Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil
Season food to taste like itself
BY MAGAZINE COO MARGO MAIER-MOUL
I favor cooking at home. I like food that is simple – food that tastes good, and is good for me. When I first started eating vegetarian I wondered how will I keep my food from being boring? It’s as if I assumed that vegetables and grains had no flavor, but meat did!
“Herbs and spices” said the books, that’s how you compensate. Hmm. I love herbs and spices, and I certainly use them on occasion (like when making a curry for example) but in general, not so much.
Just say no
Honestly, I find using herbs and spices fussy and over-complicated. It’s harder to balance flavors. Cooking ends up being more about the herbs and spices than it is about the food I’m seasoning.
What I eventually discovered was amazingly simple: food that tastes like itself tastes great. My favorite way to season most foods to their own perfection is the judicious use of salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Salt especially is the magic ingredient. Too little and food is bland or “flat.” Too much and it’s just salty. But just the right amount brings out the individual nuances of each dish. The flavor is enhanced and balanced.
For subtle seasoning, look for unrefined sea salt with no additives. Avoid iodized table salt, for example. It’s fine for the table, but wrong for cooking.
The mineral content of unrefined sea salt gives it a unique taste, depending on its origin. There are many choices available, from fine to coarsely ground, and himalayan pink to Cyprus black. You may want to start with a basic grocery store brand and experiment with more exotic varieties as you develop a taste for it.
The cardinal rule of seasoning with salt? Not too much!
Black pepper adds heat, aroma, piquancy and crunch to any dish. There are pink, white, green and black varieties to choose from. It’s also said to improve digestion through the stimulation of the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion.
If you’re interested in graduating from the ground pepper on your table, experiment with options you may have at your local gourmet market, or check out the dizzying selection at Kalustyan’s.
Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil is well-known as a healthy choice in a Mediterranean or anywhere-else diet.
Extra virgin means that it’s the first pressing of the olives, and generally has the most delicate flavor and most antioxidant benefits.
Cold-pressed means that the oil was not heated above a certain temperature (usually 80 degrees F) therefore retaining more of its nutrients. More here on olive oil terminology.
Look for organic, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed on the label.
A light sprinkling of salt, a gentle grinding of pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil is all the seasoning you need to enjoy the true flavor of almost any food:
- any steamed vegetable or green
- sauteed shrimp
- boiled or steamed rice
- roasted vegetables
- baked squash
- grilled fish or chicken
- a bowl of noodles
- roasted garbanzo beans
- fresh lima or fava beans right out of pod, lightly steamed
- sliced tomatoes
- broiled polenta or foccacia
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.