THE POWER OF YOUR INGREDIENTS

Sugar Snap Pea

THE POWER OF YOUR INGREDIENTS

by | Nov 27, 2020

What is the power of your ingredients? How much do you think about the items that you place in your grocery cart? 

  • Do you read labels to check ingredients? 
  • Do you reach for conventional or organic produce?
  • Do you shop at a local farmer’s market? 
  • Do you prefer generic brands? 
  • Do you have special brands of items that you can’t do without? 
  • Do you buy produce in season?
Vegetables On Counter

When you’re learning to cook delicious, nutritionally dense recipes with plants, the ingredients that you use can make amazingly important differences in the quality of your finished dish.  The answers to the previous questions can determine whether you and your family will enjoy a recipe or pledge never to make it again, whether or not you’ll be enjoying a meal prepared with little or no added chemicals, pesitcides and preservatives and whether or not you’ll be consuming food that is at its maximum nutrient content.

I often tell my beloved grandchildren that if they don’t like a particular food item or recipe today, they should try again tomorrow.  Part of this is because our tastebuds are changing all of the time for a variety of reasons.   The other part is that a peach picked green two weeks ago and transported many miles to your table will not bring the same enjoyment as a ripe peach picked fresh from the tree or from a local farmer’s market.  We need to remind ourselves, our children and our grandchildren of the power of ingredients from time to time.

Buy Fruits and Vegetables in Season and Fully Ripe

Many fruits and vegetables are readily available in the supermarket throughout the year. But are all fruits and vegetables created equal? Produce that is in season and picked at its peak freshness is almost always tastier and more nutritious than produce that has been picked and shipped from a far away location. It is generally less expensive as well in large part because of the reduced transportation costs. Farmer’s Markets are a great place to shop for local and in season fruits and vegetables. You may also be able to subscribe to a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture). CSA’s provide fresh fruits and/or vegetables, sometimes even to your door, throughout the year.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness. Research has shown that frozen produce is nutritionally similar to fresh. Canned produce can also be tasty and nutritious, however it often contains added salt, sugar and other preservatives so reading labels is critical.

Here’s a chart created by the University of Tennessee to help find fruits and vegetables in the supermarket with the greatest nutritional value and flavor at any particular time.

Check the Ingredients

Spices In Spoons
Nastasya Day at Pexels

What’s in that Thai Red Curry Paste you ask?

Quarantines for Covid 19 have disrupted our lives in many ways. Fortunately I have not suffered from the devastating consequences. Nonetheless, there have been many inconveniences along the way for most of us. One of these for me has been grocery delivery. Once I received six bags of dried garbanzo beans when I had requested six cans. Mind you I did communicate with the shopper who did not offer me this alternative for the missing cans. It was clearly a sign that I should be cooking my beans from scratch.

I try to cook with whole foods as much as I can, but there are some convenience items that I use and enjoy. One of these is Red Curry Paste. I’ll get around to whipping up a homemade batch sometime soon. Fresh is always better then processed. Until then, I’m sticking with my store-bought jar. It has minimal added ingredients, and it is available at my local supermarket. On one grocery delivery order, I received an alternate brand instead. Here’s the difference in the ingredients:

My Regular Brand

RED CHILI PEPPER, GARLIC, LEMONGRASS, GALANGAL(THAI GINGER), SALT, SHALLOT, SPICES, KAFFIR LIME

The Other Brand

WATER, RED CHILI PEPPERS, GARLIC, SHALLOTS, CANOLA OIL, LEMONGRASS, SUGAR, SALT, GALANGAL, VEGETABLE BROTH (VEGETABLE JUICE [TOMATO, MUSHROOM, ONION, CARROT AND CELERY], SUGAR, MALTODEXTRIN, SALT AND YEAST EXTRACT), LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, SPICE EXTRACT, LIME LEAVES, XANTHAN GUM, SPICE, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE).

The differences are obvious. The taste difference was obvious too.

Checking your ingredients while shopping will help you avoid added salt, sugar, preservatives and other unwanted ingredients. If you want to go a step further, check in with the Environmental Working Group for ratings on food products. EWIG addresses nutrition and processing concerns in addition to ingredients.

Taste, Taste, Taste

Just as your smoothie will be a very different taste experience if you make it with a ripe versus a green banana, all of your dishes will be greatly enhanced if you choose the tastiest ingredients for your palate. Sometimes grocery store choices can be overwhelming. I try to stay on the outside aisles when in the store to avoid added chemicals and preservatives. However, many times, convenience(as in the red curry paste) dictates pre-packaged purchases. In my experience, ingredient choices can determine whether a recipe will be a big family hit or a total bomb.

For example, if you haven’t had time to prepare your own vegetable stock, you may need to pick pre-prepared stock. If you’ve seen any of my recipes, you know that I strongly prefer the brand Better Than Bouillon and its low sodium varieties. If you haven’t tasted any other brands, you may look at the shelves with ten or more options and conclude “What difference does it make?” Once you’ve tasted them, you’ll know. Some of those boxes/cans are full of unwanted ingredients, and they taste like cardboard…….ie not that tasty. You may make some mistakes. By tasting and reading labels as you go, you’ll ultimately pick ingredients that will make for delicious finished dishes.

Organic or Conventional?

The question of whether to use organic or conventional produce is debatable. You can read lots of studies and reports on the issues and still be undecided. I try to stay informed, and I tend to lean in the direction of organic for my family. This is because I am able to afford it, I have small grandchildren whom I prepare food for and I believe that it is generally a positive step to move in the direction of less chemicals and pesticides in our food supply. That being said, I am not thoroughly convinced by my research that organic produce is more nutritious or that non-organic produce is less safe. I don’t always have organic produce available to me, and I often balk at the price tag so I don’t always buy organic.

The bottom line is that fruits and vegetables are your friends. If you are concerned about the pesticides and chemicals in our food supply and you can afford it, buy organic. If the price tag is an impediment to buying organic, look for guidance as to the produce with the least amount of chemicals and pesticides. The Environmental Working Group produces a list each year of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen which may offer some guidance on the produce with the most and least amounts of pesticides used.

Whatever you do, wash your produce well when you bring it home from the store, the farmer’s market or even your back yard. Once that’s done, eat lots of it.

By thinking critically about what we eat, our health, the health of our environment and the taste and enjoyment of our everyday meals will be greatly enhanced.

And Don’t Forget Garnishes

Garnishes can make or break a recipe. It took me a long time to figure this one out. As a young cook, I almost never chose to add a garnish that a recipe suggested. Don’t be like me and write those garnishes off. A few seeds or nuts, a sprinkling of fresh herbs or a dollop of sour cream(vegan or otherwise) on a finished dish can make a world of difference to your enjoyment.

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