Follow these pointers from Madison and your cooking will taste better, with less effort.
CHOPPING, PEELING, AND JUICING
1 Bending your head forward while chopping or slicing vegetables can cause strain to build up in the shoulders and neck. Instead of using your eyes as a guide, curve the fingers on your free hand under your knuckles and use your curved fingers as a guide for your hand with the knife. You should glance down occasionally as you work, but for the most part you can hold your head upright.
2 To peel a tomato, slash a little “X” at the base with a knife, then drop it into a pan of boiling water. When you see the edges of the “X” begin to loosen and roll back (after 10 or 20 seconds), scoop out the tomato, drop it into a bowl of cold water, and then slip off the skin. To seed the tomato, cut it in half around the equator. Hold one-half in hand and pull out seeds with your fingers while squeezing gently.
3 To extract the most juice from lemons and limes, roll them on the counter while pressing down on them. Then slice in half and juice.
4 A mortar and pestle is a wonderful way to grind garlic into a thick paste. If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, try mincing garlic with a little salt. The salt breaks down the garlic pieces and keeps them from clinging to the sides of the knife. Work minced garlic and salt into paste with the side of a knife.
5 A vegetable peeler isn’t always the quickest tool for peeling potatoes, especially knobby ones. Instead, use a sharp knife. Start by cutting a thin slice off either end. Then cradle the potato in your hand and remove skin with five or six swift, long strokes, going from one end to the other. Peel turnips and rutabagas in the same fashion.
6 Keep two cutting boards in the kitchen and use one for fruits and nuts; use the other for garlic, onions, chiles, and other ingredients with strong flavors and/or odors.
7 Slice a head of lettuce at its base with a sharp knife and let the leaves fall open. Discard any tough, outer leaves. To prevent bruising, do not twist lettuce. Instead, gently tear large leaves.
8 Toss greens with a pinch of salt, then add the dressing (or just some oil and then a squeeze of lemon – using your hands to catch any of the lemon seeds). Use your hands; they won’t bruise the greens and you’ll know by touch when there’s enough dressing on them.
COOKING WITH TOFU AND SOYMILK
9 To rid tofu of excess moisture, there is no need for elaborate weighting and pressing. Unless you are deep-frying tofu, cutting the tofu horizontally into slabs and blotting excess moisture with a paper towel is fine.
10 Most cooks fry tofu to firm up its texture. However, if you prefer not to fry foods, you instead can drop cubes into a pot of simmering water for 5 minutes, drain the tofu, and then use the meaty cubes in stir-fries or curries.
11 Use soymilk as you would regular milk in cooking and baking; to approximate buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon white vinegar per cup and let stand for several minutes to curdle.
CHOOSING AND PREPARING HERBS
12 When using dried herbs, crumble them between your fingers to release their aromatic oils, then inhale to see how much aroma there is. Add more or less dried herb, based on the aroma they release.
13 Add dried herbs at the start of the cooking process. Fresh herbs are more volatile and are usually best added when cooking is almost completed.
14 Not all herbs dry well. Chervil, parsley, and cilantro turn flat and grassy, but basil, sage, tarragon, and marjoram retain a fair amount of flavor. Whole or cut-leaf dried herbs are more potent than powdered versions.
15 Fresh parsley is often quite sandy. To clean, vigorously swish bunch in bowl of water. Spin dry. Then, to remove leaves, grasp stems and hold leaves downward. Shave with large knife and chop.
BUYING OILS AND NUTS
16 Choose unrefined or partially refined vegetable oils. Look for the words pressed, cold-pressed, or expelled. Unlike refined supermarket oils, these retain their nutrients, including lecithin, vitamin E, and carotenes.
17 Buy nuts in shells or skins and make sure they are unroasted. Roasted nuts are often fried and often contain salt, MSG, and sugar. Nuts and seeds are best stored in the refrigerator.
COOKING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
18 When sauteing, choose a large pan so that vegetables will have room to move around and brown. If crowded into a pan, vegetables will steam and not develop as much flavor.
19 When salting foods, add some at the beginning of the cooking process – except with beans and large grains, which can toughen – because salt brings out flavors in foods. Add salt to each component, then add just a pinch at the end to fine-tune. Salt added only at the end of cooking doesn’t have time to bring out natural flavors in food.
