A new favorite cookbook …
From the Philippines, to Germany, England, and now Spain, Ariana Mullins, blogger of And Here We Are, has made a life abroad and has come to share it with us in her cookbook, And Here We Are at The Table, Grain-Free Meals From Around the World. Ariana is a kindred spirit, one that I connect with as she has a heart for local, seasonal food and enjoys to celebrate it around the table with family and friends.
When I first met Ariana, I was drawn to the cultural flavors of the foods that she prepares. These same recipes, simple enough; yet, filled with story and spice, can be found by flipping through the pages of her book. Recipes like Shakshuka, Spring and Summer Smoked Salmon Salad, Spatchcock Roasted Chicken with a Smoky Turmeric Marinade, Wintry Oxtail Glazed with Red Wine, Orange, and Rosemary, and Chelo Kebabs.
These recipes bring you the world as do her stories filled with rich photography that allow us to follow her along on Market Days, Foraging for Nettles, Traveling (and Cooking) To Connect, and, my personal favorite, The Christmas Market in Germany.
Ariana and her family have been grain free for four years. Although grain-free, Ariana proves that her meals are most definitely not flavor-free. In thumbing through her section of sweet treats I was delightfully inspired by her Chocolate Espresso Cake, Tahini Molasses Cookies, and a Simple Black Cherry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream. For those of you that are starting on a grain-free journey, Ariana has written a beautiful section to help you along, appropriately titled, On-Going Grain-Free.
Food is all about Enjoying Life
Like myself, Ariana believes in celebrating real food, guilt free.
“For me, food is all about enjoying life. Real food tastes fantastic, and it feels good inside our bodies. I don’t believe in food-related guilt and lots of rules. It’s important to know what works for your body, and then to simply find pleasure in your meals, and to eat as often as you can with the people you love.”
Q&A with Ariana Mullins of And Here We Are
Ariana, I enjoy your worldview approach to cooking. Can you let Nourished Kitchen readers know a little bit about your cooking philosophy?
I believe that food and mealtimes should be a joyful, stress-relieving element in our lives. The physiological process of eating is inherently soothing – it makes our nervous system calm down and feels good. Mealtimes are meant to be nourishing on many levels that include lifting our spirits, bringing about community, offering a source of beauty, and can even be a sensual experience as well.
I’m concerned about a lot of the talk about food that goes on in “health” communities. It seems like there is a lot of joy lost over food … rules, legalism, fear, and guilt. How tragic! It’s not supposed to be that way!
I also understand that preparing meals can feel like drudgery sometimes. I get it! Cooking day after day can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t always have to be. I try to prepare meals that don’t take a lot of time and effort but still feature lots of lively flavors and colors. Finding inspiration from the foods we have eaten around the world keeps it fun and interesting!
Now that you mention your time abroad, In regards to traditional cooking, have you found that living in different countries and cultures has helped influence your cooking of traditional foods?
My travels and the time we have spent living overseas have definitely influenced the way I cook and it’s been fun to see so many iterations of traditional foods – bone broths, ferments, use of offal, etc. is common in most food cultures. Now it’s fairly easy for me to decide which region I want to draw flavors from when I am cooking traditional foods. For example, once I have a good bone broth, I can decide to turn it into a Vietnamese phô, a Middle Eastern meatball soup, a rustic French stew, etc. There are just so many options! I also like to customize my fermented vegetables to complement various international flavor profiles.
Your book features beautiful rich photography of many places you have visited, can you share with us a bit about eating seasonally in a different country. Do you feel there are striking similarities between different cultures that we in America can learn from?
Wherever I go, one of the best ways for me to cook seasonally is to shop at the local open market. While there are some cases in which the food is imported and does not reflect what is in season, in most places it’s easy to see which foods are local. I recommend getting to know the market vendors wherever you are – they are a rich resource for getting to know your local foods and how to cook them.
One thing that a lot of people do differently around the world is to shop for food frequently, rather than once every week or so. When we lived in Germany, there were produce stands in the central square of our small town every day and market days twice a week. I would visit on the market days to pick up most of our produce and meats, and then would also stop by on the other days to pick up fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the week (it was on my way home from taking my daughter to school).
When I was a child in the Philippines, our helper went to the wet market almost every day to buy fresh food for the day’s meals. I have fond memories of going with her, haggling over prices, finding the best specimens, and developing relationships with the vendors.
I know the idea of buying food daily may sound overwhelming to many! My takeaway here is just to see if there are some enjoyable ways to incorporate finding fresh food into more of your daily life – taking a walk to the farmer’s market as a family activity, gardening, joining a CSA, visiting farms, etc.
One aspect of cooking that you share about in your book is enjoying good food with family and friends. Can you give us an example of how we can reconnect with people over good food?
When I was a kid, it seems like we constantly had people joining us at the dinner table. I come from a family of nine and we joked that our dining table was so long that if you got eye level with the wood, you could see the curvature of the earth. We had a few extra leaves that we could use to extend the table to seat a whole extra family with us.
We invited people over for dinner all of the time. This exposed all of us to a wide range of interesting people and ideas. If my dad’s company hired a new person, he would invite them over for dinner; if a new family showed up at our church, we invited them home for lunch; people stopped by and got talked into staying for a meal. We spent hours and hours at the table, talking and getting to know other people, or just talking to each other when it was just us.
I think that this used to be a lot more common – people shared a lot more meals with each other and it was not unusual to meet someone new and have them over to your house. Now, it seems a little counter-cultural to do this. I seriously freaked a woman out last year by telling her we’d love to have her family over for dinner, after (I thought) we had connected over the organic vegetables at our local market in England.
Even if it feels a little weird at times, I think it’s really important to just invite people over for dinner (or brunch, which is my favorite meal to share). Just do it. It doesn’t have to be strangers. It can be a neighbor you just haven’t had over yet, or your kids’ friends. Sharing a meal is a bonding experience, and I think we are becoming less and less connected to the people around us. Let’s work to make it normal to have all kinds of different and interesting people join us at the table!
|Chelo Kebabs|| |
- 1 medium onion, skinned and cut into quarters
- 1 lb (500g) fatty ground beef or lamb (I usually ask my butcher to give me a blend of 75% beef, 25% lamb)
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- a generous pinch of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- a few grinds of fresh black pepper
- 1 tsp dried mint
- chopped fresh herbs like coriander (cilantro) or parsley to garnish, optional
- chili flakes and ground sumac to garnish, optional
- lemon wedges to garnish, optional
- Put the onion into the food processor and let it chop it up fine. Gather the onions to one side of the workbowl and use a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel to press as much liquid out as you can.
- Add the meat, salt, spices and baking powder, and process for about 30 seconds to one minute. You want the meat to be smooth and well-blended. This might seem weird, but it works!
- Form the meat into kebabs. It will be sticky, and if you want you can dip your fingers into a bowl of cold water between kebabs to make them less sticky. You can either put them on kebab skewers, or just form them into a long sausage shape and place them on the baking sheet. (The authentic way to form them is to make them much thinner and longer than the ones you see here. I do them like this because it’s much easier, logistically.) If you have more than you need, or are cooking ahead, you can put them on an extra baking sheet to flash freeze.
- Cook them under the broiler under full heat. This will be very quick, about 3-4 minutes on each side. You’ll know they’re done when they start to brown a bit and smell ridiculously good. For the ones that you have frozen, bake straight from the freezer at 450 F for 8-10 minutes on each side.
- Garnish the chelo kebabs with fresh herbs and lemon wedges, and serve with cucumber yogurt salad and rice (we do cauliflower rice.)