to do is learn to make them shine through simple, proper preparation and presentation.
Every ingredient has a “sweet spot” in my opinion, a manner of preparation that elevates the taste and texture from a plain, raw ingredient to a satisfying end product…and that may be different for each ingredient. Let me tell you how I like to prepare some of my favorites.
- Try roasted vegetables. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, sweet/white potatoes, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, zucchini…they’re all delicious tossed with a bit of oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted in a moderately hot oven. The flavors intensify, the exterior carmelizes and the end product is so much more delicious than boiled or steamed.
- We love raw or stewed fruits as a dessert or sometimes a main dish for breakfast. Topped with a bit of heavy cream, fresh berries make a great, simple dessert. During the wintertime, my sweet Petunia will ask for stewed, spiced apples with cream for breakfast and I gladly oblige.
- We regularly eat whole roasted chicken for dinner. During cool weather, it’s a weekly meal and the leftovers make for some amazing lunches and soups!
- During crazy hot weather, we tend to either grill tender cuts of meat (chicken breasts, pork chops) or use the Instant Pot for tougher cuts of meat like roasts and ribs. If you’re not familiar with an Instant Pot, I’ll do a post on it later. (Believe it or not, our great-grandparents used pressure cookers, so this is a fully acceptable return to our roots!) To get the best results from the grill, we choose thin cuts or filet them at home, brush them with oil, season appropriately and cook them according to directions.
- We eat wild-caught fish as our budget allows and blackened in a cast iron pan is our perennial favorite.
- Soups and stews are an extremely easy way to prepare wholesome dishes from simple ingredients. We LOVE chicken soup made from leftover roasted chicken, beef and barley soup made from leftover Mississippi Roast and chili to use up day old beans. Be sure to use quality broths, as it will have a huge impact on the richness of the soup or stew.
I follow the old time-honored “Meat + 3” approach to planning simple meals. I serve meat or a hearty main dish such as a casserole, soup or stew with 3, typically lower-starch side dishes. (This may seem like a lot of food, and it is, but the leftovers make for incredible lunches, so I save myself some work tomorrow by adding an extra side to the meal tonight.) A typical cold weather dinner in our house looks like this: 1 large/2 small baked chickens, roasted root veggies (carrots, onions, celery), a dish of homegrown green beans and side salad or pot of braised greens. In summertime, we go for lighter meals and “ploughman’s lunches” are a favorite for several of us; they allow for an infinite variety of texture and flavor, as well as preventing the waste of those little bits of cheese wedges, leftover meat and half-eaten jars of pickles in the fridge. The kids and I frequently take ploughman’s lunches to school in lieu of sandwiches and their dishes almost *always* come home empty!
Well friends, I think that’s all I have to say on the topic, but I’d LOVE to hear what you have to say! Tell me which aspects of traditional eating you already employ and which ones you’re excited to try your hand at. Til next time!