Back to basics... to get closer to nature!
In collaboration with Loounie, vegan food enthusiast.
If social media is anything to go by, Quebecers who are lucky enough to stay at home are doing a lot of cooking these days. Many have embarked on the great adventure of bread, feeding their daily yeast the same way one cherishes a small pet. Others have even started to dream of food self-sufficiency. One thing is certain: there's something profoundly satisfying about watching ingredients transform before our very eyes.
Buying an ingredient in its simplest form and transforming it with our hands (with the help of yeast or small electrical appliances, as required) is grounding. It takes us back to the basics. And it allows us to be a little more in touch with the beauties of nature (aren't carrots magnificent?).
Processed food available in grocery stores has its rightful place. It’s practical, often tasty, and enables us to feed ourselves when time or energy is lacking. On the other hand, it doesn’t spark creativity in the same way. Or allow us to witness magic happening. Or let us dirty our hands. Or regain contact with food as it’s grown in nature (or almost). During this lockdown, if you feel the need to reconnect, why don't you rename the kitchen “the lab” or perhaps “the workshop?” Back at home, the kitchen is, to some extent, all of this. It's a place where I have fun transforming food. I experiment a lot. I often make mistakes and I'm always learning! Here are some ideas and recipes to seize this opportunity to have fun with ingredients, in their simplest form.
At the grocery store or market, you can spot lightly processed foods: fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, dried beans and lentils, whole grains, and raw seeds and nuts. Also, make sure to have on hand basic culinary aids, such as oils, vinegars, sugar, and whole spices. The good news is that these foods are often more affordable (in season for fresh fruit and vegetables and year-round for non-perishable food items).
In season, you can choose whole fresh vegetables, for example, carrots with tops, and cook all parts of them. If you have access to such delights, organic vegetable baskets and farmers' markets are also an excellent way to discover vegetables in their simplest (and often most beautiful) expression, with even a little extra dirt to boot.
As long as you’re getting your hands dirty, you might as well have some fun! A vegetable purée mixed with flour will result in strange dough to be shaped which, once molded and cooked, will become the basis of delicious gnocchi. You can experiment with different types of grilled or boiled vegetables and vary the spices. This recipe for a panful of roasted squash gnocchi (in French only) is a nice way to learn the art (which isn’t so complex, in the end) of fresh pasta.
By cooking the beans and lentils yourself instead of buying them in a box, you can appreciate their entire beauty and also save! It's always very satisfying to soak your chickpeas, cook them, and then grind them up in a food processor with lemon juice and tahini to make homemade hummus. You can easily find legume cooking guides online, with or without soaking, and according to different methods, from the fastest to the slowest. As long as you're cooking legumes, you might as well make large quantities! The extra ones can be frozen on a tray before being transferred to an airtight container. They will keep for three months.
For brunch, you can make delicious cinnamon waffles (in French only).
In this vegan recipe, flour, butter, and eggs give way to a whole grain (oats), fruits (dates), and legumes (the same white beans). Freshly grated cinnamon adds a unique flavour, as long as you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, so to speak (it requires some effort, but it's well worth it).
As you learn to cook by following templates, you’ll develop an excellent foundation to nurture your creativity. Here, a package of dried lentils becomes the basis of a tasty homemade soup (in French only).
The same lentils, ground up with some spices, will turn into tasty cretons (in French only) (traditional Quebec spread, which usually contains pork) for your morning toast.
I like to challenge myself to recreate foods that I usually buy ready-made. BBQ sauce (in French only) made from dates, tomato paste, and spices will go perfectly with grilled foods.
In the evening, before going to bed, I now ask myself whether I flossed thoroughly and whether I have something to soak so I can have fun in the kitchen tomorrow!
In the evening, why not create your very our own popcorn (in French only)?
Using a pot with a glass lid, you’ll have the privilege of seeing the grains transform one by one. Even at my age, I'm always been amazed to see grains change shape in such a striking way!
Although it's still too early to pick fruit (and vegetables) from the vegetable garden in the yard or balcony, food still enables us to get closer to nature, as long as we're not afraid to get our hands dirty... or wash some dishes!