Six different colorful plant-based dishes.

Making Plant-based Food Prep Fun

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

As a dietitian, I learned which foods rated highest in folate or vitamin C, and what made beans, peas and lentils the protein, iron, and B vitamin superstars they are. Earlier, my mother had enjoyed sharing time in the kitchen and food preparation skills. My birthdays featured participatory cookie-making activities. Our ingredients were not the healthiest—yet our parties were great fun! Meanwhile, my dad, a physiology prof, was doing cancer research and teaching about diabetes at universities and hospitals in Vancouver, Toronto, and London, England. He shared with us his love of science and travel. When my children were growing up, birthdays became pizza-making parties, in which children enjoyed piling on the sliced veggies, olives, and cheese. (We have now moved to the excellent cashew cheeses.) I now find that people who enjoy food preparation generally grew up in homes where a parent or other family members enjoyed and shared time in the kitchen. This can make a HUGE difference in the attitude of a child toward food. And when the family enjoys creating healthful foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes (for example in hummus or in a soup), and whole grains, the result is likely to provide health advantages throughout life.

For me, it took a while for my two worlds of a) nutrition and health and b) food preparation to merge.  Travel, including to India introduced me to  tasty cuisines that are far more plant-based. Eventually, this evolved into a book. Joseph Forest, who had been a banquet chef and soup chef at a Four Seasons Hotel and I collaborated on Cooking Vegan (in Canada published as Cooking Vegetarian). Our recipes proved to be delicious, timeless favorites that combined great taste, simplicity, plus nutritional analysis.

I had the opportunity to teach nutrition at a chef school in Northern California, with Jame Sant (www.plantfoodculinary.com). This experience led to Becoming Raw and later The Kick Diabetes Cookbook, both coauthored with dietitian Brenda Davis. People had come from all over the world to gain chef skills using health-supportive ingredients and to reduce risk of chronic disease. Some wished to learn easy ways to use a variety of plant foods or to make their time in the kitchen more fun. Others were true gourmets who created exquisite arrangements, both raw and cooked.

One fascinating class explored flavors. We had 5 trays of food; each covered with ingredients. One tray held items that would contribute saltiness—amazingly, including celery. Other trays featured sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. One delight of working with foods is that we can involve so many of our senses. For our books, we have a team of recipe testers. I appreciate learning from chefs and others who have well-developed senses of taste and texture.

Lemon Tahini Dressing

Recipe from The Kick Diabetes Cookbook, by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.
Sesame tahini can be used to flavor sauces and soups, or to give creamy texture in a dressing. Try this calcium-rich dressing on salads, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, and baked potatoes. It’s better than butter! Fresh squeezed juice is best, but Santa Cruz Organic is a good choice too!

Makes 1-1/3 cups
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
1/3 cup (85 ml) tahini
1/3 cup (85 ml) lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp (15 ml) low sodium or regular tamari (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Place the water, tahini, lemon juice, tamari, garlic, and cayenne in a blender and process for 30 seconds or until smooth. This dressing will keep, in a covered container and refrigerated, for up to 3 weeks.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian;  vesanto.melina@gmail.com ; websites:  kickdiabetescookbook.com   ​becomingvegan.ca

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