20 When sauteing, add garlic toward the end of the cooking time to keep it from burning.
21 When making stock soups and stews, sauteing onions, carrots, and celery (along with other vegetables) before adding water help bring out their flavor. The more the vegetables are allowed to brown, the more color and depth they contribute.
22 When making quick stocks, use an abundance of vegetables in proportion to the liquid, for intense flavor in a minimum of time. Pour the contents of the stock pot through a sieve and press firmly to extract as much liquid as possible.
23 There are several kinds of potatoes – high-starch potatoes for baking and frying, low-starch potatoes for boiling, and all-purpose potatoes that fall in between. To identify your potatoes, slice one with a knife. If the knife is covered with a foamy substance or the potato grabs onto the knife, it has a lot of starch and is best for baking. If not, it’s a boiler. So-so, it’s all-purpose.
PREPARING GRAINS AND BEANS
24 To make fluffy grains, place a towel under pot lid once they have finished cooking and let stand for five minutes. The towel, not the grains, will absorb moisture in the covered pot.
25 Use a double boiler to cook cereals without stirring constantly. Place cereal in top of double boiler, add water, and then place over pot of simmering water and cover. Twenty minutes later, it’s done.
26 Put cooked pasta directly into pan with sauce, letting some of the cooking water drip into the pan and thin the sauce to the proper consistency for coating the noodles.
27 When buying dried beans, be sure that the skins are intact, and that the beans are neither chipped nor cracked – signs that they are old and will take longer to cook because they are so excessively dry.
TOFU IN CURRY-COCONUT SAUCE
Serves 2 to 3
Traditionally this Vietnamese dish calls for frying the tofu until it is firm and golden. Instead, the tofu can be simmered in water without the use of additional fat. Serve this brothy stir-fry over rice or noodles. (See Tips #1, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17)
- 1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon roasted peanut oil
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 2 serrano chiles, minced
- 1-2 teaspoons Thai curry paste or curry powder
- 1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup stock or water
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped toasted peanuts
- Bring several quarts of water to boil. Add salt to taste; add tofu and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove tofu with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and reserve.
- Heat wok over high heat. Add oil, heat briefly, and then add onion, pepper, and chiles. Stir-fry until vegetables soften slightly, about I minute. Stir in curry, coconut milk, stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and tofu. Simmer 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts.
PER SERVING: 416 calories, 27g protein, 30g fat, 16g carbohydrates, 6.5g fiber, 32mg sodium, 6% vitamin A, 45% vitamin C, 33% calcium
GREEN SALAD WITH HERBS
Serves 3 to 4
Salads with fresh herbs have a robust flavor. The idea here is to use whatever herbs are on hand. Parsley and celery leaves, which are always available in markets, are an excellent start. If you can find basil and marjoram, add them as well. (See Tips #7, 8, 13, 15, 16)
- 2 cups lettuce leaves
- 2 cups spinach leaves
- 1 cup purslane or arugula leaves
- 4 marjoram sprigs
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves.
- 1/2 cup celery leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh flat parsley leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar
- Carefully sort through leaves removing those that are bruised, then wash and dry well. Tear lettuce, spinach, and purslane into bite-sized pieces. Strip marjoram leaves from stems but keep leaves whole. Tear basil leaves unless already quite small. Keep celery and parsley leaves in fairly large pieces. Place greens in large bowl.
- Toss everything with a pinch or two of salt, then with just enough oil to coat. Season with lemon juice to taste and serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 47 calories, 2g protein, 4g fat, 3g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 172mg sodium, 32% vitamin A, 45% vitamin C, 7% calcium
POTATO AND PARSLEY SOUP
Serves 4 to 6
Choose a mixture of boiling and baking potatoes for this recipe. The russets or other baking potatoes will fall apart and thicken the soup. The firmer red new potatoes will maintain their shape. (See Tips #1, 5, 15, 16, 23)
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled
- 2 parsley roots if available, scrubbed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups chopped fresh flat parsley leaves
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 6 cups water or stock, plus more as needed
- Quarter potatoes and slice thin. Grate parsley roots if using. Heat oil in soup pot and add potatoes, parsley roots, shallots, and bay leaves. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Raise heat, add wine, and simmer until it is syrupy, about 3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and water. Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in more liquid if soup seems too thick, along with remaining parsley, and pepper to taste. Heat through for a minute or two, adjust seasonings, remove bay leaves, and serve.
