If nothing else, the start of a new year gives us opportunity to think about where we’re coming from. Twelve months ago, as 2016 got underway, I was buzzing with excitement at the prospect of a new book project. My mind was overrun with recipe ideas, ingredient lists, and images of finished dishes in all of their plated glory.
Having spent the last year bringing those recipes to life–a process was by turns exciting and also far less glamorous than it promised to be at the outset–I’m in a different place. I’m dipping my toes back into cooking, and what I’m craving isn’t creative or novel. It’s food that is simple and grounding. In light of this, I thought it was appropriate to make my last recipe post of 2016 something that’s both uncomplicated and also very representative of how I love to eat. This grain, bean, and green skillet with yum sauce is what I make and crave when I’m not really in the mood to wrangle a recipe. It’s a complete, nutritious, hearty meal that comes together in minutes and always leaves me feeling satisfied.
I’m not usually a fan of catch phrases or neat dictums when it comes to the business of healthful eating. But if there’s any motto I can get behind–at least for the purposes of easy meal planning–it’s the very wise advice to focus on “a grain, a green, and a bean.” This food trinity provides protein, carbs, fiber, and phytonutrients. Depending on the bean and the green you select, you’ll probably get a good dose of calcium and fiber, too. Add a bit of healthful fat–with avocado slices, olive oil, or a vegan dressing of choice–and you’ve got a meal that covers your nutrition bases in one fell swoop.
The nice thing about this skillet meal is that you can customize the grain, green, and bean to fit what you have at home. I’m using brown rice, chickpeas, and kale because they’re ingredients that I always have in my pantry and fridge. Rice is inexpensive and easy to batch cook, and kale is available year-round in my neck of the woods. But I’ve made this dish with many different grains, including farro, barley, wheatberries, quinoa, and millet. I’ve used broccoli rabe, spinach, and collard greens in place of kale. I’ve made it with lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans.
No matter what liberties you take with the recipe, don’t skip the sauce (or at least a sauce). The skillet gets flavor from garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper, but the yum sauce adds acid, brightness, color, and some healthful fat (in this case, from tahini).
You may be wondering what the heck “yum sauce” is, and the answer is that it’s a mixture of tahini, nutritional yeast, lemon, vinegar, mustard, and–surprisingly–turmeric. It was inspired by the yum sauce at Dobra Tea, which I tasted in Asheville over the summer; I wasn’t sure what the ingredients were, but I knew that mustard and turmeric were in there. I loved the sauce so much that I rushed to re-create it when I got home, and I’ve been fiddling with it ever since. I think that this is my favorite version. Be sure to tweak the seasonings (salt, pepper, turmeric, and acid) to fit your liking.
And, in the spirit of easy customization, you can substitute another favorite dressing or sauce, too. My lemon hemp dressing, delightfully green tahini dressing, creamy cashew carrot dressing, and truly amazing cashew queso sauce would be great choices. If all of that fails, the skillet is great with an extra drizzle of olive oil, some creamy avocado slices, or a big dollop of hummus.
Simple food is often presented as having only so many ingredients, or taking only a certain number of minutes to cook. That’s one way of looking at it, but those constraints always feel a little arbitrarily limiting to me. My idea of simple food is food that’s unfussy and purposeful. It employs ingredients and seasonings with intention. It knows the difference between ingredients and efforts that truly do enhance a recipe’s quality, versus those that are extraneous.
This month, I’ll be focusing on simple food and simple cooking. I always try to think about simplicity when I create and post recipes, but I like to tackle more ambitious or playful culinary projects, too. Those have a place, to be sure, but this is a particularly auspicious time of year for getting back to basics and keeping things straightforward. I’ll also be touching on themes of self-care, practicality, and careful listening to one’s own body and needs–practices that can powerfully complement the intention of eating simply and well.
So, I’m signing off for 2016. I’ll be sharing some thoughts on how I’m approaching the new year on Sunday, when I check in for the first weekend reading post of 2017. Till then, be well.