Cooking rules!

I finally got Michael Pollen’s Food Rules from the library! I own copies of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, but never got around to Food Rules. OK, can I just say that there are several of these rules I want to get emblazoned on T-shirts? These are my top T picks:
  • The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
Perhaps my favorite, not for a T-shirt (not catchy enough) but for life is this: Cook.
The healthier I eat, the less I want to eat out in restaurants. I’m not even talking about fast food (which I left behind years ago, other than a foray to a locally owned, better quality burger or chicken joint a time or two a year). I’m talking about any restaurant.
Restaurants are businesses, and businesses need to make profits. That means they need to appeal to the tastebuds. That means they probably use more salt, sugar and fat than you might expect…even the healthier restaurants. That’s why I eat out seldom, choose my restaurants carefully, then order what I want. I eat away from home maybe once a week, and half of those dining out occasions are at Whole Foods. Give me some kale salad and some Indian butter chicken, and I’m a happy girl.
The fact is that I can eat more healthfully, inexpensively and often more deliciously when I cook for myself.  Here’s part of what Michael Pollen has to say about it:
“…letting other people cook for you means losing control over your eating life. …Not surprisingly, the decline in home cooking closely parallels the rise in obesity, and research suggests that people who cook are more likely to eat a more healthful diet.”
I didn’t start cooking until I had my first apartment in college. (I don’t count my high school days when it was just me and my dad, and I would take turns at dinner. I did make spaghetti sauce and saute onions to go with pork chops, but we also ate a LOT of shake-and-baked chicken and boxed rice or noodle mixes.) Some of my first experiments were disasters (I remember one hideous vegetarian stroganoff with green beans and yogurt that curdled). But I learned from my mistakes, and I gradually accumulated a rotation of dishes that were quick, foolproof, tasty, inexpensive and reasonably healthy. I also ate a lot of bean tostadas…but I made them myself.
As I’ve been working on my cookbook inventory (which I need to start posting!), I’ve had little waves of food nostalgia over some of my first volumes, which don’t get much use (or prime bookshelf real estate) anymore. These are classics like The New Basics Cookbook and the various Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks. Not to mention goodies from my early days of recipe clipping. So next week, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane, and make some of my old favorite dishes that I haven’t made for years. If they stand the test of time, I’ll share them.
In the meantime, I’m going to share a new recipe I made last night, from Plenty, which will heretoforth be known as Cookbook Number 180. Blame Borders for sending me another 50 percent off coupon (plus extra 10 percent with my Rewards card). Cough. This was quick to prep, didn’t need much watching while cooking, used inexpensive ingredients and was healthy and tasty. (Husband quote: “This is great!”) When I make it again, I’ll use a bit less oil and put the lid on for half of the lentil-carrot cooking time. I served it as a main dish with a cucumber-tomato-feta salad and some kale chips, but it would be a lovely side dish to fish or chicken (in that case, I would definitely use less oil to lighten it a bit).

Turkish Carrots and Lentils with Herbs
Serves 4-6 as a main; 3 as a side

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, in thin crescent moon shapes
4 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 cup green or Puy lentils
6 large carrots, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tsp superfine sugar
1-1/4 cups vegetable stock or water
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, parsley or dill
good squeeze of lemon juice

Methods

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion until soft and pale gold. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 2 minutes. Now add everything else except the herbs, lemon juice and EVOO.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook until the lentils and carrots are tender but still toothsome (al dente) and the liquid has been absorbed. This should take about 30 minutes. (I suggest covering the pan for half of that time.)
  3. Taste, add the herbs and lemon juice, then adjust the seasoning. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.