People often ask me how long does it take to prepare really healthy meals? The truth is that once you know how, it can be really quick.
Here then is my all time favourite quick food recipe. Ruth and I both cook this regularly. It is yummy, really healthy and takes about 20 – 30 minutes from its beginning to presentation at the table.
A. The principles:
1. There are an infinite number of variations with this recipe:
i) Use any form of healthy pasta or noodles (we eat a lot of buckwheat or soba noodles).
ii) More variety comes with using whatever vegetables are fresh from your garden or what looks good in the organic shop and is in season for your area.
iii) There are 5 basic sauces; each can be varied a good deal.
iv) There are high protein options for further variety.
2. It is called ‘Free Spirit” because no quantities are given.
You get to experiment. With the vegetables, use about equal volumes of each one that you do use. With the sauces, add more or less herbs, ginger etc to suit your own taste. Do not sweat on the details. Use what feels good on the day. It is very easy to produce something that tastes terrific!
B. Start with the right attitude:
It takes no longer to enjoy cooking this recipe. It always helps to be grateful for the food you prepare and do get to eat; some like to say a formal grace. Food preparation can be an excellent time to practice relaxation in daily life. Cooking can also be a great focus for mindfulness – meditation in action.
C. What you need for this recipe:
1. Two saucepans – medium sized, stainless steel (or anything else other than aluminium) with lids, and a stainless steel strainer for the pasta.
2. Seasonal vegetables – around 5 -6 varieties (more or less as you like) of whatever is ripe from the garden or fresh from the organic shop, and a good vegetable cutting knife.
3. Be aware of roughly how long each vegetable takes to cook. You add the slowest to cook first and finish with the quickest. Here is a rough guide to cooking times and the order in which to add them to your pot:
i) Long cooking times: Onions, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, egg plant, leek.
ii) Medium cooking times: Brussel sprouts (best cut in half if big), carrot, cauliflower, broccoli.
iii) Zucchini, squashes, silver beet, cabbage (best cut fine), spinach.
Tomatoes are best added early so they break down well, especially if you are using fresh ones for a sauce.
D. The Preparation:
1. Check your attitude, relax and smile.
2. Heat two saucepans:
To one saucepan, add ¼” (1cm) water. Add the lid and begin to heat flat out. This is for the vegies and sauce.
For the other, ¾ fill it with water, add the lid and place on medium heat. This is for the pasta.
3. Prepare the vegetables:
Clean and then dice each vegetable into cubes about the dimension of your thumbnail. Start with whatever takes the longest to cook (usually onions), add it to the pot with the small amount of water and replace the lid. At this point, the water in this pot should be boiling, so now turn it down to a moderate heat. Continue to add the other vegetables in order; just as quickly as you finish cutting each one.
If you use potato or pumpkin, dice them into small cubes so they do cook quickly. Experiment with this as well as the softer vegies like broccoli and zucchini so they do all finish cooking at the same.
4. Optional high protein – one of the following can be added if you choose:
i) Tofu – cut into small cubes and add towards the end of the cooking.
ii) Beans - either fresh; dried, pre cooked in a separate pot, and added once all the vegetables are cooking; or from a can
iii) Canned tuna – add towards the end of the cooking.
iv) Fresh fish or seafood – can be made into a full marinara sauce, or you can add just fresh fish about halfway through the vegetable cooking so that it steams in time to be cooked as all else is. Then you simply and gently break the cooked fish into small pieces and stir through the vegies.
5.Prepare the sauce – there are 5 basic variations; each of which is added and gently stirred through the vegies at the time indicated:
i) Naked sauce:
Simply have the vegies as they are, eg no sauce.
ii) Tomato base sauce – there are 2 ways to do this:
a) Fresh tomatoes – the preferred version if time and fresh produce permit – add as many tomatoes as you like once the onions are cooking, or use as the first ingredient if no onions are used. With the latter method, another variation is to use minimal water in the vegetables’ saucepan, start with the tomatoes and rely on the liquid from them to help with cooking all the vegies and avoiding having them sticking to the saucepan or burning.
b) canned or bottled tomatoes – add as much as you like once all the vegetables are cooking and the pasta is under way.
iii) Herbs – add to taste using the following instructions:
a) Ginger, garlic or tumeric – add after the first 2 or 3 vegies.
b) Any other herbs – add once all the vegies are in their pot. Of course, basil goes well with tomatoes, as does oregano; but again, be free spirited and experiment.
iv) Pesto – commonly is used on its own without vegetables, but experiment – it does go surprisingly well with some vegies.
v) Miso – pre mix a tablespoon or two of miso with a little warm water and add once the vegies are cooked.
6. Preparing the pasta:
Once all the vegetables are cooking, the water in the other saucepan should be boiling. Experiment with the heat levels on your stove to get this timing roughly right.
Add your chosen pasta and cook to its particular specifications.
7. Use your free time:
While the vegies and pasta complete their cooking, tidy up and wash the gear used for preparation. Relax and smile; maybe check on the vegies, stir if you like or if it is needed!
i) Once the cooking is complete, turn off both saucepans.
ii) Drain the water from the pasta. Remember to rinse them if they are soba noodles.
iii) Add the noodles to bowls. Add 1 -2 tablespoons of good oil –preferably flaxseed, alternatively olive- and gently mix it through. Add the vegies with their sauce on top and serve.
9. At the table:
If you choose to, add low salt, organic tamari to taste.
Give thanks (say grace formally or informally).
Relax, smile and chew well. Enjoy!
Once you are familiar with what to do, all this usually takes less than half an hour. It is quick and easy and really healthy.
Free spirit pasta and vegetables.
Feel free to share this with a friend. Try it yourself and let me know your favourite variations.
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