The Elixir: In Defense of the Home-Cooked Meal

BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@theSPEACHgal)

In the age of instant gratification, many opt for takeout or highly processed food that minimizes cooking times and effort. I hate to break it to you but nothing comes without a price. A recent study showed that a third of our food is eaten outside the home. Such foods are high in sugar, sodium and calories. To add insult to injury, restaurants generally use low quality ingredients and proudly post “A” grades, even when they fail inspections due to a loophole in the process. Cooking is an art, an expression of love and a way to socialize with those who mean the most to you. But did you know you that food could be used to heal or prevent disease? Is it possible that health-supportive food could also be delicious?

As a way to answer this question and to enhance my culinary skills, I enrolled in the annual intensive cooking course at The Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. There were students from all over the world including Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Germany as well as other states such as California, Chicago, Arizona and New Orleans. There were entrepreneurs, aspiring food writers, and others like myself who were using food to heal their illnesses and teaching others to do the same. One student, Rosella Rago, has her own cooking show, “Cooking with Nonna” and recently won Food Network’s 24-hour Restaurant Battle. The Chef’s assistants were also a force to be reckoned with. They worked non-stop and were also looking to perfect their skills including Tatiana A. Peterson, President of “In Your Face Brownies”. Every one of us had a story and added value to the experience.

The aim of this course was to teach us the basic fundamentals of healthy cooking. I learned how to plan a balanced menu, improve my knife skills, and how to use kitchen equipment and supplies. We cooked with high quality ingredients including whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, seaweed, tofu, tempeh, organic eggs, seitan, fish, herbs and spices. We also used good fats like extra virgin olive and refined coconut oils as well as sugar alternatives like maple syrup. All the produce was seasonal and most were local as well.

The instructors were much more than Chef’s. They truly made this experience an unforgettable one.  Each one was a food rock star in their own right but for those two weeks, they were family.

Elliot Prag is a teacher, caterer and recipe developer for Vegetarian Times. He made cooking an adventure. He often used his intuition to prepare dishes as he almost always tweaked the recipes on the spot. Once the food was plated, he would use words like “sexy!” and “DAYUM!” after getting a taste. There was never ever a dull moment in his interactive class.

Jill Gusman, Lecturer and Author of Vegetables from the Sea combined macrobiotic philosophy and Ayurvedic knowledge into everyday cooking. She has appeared on Discovery Health and created “Kids in the Kitchen” for Mt. Sinai Hospital. There was something truly spiritual about her teaching methods. While the food she prepared was amazing, her class was like a Zen-meditative experience. We learned how to keep our cool amidst the expected and unexpected kitchen chaos. The life lessons I learned in her class are ones that I will not soon forget.

Annmarie Colbin, Ph.D. who is an award-winning writer, health educator and Founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute led the Kitchen Pharmacy class. She made all ailments appear so simple to deal with. She has the wisdom that our grandmothers had except she documented all her recipes and food solutions into her many books. Every question we asked her was a question that was redirected back at us. “Well how is that working for you?” and “How does that make you feel? ” It reinforced the notion that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to using food for healing.

And then there was Judith Friedman, who also serves as the Program Director at the school. She led the fish cooking class. I learned how to select the healthiest and freshest fish, then take this staple ingredient and add spice combinations to make them specific to national cuisines. I love seafood but I also want to eat it responsibly. I usually opt for wild vs. farmed but in this class I was forced to ponder if I am adding to the extinction of sea life and how this practice contributes to climate change? We not only explored this question but also tried to find solutions to the problem.  For more information on this subject, click here.

So there you have it. The proof was in the (vegan) pudding. During the program, my skin cleared up dramatically, I lost weight unintentionally and I had more energy than usual. I added another skill and had a way of making the most of my CSA membership. Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. Whole grains could be made in bulk, fresh beans could be prepared in a pressure-cooker to drastically reduce cooking times and vegetables take only a couple minutes to prepare and could be eaten raw. The take home message was simple. Be the master of your kitchen, your health and your life. The choice is yours!

 “When you are cooking, you are essentially creating your health” ~ Chef Jill Gusman

And now, drum roll please, some of the delicious and nutritious meals prepared in the class.

Vegan Caesar salad with homemade croutons

Tempeh Bolognese over whole grain pasta

Spicy BBQ Tofu

Spelt berry Salad peppers, onions, black beans & jicama

Pineapple coconut flan

Peach cobbler with a reduction sauce

Oat flour currant and sesame seed cookies

Non-Dairy Creamy carrot soup with Oats

Lime & herb marinated wild salmon steaks with zucchini slices

Jicama citrus salad

Hiziki snow peas Vegan & Macrobiotic

Corn and Vegetable chowder

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup With Blueberries & Mint

Vegan Brownies

Borcht Vegan Summer Soup

black-eyed peas-salad with parsley, frisee, radicchio, & radishes

Black bean enchilada with guacamole and a tomatillo sauce

Beet, arugula, walnut summer salad

Asian inspired pan seared Tofu

Apricot Seaweed Kanten

Vegan chocolate frosted vanilla cupcake

NGI Summer Intensive Graduating Class

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