Flavor First: Ellie Krieger

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Christopher Hirsheimer
Fresh herbs can turn a dish from ordinary to extraordinary, and make it better for you. Ellie Krieger's Snow Pea, Scallion and Radish Salad is one such example.

Ellie Krieger, author, registered dietitian and host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite, has a new cookbook, The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life, just out from The Taunton Press. It’s a beautiful offering filled with dishes destined to become family favorites. While each of the more than 200 recipes includes a nutritional breakdown, the focus always is on fresh ingredients and flavor.

Recently, Ellie talked with me about why the diet mentality is unhealthy, the connection between her favorite meals and romance, and why her 5-year-old, Bella, is her mother’s daughter.


The Herb Companion: Your philosophy revolves around developing a healthy relationship with food. What’s the first step in making that happen?

Ellie Krieger: The first step is truly savoring food, and approaching it from a point of quality over quantity. We also must get out of the “diet” mentality, where you’re seeking food that’s either good for you or something you really crave. I try to help people understand that foods can be both healthy and desirable. I hope my recipes prove this.

And, cooking doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be quite simple. I’m a working mom with a 5-year-old, so I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen creating something elaborate. It can be easy, fast and at your fingertips.

HC: Do you have a personal garden?

EK: Not now. I’m sporadically a member of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) operation, and we are fortunate to have many around-the-block farmers’ markets, so I have access to fresh produce. I also go to the big farmers’ market on Union Square [in New York City].

HC: What role do herbs play in your cooking?

EK: I always say herbs are one of my secret weapons for healthy eating. Fresh herbs can turn a dish from ordinary to extraordinary, and while doing that, also make the dish better for you. That’s the kind of magic I’m always looking for: better tasting, better looking, better smelling and better for you.

For example, placing fresh mint leaves on a turkey sandwich suddenly transforms the flavor and aroma of that basic sandwich. I also love to use mint in savory applications, such as my Orange, Radish, Onion and Mint Salad. Another example is to take a salad of romaine lettuce and tomatoes and add lots of fresh, chopped parsley and basil. And, I love making a coating of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage for a roast turkey breast or loin of fresh pork. It’s so easy to make magic.

HC: What’s your favorite herb?

EK: Oh no! That’s like picking a favorite child. Let’s see. I guess I’ll have to say basil because I love its perfume. Recently, my daughter said, “I smell basil,” although she was sitting on a city bus. Sure enough, someone a couple seats back had a bag of groceries that included basil. I thought, “That’s my girl.”

I also love that basil spans the continents–it works well in Italian, Middle Eastern and Asian dishes. I love its versatility; you can use it like a lettuce or as a sauce.

HC: What trends will influence the way we eat in the future?

EK: Knowing the origins of our food is becoming more and more important. Understanding how our food was grown and processed, and having confidence in those processes, is something that is becoming lastingly important to us.

HC: What’s your most memorable meal?

EK: This is a difficult question. Food is such a social pleasure that, in general, my most memorable meals have as much to do with the companions as the food. My favorite meals have been when I was in love. When my husband and I were first dating, I made a dinner of poached salmon with a mustard-yogurt sauce. One of his passions is salmon fishing and I hadn’t known that about him at the time.

My “first tastes” also have been so memorable. I modeled to put myself through school, which allowed me to travel quite a bit. So I was 18 years old having yakitori in a little hole-in-the-wall place in Japan. It was open only to men, but you could sneak in if you were a foreign woman accompanied by a man.

I also remember the hummus of Morocco. It wasn’t the first time I had eaten hummus, but it felt like it. The oranges and olives in Morocco were unbelievably good. And I still remember a meal in Italy, where I had my first risotto. I was a young student, modeling but just getting by, and I was taken to a fine Italian restaurant where I had a delicious tricolor risotto that was white (Parmesan cheese), yellow (saffron) and black (squid ink).

HC: What’s the meal you love to prepare for family and friends?

EK: I love to make one-pot meals. I’ll make a big pot of chili–or a couple pots for variety–plus all the fixings so everyone can put together their own unique combination. I like chili with chunks of beef and pinto beans, a black bean vegetarian chili with corn or maybe even a white bean chili. These are casual, fun, easy and healthy.

HC: What do you cook after a long day at work?

EK: My go-to meal is a salmon fillet with a sweet and spicy rub of light brown sugar, chili powder and cumin. You just put it under the broiler or on a grill pan, or on an outdoor grill if you’re lucky. Then, I’ll add a vegetable … asparagus or steamed broccoli with a little lemon zest and olive oil. Or you can add some toasted garlic to the steamed broccoli; just something special to make the vegetables pop. Add some rice and it’s a great dinner. Everyone’s happy.

NYC-based writer Linda Shockley knows winter is over when the first farmer unpacks asparagus at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

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