Eating Wisely: Bright Flavors (Part 1)

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On retreat, food is fresh, simple, and surprisingly sumptuous. Why not try it at home?

People go on a retreat to open to something new in both body and mind,” says Hugo Roberto Gutierrez Marron, the chef at Haramara, a yoga retreat center near Sayulita, Mexico, known for its fresh, inventive natural cuisine. “The food they eat should caress their senses, elevate their mind, and feed their body and spirit.”

Description: Bright flavors infuse fish dinner

Bright flavors infuse fish dinner

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every meal you ate infused you with such a feeling of well-being? Great retreat-center cooking isn’t about complicated recipes or spending hours in the kitchen. At Sagrada Wellness, a retreat center near San Luis Obispo, California, chef-owner Eva Inglizian prepares rustic family-style meals that celebrate seasonal produce and whole grains: a layered “fried rice: with brown rice, eggs, ginger, crisp carrots, snap peas, and fennel; kale leaves sautéed with sesame oil, garlic, and sesame seeds; roasted fresh poblano chilies filled with local goat cheese. “People are so moved by the beauty and the freshness of the food,” Inglizian says. “When they see how simple it is, they get reinspired to cook for themselves. Which is why people come on a yoga retreat in general – to reconnect, get reinspired, and then take a little bit of that back home with them.”

Eating well on a retreat fells effortless and satisfying, thanks to the thought and care out into every meal. But even amid your regular routine and responsibilities, you can create the conditions for the kind of easy, delicious, healthful eating you enjoy on a retreat by applying some of the principles of retreat-center chefs to your own cooking.

Fresh is best

Description: Shoppers pick through the fruits and vegetables at a local farmers market

Shoppers pick through the fruits and vegetables at a local farmers market

“Fresh” isn’t just a buzzword at retreat centers known for great food. It’s the basis for an entire cuisine, which is why many retreat centers grow their own produce or source it as locally as possible. Whether your fruits and vegetables come from the local farmers’ market, a CSA program, or your own backyard, the fresher they are, the easier it will be turn them into a spectacular meal.

“Fresher is better for so many reasons: taste, texture, appearance, nutrients,” says Denise Roa, the executive chef of the culinary center at Rancho La Puerta, a health and fitness resort in Tecate, Mexico. Among the offerings at Rancho La Puerta are cooking classes using ingredients form the ranch’s extensive organic farm. “Take our carrots or spinach, for example. They’re so bursting with moisture and their own flavors that I don’t have to overcook them or mask or enhance their flavors with cream, butter, or salt,” says Roa. “We teach a minimalist cooking method, and the reward is a vast complexity of flavors.”

Choose your technique

Description:  Different vegetables have different growing seasons

Different vegetables have different growing seasons

You might think that complicated techniques are what’s behind the magic that retreat-center cooks work on their raw ingredients, but by mastering a handful of simple cooking methods, you’ll be able to prepare just about any vegetable in a way that maximizes its flavor. Most vegetables can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, or grilled, but each technique imparts its own character, and which one you choose depends on the finished dish you have in mind. Craving a cool, crisp vegetable salad? Steaming yields fresh-tasting, bright vegetables with a bite to them – think summer beans, snap peas, baby carrots, just-tender summer squash. Toss them in a vinaigrette and eat on their own, or add them to cooked grains or beans for a heartier meal. Want to cook firm root vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets for a warm side dish or salad? Roasting concentrates their sugars for a deep, mellow flavor. Need a fast,, flavorful way to cook sliced vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, or bell peppers for tucking into sandwiches? A few minutes on a hit grill yields tender veggies that carry the flavor of the marinade you brush over them before and after grilling.

By applying different techniques to different vegetables and taking note of how they transform, says Gutierrez, “you’ll develop a kind of sixth sense” for preparing vegetables that translates into a broad repertoire of healthful meals – and you’ll have plenty of ideas for what to do with the vegetables you bring home from the farmers’ market.

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