by Gabriela Segovia-McGahan
As a busy mother of two, I don’t have much time to spare but when it comes to cooking, I give it all the time it needs. I am a true believer in culture bearing through traditional foods and in finding ways to do it in a modern world.
Both of my children are taught what it takes to prepare a meal and how important it is to choose the right ingredients. Whether it’s something selected at the local farmer’s market or from our edible garden, one element can make all the difference in the overall texture and taste of a meal.
Part of what I teach them involves using as many of the senses as one can possibly use.
- See: Look for vegetables and even fruit that can brighten up your plate without overpowering a dish. One of my favorites is yellow bell pepper.
- Hear: Ask vendors or storeowners about where the food came from, how it was raised or grown and really listen – for what is said and what isn’t volunteered. (Think honey.)
- Touch: Pick up a watermelon rather than tap it. The heavier it is, the more likely it has the right water content. The more water content, the more likely it is to be ripe and ready to eat.
- Smell: Although smell alone won’t tell you whether a pineapple, peach or strawberry is ripe, it can be a factor. If it doesn’t smell right, it more than likely won’t taste right.
- Taste: The best part about going to a farmer’s market is the samples! Savor it when you chew and consider the texture as much as the taste.
My teenager is the one who takes the most time checking the produce. She is also responsible for preparing two meals a week and is quickly discovering that when it comes to substitutions, not all are created equal. There haven’t been as many failed experiments as I thought there would be. She really grasps the nature of each component and is great at choosing flavors that harmonize and bring out the peak flavor of a dish.
Recently, she found that we were missing two ingredients out of an old standby recipe that fits my low-oxalate, (fairly) gluten-free diet: Macaroni-Tuna Casserole. It typically calls for elbow macaroni, red pepper, water chestnuts and milk. We substitute the elbow macaroni with quinoa macaroni, flour with cornstarch and regular milk with lactose-free milk. We ran out of water chestnuts and I’m not a huge fan of red pepper. So she ran out to the perennial herb garden to grab a handful of chives to chop and used the rest of a yellow bell pepper used in another dish earlier in the day.
The original recipe is from page 173 of a book called “The Low-Oxalate Cookbook”, however, what my daughter prepares has modified some of the key ingredients for a lighter version.
1½ cups Quinoa Macaroni , cooked and drained
2 tablespoons butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small yellow bell pepper , chopped
1 handful of chives, chopped
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper (use even less if you decide to use other peppers)
2 cups “milk” (lactose-free for us)
1 can tuna*, drained and flaked
2 tablespoons Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
*Sustainable, eco-friendly tuna is more expensive and a huge reason why we use it as an ingredient rather than as the main course.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the macaroni in a greased 2-quart casserole. In a large saucepan, sauté the garlic, chopped pepper and chives until the pepper is crisp-tender. Blend in the cornstarch, salt and ground pepper. Gradually add the milk, and continue stirring the mixture until it is thickened. Fold in the tuna. Pour the mixture over the macaroni. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and dust it with paprika for color. Bake the casserole about 30 minutes, or until it is bubbly.
Makes 4 servings.
Serving suggestions: Plate it with a side of seasoned cauliflower and broccoli florets. The seasoning can be a basil and lemon-infused olive oil.