The Creative Cook

It’s that time in the season when meal planning can get B-O-R-I-N-G if you aren’t careful. Being creative in the kitchen is one of the challenges of eating seasonally. The same produce is in abundance, but that can sometimes feel like overabundance. As in, “I’m so over kale.”

The same goes for us here on the Lettuce Kitchen Team. Keeping recipes interesting is a top priority for us, and we’re happy to let you in on some of our tricks for keeping the waning weeks of a season’s produce exciting and new. Lettuce has some of your suppers covered, but we know there is still plenty of cooking to do in a week, especially if you’re cooking for a family of four (are kids ever not hungry?!). Here are a few tips for planning creative meals that keep them coming back for more.

Go global Cuisines from around the world have their own unique flavor profiles, typically exhibited through spices, sauces, and complementary ingredients. Italian, Tex-Mex, Chinese, Indian, and the American South are some of the more well known flavor profiles in this area, but for fun, consider expanding your palate by venturing in to Caribbean, Moroccan, or Turkish cuisines. For ideas peruse cookbooks or explore menus online from restaurants featuring a particular cuisine of interest. And don’t overlook the bulk spice section at the market. Several of Austin’s grocery stores have an impressive selection of spices to try.

Technique switch Steam, poach, bake, broil, roast, grill, sear, stir fry, deep fry, shallow fry–an ingredient can really change its flavor just by switching up the way you cook it. Just be warned that if a technique is new to you, it may take a trial run or two to get it just right. Videos abound on YouTube for a quick introduction, or any classic cookbook worth its salt will have notes on a variety of cooking techniques. Cook’s Illustrated, the magazine and definitely the website, is an incredible resource for learning not just the techniques but the science behind them.

Raw vs Cooked Keeping meals unexpected and fun can be as simple as eating an ingredient cooked when you typically eat it raw, or raw rather than cooked. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Most collard recipes, for example, call for boiling the greens for sometimes up to three hours. But sliced into ribbons and gently massaged with a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil or vinaigrette, and they become tender enough to eat raw in a slaw. Radicchio is great in a salad, but braise it in vegetable broth, roast or grill it, and the bitterness mellows and becomes a whole new experience. Roast or grill okra whole, and its trademark sliminess all but disappears, and all that remains is that delicious char that can come only from grilling or roasting. And thanks to the trendy shaved brussels sprouts salad, a whole new generation will look at this humble vegetable in a fresh new way.

To learn more about the joys and pains of eating seasonally and locally, check out Barbara Kingsolver’s non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about her family’s adventure with eating locally and seasonally when they moved to their Appalachian farm; or The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, which is about the Canadian couple’s commitment to eating only foods grown within 100 miles of their home.

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