In the lead up to January’s 30 Days of Good Stuff, you’ll notice a whole bunch of new recipes around these parts.
However, a celebrity chef I am not – and it won’t take long for you to notice that there’s a lot of overlap in my recipes. See, I tend to find a few things that work, and work ‘em hard – because in all honesty, there are a few basics of clean, healthy eating that can turn food from bland and boring, to delicious and – most importantly – nutritious.
Because the thing is, if you’re going to eat well all the time, and make long-term changes to your lifestyle, you’ve got to find the middle ground between diet logic (eating one thing, all the time) and something that’s actually sustainable. I think there’s a bit of a myth that you’ve got to chef up gourmet meals, three times a day, to eat well – but actually, there’s got to be a middle ground.
So, I find myself eating similar meals pretty often – but a huge part of the trick lies in the seasoning.
Trust me on this: the right combination of herbs and spices can absolutely, utterly transform a dish.
So: consider this an introduction to eating clean, delicious food – the kind that makes your soul feel good.
Red Onions & Garlic
I used to live with a gorgeous girl called Natalie, and she was a true gourmet. Seriously – girl taught me how to cook. I remember once she described onions, garlic and celery as ‘the building blocks of flavour,’ and I think that’s absolutely true.
Now, for me personally, I forget to buy celery. I have a mental block on it. But I’m very rarely without red onions and garlic – my kitchen wouldn’t be my kitchen without ‘em – and they really are the basis of the majority of my meals. Just throw a teaspoon of olive oil (or coconut oil, if you want to be really snazzy) into a frying pan, throw in half a red onion and a clove of garlic, and you’ve already got the basis of something that tastes as good as it smells – and trust me, it’ll smell amazing.
As for that clove of garlic – ideally, I’d plump for a clove I’ve crushed up myself. But in reality, when I’m coming off the back of an 11 hour day, there’s no way I’m in the mood for that – so I’ll often substitute that for half a teaspoon of pre-chopped garlic, like these by the aptly named Very Lazy. You can get jars of these in most supermarkets, and they last ages – so they’re definitely something to consider if you’re short on time.
Make It A Meal
You can do a lot by starting with these ingredients – but my usual go-to is a basic stir-fry. Once those red onions start to soften up a bit, throw in your preferred meat (or tofu, if you prefer a vegetarian option) and cook it through. I find this works really well with chicken, pork, prawns, or steak – so the cooking times vary, but so does the result. Four meals in one, right here.
Let nobody say I don’t offer value for (no) money.
Personally, I like my food with a kick – so I’ll often add in a chopped fresh chilli (or, again, half a teaspoon from a jar).
Throw in a chopped pepper or two (I’m a big fan of those long, sweet red peppers – yum), a few mushrooms, some spinach and a few fresh herbs – and you’ve got the basis of a great stir fry that tastes amazing, and looks great.
But What Fresh Herbs?
For a long, long time, I used to cook with dried herbs – and I always wondered why my food was a bit bland and tasteless. So when I discovered fresh herbs, it was like a new world. I felt like skipping through fields, going all Morrissey with a sprig of rosemary in place of the gladioli. They’re that good.
Now, there are so many herbs out there, and I’d recommend experimenting with a few to see what floats your boat. But here are a few of my favourites:
Basil: Amazing with tomatoes, lemon, or red onions (which is why it’s a big favourite of mine) – basil is super-aromatic and can really lift a dish. I am shamelessly addicted to snacking on cherry tomatoes, wrapped in a leaf of basil. Try it, and then tell me I’m nuts.
Parsley: I tend to plump for flat-leaf parsley, because it’s got a bit more bite. It complements garlic, mint, lemon and onions – mix those things together and you’ve got yourself a tasty Mediterranean-inspired dish in seconds. Seriously. Yum.
Mint: Fresh mint goes beautifully with peas, potatoes and feta cheese – and it’s also a great way to help you to drink more water. Chuck some chopped cucumber and mint into some icy water, and you’ve got something that looks like a cocktail, but is amazing for you. Happy days.
Rosemary: I would happily have rosemary, mint, and balsamic vinegar on lamb for every single meal during the winter. Along with some gooey red onions and garlic, you’ve got the ultimate lamb dish – easy peasy. It’s quite a robust herb, so it’s important to take out the pieces afterwards (unless you want ‘em stuck in your teeth) but it really adds flavour to a whole range of dishes – especially when you’ve got root vegetables involved.
Coriander: Yes, this is technically a spice. But fresh coriander (or cilantro, for you guys in the US) has a bit of an Indian flavour, and goes beautifully with fresh lime and chillies, and of course, red onion and garlic.
And the other spices?
I’m more inclined to plump for dried spices, because… Well, it’s just easier. And if you’ve got chillies and fresh herbs in there, the spices are really there to fill in the middle notes. But one of my favourite ways to use spices is in eggs.
When you’re making scrambled eggs, or an omelette, it’s a great idea to throw in some spices (and a lil’ bit of fresh parsley) when you’re beating the eggs. It’ll really drive the flavour, and give the dish a bit of a subtle boot up the bum – which, in my opinion, you really need when you’re foregoing butter, cheese and milk in your scramblies.
I’m going to admit my own laziness again here, though, and tell you a secret. Those pre-mixed spices you can get in the supermarket? I’m a bit of a fan. Bart Blends do some really good ones, like this Cajun mix – but generally, check the ingredients and if they’re all herbs and spices, they’re all good by me.
Chuck in a teaspoon of a good spice blend when you’re making your eggs – or, in fact, pretty much anything you’re making – and you’ve got a quick, healthy dish with a gorgeous flavour. Easy blimmin’ peasy.
So – that’s the basics of my cooking. But the joy of eating real food is that you can experiment as little, or as much, as you like. What combinations do you enjoy? What tickles your pickle? And what’s your top real food tip?