It’s a Tuesday night, and you’re facing one of the most unconquerable tasks in the realm of cooking. You’ve trudged in from a long day, and the climbing-Everest situation presents itself: You need to cook a healthy, nutritious meal. Your mind, and your body, craves something chicken-fried. It seeks the chemtrail aromas in the air from a fast-food bacon cheeseburger. You’re craving melted cheese, but that’s not what’s in front of you. There is nothing so insurmountable as cooking a healthy, tasty, interesting meal when your brain craves butter, cream, and pasta.
Do not underestimate the power food wields in your brain: Addictions yank at our appetites like the moon yanks tides. Consider the 2015 study published in PLOS One by the Public Library of Science that confirmed the thing we all know deep down: Cheese is as addictive to humans as brains are to zombies. Pizza tops the list of addiction-level foods, as evidenced by late nights and empty pizza boxes (stripped even of the seared cheese leavings left on the cardboard).
So, how do you face cooking on weeknights?
How do you crack open that heavy, dusty recipe book that’s been sitting on your shelf for a cool decade and follow a 55-minute procedure that results in a boiled Brussels sprout leaf salad that will make you cry cheddar tears as you eat it?
Chefs know your pain. They are expertly familiar with the idea of confronting healthy food after long days—no chef on planet Earth cooks at home like they’re in their restaurant.
So, we checked in with a handful of Dallas chefs to get tips, advice, and general encouragement for making great-tasting healthy food at home.
What Do I Need? 10 Starter Tips From Award-Winning Dallas Chefs
“Buy a good zester. Lemon, or lime, or orange adds a bright flavor without adding anything negative.” — Brian Luscher, chef/owner, The Grape Restaurant
“If you just make a salsa verde, or a chimichurri, or just use yogurt and mix in spices, it will make a huge difference.” — Alex Henderson, executive chef, Small Brewpub
“Spices are really important. You can make veggies shine with peppers, cumin, turmeric.” — Reyna Duong, chef/owner, Sandwich Hag
“Try different kinds of fats. Coconut oil is awesome. I started using avocado oil at home recently, and it has a really nice buttery flavor, and it’s delicious.” — Angela Hernandez, executive chef, Fine China at The Statler
“Get good, quality local honey. It’s got great flavor; it’s got as much flavor and regionality as wine does. Honey is a touch of liquid sunshine. Instead of sugar, a little bit of honey allows you to sweeten with a brighter flavor.” — Brian Luscher
“You can buy the kosher salt, but I’ve become more adamant about using good sea salt.” — Angela Hernandez
“Condiments you can make at home really make a difference. Make your own chermoula: A lot of paprika, garlic, chilies, olive oil, lemon juice, a few herbs.” — Alex Henderson
“Throw in garlic; throw in shallots. Let it caramelize. Let it all cook down with olive oil.” — Reyna Duong
“Get fresh herbs: Fresh basil, fresh tarragon, fresh mint. Just hand-torn—you don’t have to be some crazy Top Knife master chef.” — Brian Luscher
“People make things too complicated. The more recipes I’m reading these days—the steps I’m taking to get to that point—are insane. Healthy can be simple. It only takes a few steps.” — Caroline Perini, chef/owner, Easy Slider
Chef Tips for Creating a Dish Out of Simple Ingredients
“A bean, legume, and grain salad—zest a lemon, put a little splash of lemon juice, touch of honey, and some extra virgin olive oil that’s almost peppery, and you’ve got a ton of awesome flavor that would have just been some boring brown rice.” — Brian Luscher
“I roast a lot of vegetables. We try to stay away from meat as an everyday thing. I eat a lot of mushrooms to replace meat.” — Alex Henderson
“My go-to is chicken meatballs. I grab some ground chicken—the leaner the better—and what I do to substitute the fat is I add silken tofu. Then I add a little bit of Parmesan, because it can’t be completely healthy. It has to be good. Otherwise, there’s no point to it being healthy because you won’t eat it. The key is spices.” — Reyna Duong
“I always keep a cucumber red onion salad in the refrigerator. I’m constantly grazing on tomatoes, cucumbers with rice wine vinegar—those are staples.” — Caroline Perini
“Something I like to do is take broccoli, raw, and pare the stalks a little bit with a knife or a peeler, so they’re long stalks. I’ll cut a head of broccoli into quarters, and I’ll toss it together with olive oil and salt and pepper, and I’ll grill them until they’re charred and black on the outside and crackly. As soon [as] I pull them off the grill, I drop lemon zest and squeeze a ton of lemon juice so it soaks it all up.” — Brian Luscher
“Sous vide may seem daunting, but it can be quite simple. Doing something like sous vide chicken, where you pretty much need zero fat to make it delicious, and then you can introduce whatever flavors or seasonings.” — Angela Hernandez
Common Mistakes Chefs See in the Kitchen
“Getting in the way of the vegetable. Buying in season is important. Tomatoes in the dead of winter are not sexy. Try to use seasonal vegetables and fruits. Citrus in the middle of the winter is the height of the season.” — Brian Luscher
“The main thing I see is that things just get overcooked. People don’t like to take the time to think through it.” — Alex Henderson
“Steaming vegetables … I only steam dumplings. Don’t do that to a vegetable. It’s so sad.” — Reyna Duong
“Salt is just key. Food tastes terrible without a little salt.” — Angela Hernandez
“Boil the broccoli? The way my mom would make it, until it’s gray? That’s gross. There’s not enough butter to make that good.” — Brian Luscher
The consensus is clear. Vegetables, like any fresh ingredient that’s wholesome to the body, don’t need to be overworked. Maintain simplicity, some basic ingredients and technique, and you’ll have an electric meal that will be healthier (and tastier) than you can imagine.