Seamus Mullen is one of the most outspoken voices in favor of healthy food within the celebrity chef world. His latest book, Real Food Heals, is a follow-up to 2012’s Hero Food, which seeks to teach home cooks how to make the most nutritionally dense food while leaving out the stuff that slows you down. Mullen continues to chronicle his journey to healthful living through delicious food. Looking for a slimmer waistline and an energy spike? Follow Mullen’s healthy kitchen guidelines — they’re not hard! — and usher in a new era of nutritional prowess.
“When I help people look at how they cook and eat and how they might make some positive changes with their relationship with food, I try to stay away from hard and fast rules. Instead, I just help set up some structure,” he says. “After all, we’re all very different and what works for one person may not work for the next. That said, there are some basic tenets I like to follow whenever I’m planning and prepping my meals.”
- Make food delicious. When cooking becomes a task no less utilitarian than putting on a raincoat when it’s raining, you’re in trouble. Food is meant to be pleasurable. Along with sex, it’s one of the most indulgent things we can experience. Take a few minutes to put some extra love into your cooking and the result will pay dividends on your health.
- Consider the origins of your food. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want to cook with it. I know this sounds pretty basic, but when you’re looking at a label, think about what the ingredients are. If you’ve never heard of them before or they don’t sound like food, it’s best to stay away.
- Make cooking quality time. We can’t overlook the health value of stopping our busy lives and cooking and eating together, engaging with other humans. Let’s not forget how important it is to break (gluten-free) bread with others.
My Chef’s Tips For Making Healthy Food Delicious
I’m a firm believer that first and foremost, food needs to be delicious. There is simply nothing very inspiring about a bland bowl of flavorless quinoa. Yeah, perhaps it might be “healthy,” but who really wants to eat it? Where is the joy? Where is the pleasure? As a professional chef, I’ve watched from a distance as the Internet has exploded with end-less recipes for healthy food. And while there are a lot of great ideas and great dishes circulating, I find that the little tricks of the trade that we chefs learn growing up in kitchens are often overlooked. Armed with a little bit of savvy and a well-tuned palate, you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
- Season, season, season. One of the most common mistakes home cooks make is not being assertive enough when it comes to seasoning. Often, a little extra salt and pepper or even some lightly chopped herbs will go a long way to bringing out the natural flavors of a dish. Just imagine a roast chicken without salt and pepper. Blech! Now add some coarse sea salt, cracked pepper, crushed thyme and rosemary, lemon zest, maybe even some coriander seeds and sesame seeds. Suddenly, that pedestrian bird has become a flavorful masterpiece.
- Season as you go. You want to add salt in stages to build flavor. Taste your salt to see how salty it is and adjust the amounts you add to your dish accordingly. Keep in mind that teaspoon for teaspoon, finer salts tend to add more saltiness.
- Start with good salt. I prefer sea salt for its complex and concentrated saltiness and its abundance of minerals. My friends at Jacobsen Salt Co., in Portland, Oregon, harvest all their salt from the pristine waters of the northwestern coastline. I often finish dishes with Jacobsen’s flake finishing sea salt and really like Jacobsen’s specialty salts, particularly the one infused with ghost chile.
- Think of the four points of the compass of our palate: salty, sweet, sour, spicy. Playing spicy off sweet (think: mango and chiles) or sour off salty (think: salt-and-vinegar chips) can make a dish really feel balanced and craveable. I don’t always have these elements in equal parts. Sometimes you want one flavor profile to dominate the others, but having a balance makes for a successful and exciting dish.
- Food tastes better when it looks good. I’m not saying you should pull out tweezers to compose fussy plates of food, but you shouldn’t dump the food on a plate. There’s a difference between rustic and sloppy.
- Finish dishes with soft herbs. They’re really healthy, add a bright pop, and change the character of a dish to make it tastier and more exciting. I add them at the end so they stay bright. Feel free to use whatever you like or have on hand. To chop them, I run a knife through them just enough to discipline them, or I simply tear them up by hand.