Thursday, December 2, 2010


"The pantry items to have on a deserted island."
These are the items that make almost all food tasty.
Salt. It’s all about control. And we gluttons are the ones with the reins. For pasta water, you’ve got to have a heavy hand. Literally, I want you to greedily dig your hand in that sea salt like it’s the proverbial jar of jelly beans, and pour a good palmful in the dutch-oven ocean.

Speaking of, picture the foamy, bubbly, salty ocean for a moment. That’s what will happen in a colander when you rinse out the mountainous sodium in a can of vegetables. I’m telling you, rinse the beans. Rinse the out-of-control salt away. Bye-bye bubbles, and be back in control of the salt level of your food. (A tip from a friend, Dawn Jackson-Blatner, RD, LDN, author ofThe Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life,” McGraw-Hill, 2010, http://www.http//

Salt is also the backbone of a lot of desserts. I made a golden oatmeal apple crisp for a dinner party once, and someone kept gobbling up the treat, bite after bite, until he asked, “What is that subtle tart flavor?” Salt, mon ami. "But it's..." Dessert. Yes, I know.
Pepper. Controversial perhaps, cracked pepper does pack much more flavor than regularly-ground pepper. A good grinder is worth the investment, but make sure it doesn’t drop chunky grounds on your plate. A defective grinder slipped one of those marbled, peppery kernels on my food once, and I swallowed the fire. It lived inside me for days. Still, the smell of cracked pepper gives me a shiver down my spine. But I’ve overcome the fear and recognized pepper’s savory potential.
Lemon. So sweet for something so sour. It brightens soups and bolsters salads. It’s the “oooh” in aioli. Not only that, what about the aesthetic value? My mother says there should be a pop of yellow color in every kitchen. A bowl of lemon sunshine does the decorative trick. And those bags of lemons at the market are so obliging to this objective.
Olive oil. It’s the ultimate flavorful fat that pleases all food palates. The vegan dream to gloss up soy products or the caramelizing helper of grass-fed steaks. By itself. On a plate. With a little (see aforementioned ingredients). I don’t care whether it’s virginal or extra virginal. I’ve read all the arguments about the pressing and the purification. But when the regular stuff is a little cheaper, I just pretend I don’t know about its dirty past.
So bring it on, Swiss Family Robinson, Gilligan’s Island. As long as I have my ingredient foursome (and the professor stoking a handy fire), take me to that deserted island. I’ll tumble into slumber soundly under the stars, belly and heart full, warm. 
Oh, dear God…what about garlic? It’s the fragrant bouquet I treat myself to every time I grocery shop. Gasp! I hope it grows indigenously on that island.


  1. You've got a point -- even if stranded on a desert island, I'd still want my food to taste good! I'd add a few red pepper flakes to the mix, just to spice things up.

  2. Red pepper flakes would make those leaves and thistles and berries pop! And keep me warm at night.