There is no mystery to cooking healthy, whole foods. During the past 35 years as a cooking instructor, I've developed an easy, intuitive system of natural cooking that I've taught to more than 1,000 students at the School of Natural Cookery in Boulder, Colorado, and at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, and which I detail in my book, Intuitive Cooking (Book Publishing, 2006). I've found that it serves all ages well—it helped me raise four children—because when you're cooking with great, natural foods you're automatically combining the best taste with the best nutrients.

The meal here works any time of year and highlights a variety of fresh vegetables; grains and beans, which have a long shelf life and often become the center of my meals; quality salt seasonings, such as sea salt, tamari, umeboshi vinegar, and miso; various cooking liquids; and flavorful herbs and spices. Notice the design and balance of the dishes while you cook, and apply the principles to your own ingredients the next time you want an easy, whole-foods meal.

Menu
Marinated White Bean & Carrot Salad
Apple and Onion Miso Pickle
Black Forbidden Rice with Braised
Eggplant and Almond Cream Sauce
Butternut Squash Soup
Baby Bok Choy
Fresh Ginger Peanut-Butter Cookies

Marinated White Bean & Carrot Salad
Serves 6 / On a hot day, I make this with raw carrots and sometimes include diced cucumber. On a cool day, steep the carrots first to soften them slightly before adding to the cold sauce. The bean marinade keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. Ingredient tip: Lemon zest oil (not extract) makes this dish exceptionally good; look for it at specialty stores or online. Serving tip: Top with dry-roasted pecans if not using the almond cream sauce (below) in your meal.

1 lemon (to yield 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
3 drops lemon zest oil, or zest from 4 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon prepared stone-ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon
1 medium carrot, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 scant cup diced radish
1 cup cooked white kidney beans (cannellini beans) or navy beans, rinsed and drained

1. Zest and juice the lemon; reserve zest. Place juice, lemon oil (or zest), olive oil, mustard, agave, and salt into a bowl and beat well with a whisk. Add reserved lemon zest and tarragon and mix again. Add diced carrot and radish and mix thoroughly. Add beans and mix again. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 85 calories
% fat calories: 49
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 9g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 156mg

Black Forbidden Rice with Braised Eggplant and Almond Cream Sauce
Serves 6 / According to Chinese legend, deliciously rich black forbidden rice was considered so rare and nutritious that only the emperor was allowed to eat it. Look for it prepackaged or in bulk bins. Serving tips: Mix these versatile components together and rebake in casserole form, or serve individually with other dishes. If you elect not to use the rich sauce, add dry-roasted pecans to the bean and carrot salad, above.

1 cup black forbidden rice
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 small eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/4 cup sesame oil
3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
4 tablespoons water
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon or more fresh ginger juice (squeezed from about 11/2 inches grated fresh ginger)
Almond Cream Sauce (makes 2 3/4 cups)
1 cup raw almonds
2 cups water
1/4 cup garbanzo bean miso
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. Wash rice while bringing water up to a boil. Add rice and sea salt to boiling water; reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until all liquid is gone, 45 minutes. Do not stir.

2. Cut eggplants into 3/4-inch cubes. Heat a large skillet on medium heat and add sesame oil and eggplant; toss to coat. Cook until well sealed and brown, about 20 minutes. In a bowl, mix tamari, rice vinegar, mirin, water, garlic, and ginger juice. When eggplant is very well cooked, stir in tamari mixture. Cover skillet and cook until liquid is mostly absorbed and eggplant is as smooth as butter, about 20 minutes.

3. To make sauce: Pulse almonds in a blender until they turn to meal. Add water and blend on high for 2 minutes. (If you prefer a smooth sauce, press mixture through a strainer, removing about 3/4cup of fiber.) Add miso and blend for 1 minute. Pour into a small saucepan and heat quickly, then reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Add black pepper while heating.

4. Serve rice, eggplant, and almond sauce layered or separately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 308 calories
% fat calories: 46
Fat: 23g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 11g
Carbohydrate: 48g
Fiber: 8g
Sodium: 710mg

Apple and Onion Miso Pickle
Makes 1 heaping cup / Serving tips: Use this refreshing pickle as a relish to lighten any whole-grain dish. I especially like this as a topping for almond butter on bread, or as company for braised millet.