PER SERVING: 166 calories, 3g protein, 4g fat, 28g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 20mg sodium, 27% vitamin A, 71% vitamin C, 4% calcium
WHITE BEANS WITH EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Makes 2 1/2 cups, enough for several servings
Almost any bean can be prepared in this fashion, although white beans and chickpeas respond particularly well. Boiling the soaked beans vigorously for ten minutes will help leech out compounds that can cause digestion problems. A piece of dried kelp (kombu) mill also help. (See Tips #1, 4, 15, 16, 27)
- 1 cup dried cannellini or other white beans, cleaned and rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small onion, quartered
- Several sprigs parsley, plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 large garlic clove, sliced
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 piece kombu or pinch asafetida, optional
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 large shallot, diced, or 3 scallions, including a little green, thinly sliced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- Ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges
- For overnight soak: Place beans in large bowl, cover with at least 4 cups water, and soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. For quick soak: bring beans and 4 cups water to boil; boil hard for 1 minute, turn off heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.
- Drain beans and cover with 6 cups fresh water in large saucepan. Bring to boil, and boil hard for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that collects on surface. Lower heat and add bay leaves, onion, parsley sprigs, sliced garlic, I teaspoon olive oil, and kombu or asafetida if using. Cover and simmer until beans are partially tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on length of soak and freshness and size of beans. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and continue cooking until tender but not mushy Remove and discard aromatics with slotted spoon. Pour off broth and reserve for stock
- Put warm beans in bowl and add shallot or scallions, minced garlic, chopped parsley, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Toss gently with large rubber spatula so as. not to break beans. Add salt if needed and pepper to taste. Serve with lemon wedges.
PER SERVING: 130 calories, 4g protein, 8g fat, 12g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 4mg sodium, 5% vitamin A, 6% vitamin C, 4% calcium
WINTER PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM STEW
Although mushroom stock delivers the best results, this stew can be made with water. Serve over soft polenta, mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice pilaf. (See Tips #1, 4, 13, 15)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 2 pinches red pepper flakes
- 1/2 pound portobello mushrooms, stems reserved for stock and caps sliced 3/8-inch thick
- 1 pound large white mushrooms, stems reserved for stock and caps thickly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 cups Quick Mushroom Stock (recipe follows) or water
- 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or tarragon leaves
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and remove to bowl.
- Return pan to medium heat and add half remaining oil. When hot, add portobello mushrooms and saute until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Add them to bowl with onion and repeat with remaining oil and domestic mushrooms. Return every, thing to pan and add garlic, tomato paste, stock, and vinegar. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Add parsley and adjust seasonings. Serve.
PER SERVING: 319 calories, 6g protein, 22g fat, 26g carbohydrates, 5.5g fiber, 30mg sodium, 57% vitamin A, 38% vitamin C, 6% calcium
QUICK MUSHROOM STOCK
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
The secret of this stock is to brown the vegetables thoroughly for an intense, caramelized flavor. The potent dried mushrooms are a must. Use this stock for any rice dish, stew, or soup that features mushrooms. (See Tips #1, 20, 21, 22)
- 1/4 cup or more dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, sliced
- 2 mushrooms, sliced, plus any trimmings
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste.
- 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1/2 cup dry white or red wine
- 1 tablespoon flour
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- Cover dried mushrooms with 2 cups hot water and set aside.
- Heat oil in saucepan over high heat. Add onion, carrot, garlic, and fresh mushrooms and trimmings. Saute, stirring only occasionally, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, stir in tomato paste, marjoram, and wine, and sprinkle with flour. Cover pan and cook until wine reduces to syrupy glaze, about 3 minutes.
- Add porcini and their soaking liquid, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a little pepper, and vinegar, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Remove dried mushrooms from strainer and add to stew.
PER SERVING: 128 calories, 2g protein, 7g fat, 11g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 12mg sodium, 52% vitamin A, 10% vitamin C, 3% calcium