Okay, I don’t mean to start out yelling at you, but seriously, this is a problem. It’s probably one of the biggest problems I hear when people start cooking at home or start “eating healthy.”
Friend 1: “Healthy food doesn’t taste good.”
Client 42: “Vegetables don’t taste good.”
Family member 37: “I don’t know what I did to it.”
Me: “What’d you put on it?”
All: <blank stare>
Me: “Salt? Pepper?”
I might get a nod here. Often followed by a concern about using too much salt. Turn over the package of your favorite packaged food, and check out the percent daily value of sodium. I’ll wait. Don’t forget to check the serving size. Are you eating that whole bag of chips? Do the multiplication. I’ll wait. You’ll also find that there’s kind of a shocking amount of sodium in a lot of packaged sweets. And a crazy amount of sugar in your packaged salty snacks. But that’s kind of a different post. My point is, you (almost) can’t put too much salt in your homecooked food.
The food needs to taste good, and that means you have to season it, and that means you need some salt.
So, the basics of seasoning, especially vegetables, are salt, pepper, and fat. I know that includes two scary words for people trying to be healthier, but trust me, please.
Salt is a flavor enhancer. It helps to bring out the natural flavors in things. It also helps draw the water out of “wet” veggies like squash, eggplant, and tomatoes. Water makes things taste, you know watery, instead of having concentrated flavor. If you’re making the switch from packaged foods to fresh foods, you might have to use more salt than you feel comfortable with. It’s okay. It’s probably still less than the packaged things you’re used to. Measure the salt (start with 1/2 teaspoon for a regular dish of four servings), taste the food, and add more salt, if you need it. Make sure to measure for reference. If you want to reduce the salt in your diet, start out with the amount that makes the food taste good to you, and every week, cut it back a little. That will help you get used to the reduced sodium without feeling like you’re missing out.
Fat is also a flavor enhancer. A little goes a long way. So don’t feel bad cooking in oil or butter, or finishing with a little cream or cheese, if that’s your jam. Fat also makes you feel full longer, and creates a feeling of satisfaction, which is really important if you’re incorporating more veggies after living a life of fast food.
Honestly, pepper’s mostly habit. It does what it does, and if you like that, put it in.
Some other good seasonings to play with:
Citrus – the acidic nature of lemon, lime, and orange juice brings out the best in most veggies. Squeeze a little into sauteed spinach or greens, or over roasted carrots.
Vinegar – a different acidic profile, but much the same thought. A little apple cider vinegar tones down the bitterness of a pot of braised collard greens or kale.
Sugar – another thing we tend to be scared of, but a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in a pot of peas and carrots, greens, or even beans brings out their natural sweetness. Your grandma knew what she was doing.
Condiments – soy sauce, hot sauce, Asian hot sauce, salsa, ranch (why the hell not?). The point is to make the food taste good so you’ll eat it. Once you get used to eating at home, you can start worrying about “healthy” cooking. You’re more than halfway there.
Leave a comment. Are you afraid of seasoning? Do you have a favorite seasoning, or spice you use for everything?