One of the great benefits of being a chef is having the skills to make yourself tasty things to eat whenever you want them. And if you're eating like your health depends on it, as I did while struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, you're extra grateful that you know how to make your food delicious in the process. I try to apply the techniques I've honed over the years in professional kitchens to make healthy dishes that don't sacrifice the joy of eating. Now, I'm sharing those techniques with you. Welcome to the Intellivore – now let's get cooking.
Of the many tools that let us transform ingredients from one state to another, none are as versatile and potent as the blender. I'm not talking about a cheap Osterizer from the Sixties; I mean a serious, powerful, professional-grade blender – one that can puree an iPhone. Most of us health-conscious people drift toward our blenders to make smoothies – and there are some tips for an upgraded, more refined smoothie in the box at right – but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Nothing is better at breaking down fibrous vegetables or mixing and transforming foods of vastly different textures, like bananas and cashews. It's an ideal vehicle for making tasty, nutrient-rich combinations. Here's how to get more out of your blender.
1. Shredding: Blenders should be judged on their ability to shear, and I use mine to make quick work of breaking down vegetables. The faster and more precise the blade, the less damage is done to the vegetable in the process. By finely shearing, say, kale, you're able to take a relatively tough green and turn it into something completely palatable. I love making kale pesto – I quickly sauté some Tuscan kale in olive oil with a little garlic, then I pulse it in the blender with some toasted macadamia nuts, about 1/4 cup olive oil, an anchovy, lemon juice and zest, and some hard cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano. The pesto is a super-versatile condiment that can be folded into a risotto, spread on steaks, or served with grilled vegetables or on pasta.
2. Sauces: Sauces make any home cook nervous, but a sauce doesn't have to be made from a reduction of five different roasted bones, carefully skimmed and strained for hours on end. It can be something as simple as yogurt, or better still, a thick and creamy vinaigrette. I blend a cup of kefir, a clove of garlic, 1 tbsp mustard, a little horseradish, 2 tbsp quality cider vinegar, 4 tbsp olive oil, and an avocado. The blender takes the glorious avocado, that font of healthy fat, and turns it into a luscious cream that, when thinned out with other liquids, makes a smooth vinaigrette. Add a few anchovy filets, and you have an awesome Caesar dressing.
3. Yogurt: Good Greek yogurt is perfect for blending. I like to garnish almost everything with an herby yogurt. A handful of herbs, a clove of garlic, some olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon zest and some full-fat plain yogurt make a beautiful garnish for soups or a sauce for grilled meats and fish.
4. Soups: In the summer, chilled sweet pea or roasted-beet soup is a healthy, silky-smooth staple. Roast the vegetables first in the oven – tossed in olive oil and good vinegar and seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs – until they're soft. Let the vegetables cool before pureeing, and then toss in the blender with a clove of garlic, one cup of whole yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. A Smarter Smoothie: I tend to shy away from smoothies with too much sweet fruit, so I'll use 2 tbsp coconut flakes and add in 2 cups of coconut water, 1 cup of water (or almond milk), 1 tbsp almond butter, half of an avocado, a few leaves of kale, a drizzle of raw honey, and some lime juice. This is a serious way to start the day.