Wednesday, June 13, 2012


It can get tricky cooking for more than one person on a regular basis. One of you hates tomatoes, but someone else can't live without them... One of you loves spicy food, but someone else can't tolerate the heat. Then add the complication of getting everyone to eat something that's good for them, and you've got yourself a real headache. But don't break out the ibuprofen just yet!

One of the easiest ways that I have found to cater to everyone's tastes while still providing them with a healthy meal is what I call the build-a-bowl. Using a variety of healthy food and condiment options, people can create a custom bowl with exactly the flavors they want. As you'll see, the key is in the condiments.

Start by cooking a whole grain such as brown rice, millet, farro or quinoa. Place a serving in each person's bowl. 

Chop up 3-5 veggie toppings such as cucumber, broccoli, avocado, carrots, tomato, spinach, kale, or arugula. Place them separately on the table with serving spoons so people can add what they like to their bowl. 

Prepare 1-2 protein options such as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, fish, or chicken. Place them separately on the table with serving utensils so people can add what they like to their bowl.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, pick several condiments for people to choose from. A variety of choices such as pesto, tamari, tahini, chili flakes, salsa, peanut sauce, olive oil and vinegars gives everyone the chance to get the flavors they crave. Feel like something Asian inspired? Try the tamari! In the mood for Italian seasonings? Go for the pesto! Want something spicy? Reach for the chili flakes! You get the idea.

Personally, I like to experiment with making my own condiments. Not only does it give me the chance to get creative, but they last for at least a week and can be used to spice up a variety of other meals. Two of my most recent undertakings were vegan pesto and lemon tahini dressing.  

Vegan Pesto
In this vegan pesto recipe, I use half basil and half other greens and herbs such as arugula and parsley. Parsley is a totally underrated superfood that boosts the immune system and boasts anti-inflammatory properties, and I love to use pesto as a vehicle to get more of it into my diet. 

I also use walnuts in this recipe, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, but another tasty and more traditional pesto ingredient would be pine nuts.

You can use leftover pesto in tomato sauces, salad dressings, soups, dips or on top of fish, chicken or beef.  

1 cup basil
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup organic arugula*
1/2 cup walnuts
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup high quality olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt, or more to taste
*I specify organic arugula because greens are on the dirty dozen list for being commonly contaminated with highly toxic pesticides when non-organic/conventionally grown.

Combine basil, parsley, arugula, walnuts, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender until it is a coarse mixture. Keeping the blender or food processor on low, slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture until blended.  

Lemon Tahini Dressing
Common in middle eastern cooking, tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and has a slight peanut flavor. You can usually find it in the same isle as almond or peanut butter. If you haven't had tahini before, it's really delicious and is also a great source of B vitamins and heart healthy fats.

You can use the leftovers in salad dressings, as a topping for homemade falafel, as an ingredient in homemade hummus, or simply to drizzle on steamed veggies. 

1/3 cup tahini (well-stirred)
1/4 cup purified water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
Drizzle of olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. 

*Note: I will be consistently adding new recipes for build-a-bowl! Look for them by clicking on the "Build-A-Bowl" link under Topics on the right.

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