1 firm Granny Smith or Pink Lady apple
2 thin slices of red onion (1/4 inch thick)
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (without pods)
2/3 cup garbanzo bean miso

1. Peel apple and slice into 1/2-inch wedges. Toss apple, onion, sea salt, and spices together.

2. In a glass or food-grade storage container, combine apple mixture with miso. The key is to get the miso on top, with the apple and onion beneath it. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days. The miso's salt will extract liquid from the apple and onion over time.

3. Rinse fruit and onion slices with water until miso is gone. Slice or chop pieces into petite sizes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 tablespoons):
Calories: 9 calories
% fat calories: 4
Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 0g
Carbohydrate: 2g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 106mg

Baby Bok Choy
Serves 6 / Light and ultrasimple. Your pot will need a secure lid to get the best results. The entire method takes place over high heat, so don't plan to leave the room. Serving tips: Delicious fresh out of the pot or at room temperature. Eat it with the almond sauce and black rice (above), especially if you don't care for eggplant.

2 pounds baby bok choy
1/2 cup water
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Wash bok choy and trim root ends. (If the bok choy is too large, slice in half lengthwise.) In a large skillet or Dutch oven, bring water and sea salt to a rapid boil over high heat. The lid needs to be on the pot at all times. When the water is boiling as fast as a small amount of water can, place the whole, uncut, baby bok choy heads into the pan and cover immediately. Cook until all water is gone. It will look slightly scorched. Remove bok choy immediately and cut into serving sizes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 20 calories
% fat calories: 11
Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 3g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 193mg

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8 / I infuse this standard soup with toasted sesame oil, giving it an Asian flavor twist. Prep tips: Stir canned coconut milk before using. For variety, toss fresh ginger slices into the pot (remove them before blending), change the spices, add apple, or use a different nut milk. Ingredient tips: Umeboshi vinegar, made from pickled plums, adds a sweet-salty element; look for it in the Asian foods section, or substitute the same amount of lemon or lime juice.

1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled
1 1/2 pounds yellow onion (2 large onions)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar
Minced fresh cilantro

1. Cut squash, onion, and bell pepper into small cubes. Warm a large pot over medium heat; add oil and vegetables and toss to coat. Cook for 15 minutes; add paprika and toss. Add coconut milk, water, and sea salt. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are soft enough to blend into a smooth soup, about 20 minutes. (If you prepare this in a pressure cooker, warm the cooker, then add oil and vegetables and toss to coat. Cook vegetables slowly for about 15 minutes, tossing from time to time. Add paprika and toss. Add coconut milk, 2 cups water, and sea salt. Secure pressure cooker lid. Once pressure is established, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, then bring pressure down.)

2. Blend soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Taste before seasoning. Add umeboshi vinegar. Serve with minced cilantro.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 154 calories
% fat calories: 45
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 21g
Fiber: 4g
Sodium: 480mg
Whole-food methods
Learn more about Joanne Saltzman's cooking techniques and theories on Delicious Living's website, www.deliciouslivingmag.com.

Fresh Ginger Peanut-Butter Cookies
Makes about 40 / These are chewy, thin, moist cookies, reminiscent of lace cookies or candy. Ingredient tip: Lecithin, derived from soybeans, is available at health food stores in granular and liquid form. In this recipe, it's used to emulsify the fat with the liquid and hold moisture in the cookie.

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated peanut butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon lecithin granules
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
1/4 scant teaspoon sea salt
3/8 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a food processor, blend ginger into fine pulp. Add peanut butter and coconut oil and blend. Add lecithin, water, vanilla extract, sugar, and agave nectar; beat until completely blended, up to 5 minutes.

3. Add flour, sea salt, and baking powder; pulse lightly until flour disappears into oil and sugar mixture.

4. Spoon by teaspoons onto baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove paper from baking sheet and let cool.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1):
Calories: 51 calories
% fat calories: 26
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 9g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 18mg


Joanne Saltzman founded the School of Natural Cookery (www.naturalcookery.com) in Boulder, Colorado, and is the author of Intuitive Cooking (Book Publishing, 2006).