MAKE THE PLATE
Some people have asked about "the plate", an illustration we included in The Hidden Half of Nature. The idea of the plate is that you (and we) can use it as a guide for how to feed the microbiome. Specifically, the microbiota that live in our colon. If you want to know more about why this matters you'll have to crack the book and read about your personal alchemists.
In the meantime, you'll find examples of how to make the plate below. If you spend much time around cooks and in kitchens you can probably reverse engineer the recipes. If you are more of a by-the-cookbook person, there are recipe-like tips and pointers below. Have fun with food! Be creative and experiment. Like us, you'll develop some winners to make over and over.
All of these dishes are easily adjusted for omnivores, vegans, or vegetarians. Seed and nut butter dressings, meat additions, dairy substitutes are all fair game to take these dishes the direction you want. Whatever your choice, just remember, the goal is ample fodder for your fiber fermenters so they can work on your behalf. And of course, part of the pleasure of eating is enjoying good food with family and friends, so don't forget that ingredient.
VEGETABLE RAGU ON A BEAN BED & BRUSSELS SPROUTS
*This ragu is made from summer tomatoes that were both dried and frozen; an assortment of sweet and spicy peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Saute all these things to the texture you like, add wine, stock, or tomato sauce to further modify. Season with basil, oregano, thyme, chili flakes, salt, and pepper.
*To make the bean bed first cook the beans in water and drain well. When ready to eat, lay beans one layer thick on a cookie sheet and roast them at 300ish. The jackets will start to burst, kind of like popcorn. As the beans lose moisture they start getting crunchy. Pull out of oven and toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper and other herbs and spices you like.
*Steam Brussels sprouts and then drizzle with olive oil and add a dash of salt and pepper.
SAUSAGE & VEGETABLE RAGU ON A KALE BED
*This ragu is made from an assortment of sweet and spicy peppers, onions, garlic, sausage, and butternut squash. It is topped with a little parmesan. Saute everything as above, adding liquid, or other ingredients you like.
*What makes kale especially good is to steam it with just a little water in a covered pan very slowly. Partway through steaming, add olive oil to the pan and let the kale continue cooking. This takes ~20 min's. You want all the water to steam away by the time the kale is done because you don't want to drain the kale after adding olive oil. Toss kale in salt, pepper, and other herbs and spices you like.
LEAFY GREENS-BASED SALAD
*Forget almost everything you thought about "salad". Too many of us think only in terms of lettuce. Add more ingredients and salad is a meal unto itself.
*Instead of just lettuce, try for a total of three different greens. The salad pictured has raddichio, lacinato kale, lettuce, and parsley. Other standard ingredients for this salad in our house are walnuts, apples, blue cheese, and homemade croutons. Pick a different nut, fruit, and cheese if you like others better. Put seasonal things, like summer tomatoes (or winter roots) on the side and some protein, like the egg, and you are set for a meal.
*A simple dressing is fresh-squeezed lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper. Don't skimp.
TEMPEH WITH VEGETABLES ON A BED OF GREENS
(goes well with tofu or chicken if you don't like tempeh)
*Tempeh is fermented whole soybeans pressed into a firm cake. Slice it in whatever shape you like and fry in coconut oil with jewel yam and purple onion till everything is cooked. Add fresh garlic at the very end, peanuts, sesame seeds, splashes of a nice quality shoyu or tamari, and chili flakes.
*Steam some greens (broccoli raab, or bok choy, or purple cabbage go well with tempeh) and lay on plate. Put the cooked tempeh mix on top of the greens and add a few drops of sesame oil. You can eat it like this or whip up a quick peanut sauce (see below).
SAME TEMPEH DISH AS ABOVE WITH PEANUT SAUCE
*Peanut sauce is easy to make. Use unsalted, unsweetened crunchy peanut butter and whisk in some water, mirin, and shoyu or tamari. Add a mild miso for flavoring along with fresh grated ginger and chili flakes to taste. Always taste as you go along and adjust seasonings. If things get out of hand, whisk in more peanut butter and water.
(It is getting harder to find unsalted peanut butter in a jar. But, if that's all you have, go very easy on the miso and shoyu (or tamari) since they already contain salt.)
NOW THIS IS A SALAD!
Mix snap peas, walnuts, a few cooked beans, homemade croutons, and apple with a 3-greens mix and toss in a bit of olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Then top with steamed potato and a generous amount of anchovies (or some other fish or meat).
A homemade mayo is what makes this salad rock. It marries the relatively bland potatoes with the salty anchovies. The key to this mayo is acidity (in the form of lemon), garlic, and the flavors of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Follow any mayo recipe (basically the yolk of one egg into which you s-l-o-w-l-y whisk a high quality olive oil). Flavor the mayo with garlic, lemon, and fresh herbs to your taste. Drizzle on top and you have a feast.
For all of these recipes don't skimp on any ingredients and go with in-season greens and other vegetables. The freshness is where the flavor is.
A Note from Anne: True confession, I am not very good at following recipes. Invariably, I am either out of an ingredient, don't like an ingredient, or hanker for an ingredient not in a recipe. But I do like cookbooks. I use them like a friendly advice column or a trusted friend and then venture on from there. I rely on two types of cookbooks--workhorses like the "Joy of Cooking" and those that are a mix of recipes and narrative.
Two cookbooks of the latter type really expanded my ideas and practices. As I describe in the middle of the chapter, "Too Close to Home" I grappled with new meals and dishes and how to make them both flavorful and healthy. This isn't always easy to do, but I found my way, in part through consulting cookbooks like the two below:
From Rebecca Katz' "The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen" I learned an absolutely key principle that she calls "FASS". This stands for fat, acid, salt, and sweet. These tastes drive and enhance the flavor of foods. The trick is to get them harmonized and balanced. Fats in our cupboard and fridge are mostly olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and animal fat. Acids include lemon juice, various vinegars, and condiments like tamarind paste or mustards. For salt I have a flaky, coarse one and a normal small-grained one and also rely on foods like tamari, shoyu, miso, and various condiments on the salty side. I've never been much of a baker, so sweet comes in forms naturally in a food, mostly different fresh and dried fruits, or a vegetable at peak ripeness. Put the FASS concept together and it becomes...the sweetness of a chunk of fall apple atop a walnut topped with blue cheese; a perfectly braised piece of meat with a tang of tomato, a dash of salt, and so on.
Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Meal" greatly stimulated my thinking. Cooking is an intimate, resourceful, and creative act. America's relative lack of a unifying and traditional food culture (compared to most other countries) can be a challenge. This book has a no-nonsense, back to basics approach that combines simplicity and wisdom in a practical way that gets healthy, flavorful meals onto the table and into the lunch bag. Advice on broths and stocks, how to cook things I thought I knew how to cook (e.g., chicken, eggs), and downsizing dinner were among the takeaways. And if you are an information hound like me, the bits of history and food factoids in the narrative part are fabulous.