No good cook got where they are without having to toss out a dish that even the dog wouldn’t touch.
Mine was a meal that involved overcooked angel hair pasta, mushy broccoli, and under-seasoned chicken breast all prepared separately, then combined with an entire bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. I was 23, and cooking in a Brooklyn apartment that had a kitchen that shouldn’t even have been called a kitchen. My then boyfriend, now husband, choked it down while I declared it “disgusting”, slammed pots and pans around, refused to touch it, and cried angry tears. We laugh about it now.
When I went gluten free and started eating more nourishing Real Foods, I had a couple of kitchen incidents that looked the same way, plus they were filled with frustration about all that I couldn’t eat. In fact, every time I tune in, listen to my body, and shift my eating to accelerate my healing, I have to adjust my methods in the kitchen. We have heard the same cries from the GRUB community over the past 2 years, and we acknowledge that cooking Real Foods isn’t always easy!
The problem is that we are trying to approach our new way of eating with our old way of cooking.
Once I shifted my perception, and started cooking with an open heart and mind, the answer began to develop. We call it The Skillet Bowl. Liz and I have committed to this method, tried it every which way, and have declared it a Real Foods success. And now we want to share it with you!
The Skillet Bowl addresses the following problems.
1. “But I can’t eat ______________ !”
Nearly everyone these days has some food they can’t, won’t or “shouldn’t” eat. Whether it’s gluten, dairy, meat, grains, starchy foods, or something on your sensitivity panel, cooking with restrictions makes using old familiar recipes and techniques challenging. What does lunchtime look like when you no longer have bread as your vehicle for the turkey and cheese you have eaten every day for the last 10 years?!
This cooking method includes all the things you WANT to eat. The things you CAN eat. It’s the ultimate way to use the foods on your YES list, and leave the NO-NO restricted foods behind without caring!
2. “Cooking for one is hard!” (Also, when food rots in the fridge I want to cry.)
Whether you live solo or are just fending for yourself at breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s often challenging to motivate around nourishing just yourself. Isn’t it amazing what having other people depend on you for their eating does?
Cooking for one (or when only one person in the house eats Real Food) can often mean there are too many leftovers. Or that vegetables rot. A fantastic dish that you made can be your new favorite for lunch on day 1, and then become something you despise and never want to see again by day 4. Some of us are not creatures of habit, and leftovers, depending on who you talk to, can be a real drag!
This method ensures that the perfect fresh portion for 1 or 2 is always right there! It’s also a great way to grab anything going bad in the fridge and use it up. It’s all fair game.
3. I need to eat more vegetables/more nourishing foods.
Who among us couldn’t stand to get more veggies in our day? They should be our cornerstone, whatever “diet” we choose. The old standby solution for this is a salad. Everyday. At lunch. Blerg. Don’t get us wrong, salads can be awesome, but sometimes you need something…different. And warm. Cooking brings out nuances in food. It sweetens and deepens and creates new exciting flavors!
If you are working to heal your body, you need nutrient density. Bread as a vehicle is nice, and if you can eat it, awesome. But the truth is, wheat and an abundance of grains do not give us as much bang for our nutritional buck as vegetables do. So why not choose a sweet potato diced in a skillet instead of that piece of bread, and get more nourishment?
This method will allow you to build a nutrient dense skillet of goodness filled with nourishing foods that have the power to heal! Because it’s customizable, some foods are cooked while others can remain fresh and raw. Best of both worlds.
Three things this method requires of you:
A great skillet
Preferably a cast iron one. It’s not expensive to acquire one, and it really does something magical to your food when you cook in it.
Lots of Real Foods in the Kitchen
Shop for and stock what you love to eat and what works in your body: vegetables, good fats, clean proteins, nuts and seeds, cooked ancient grains, fresh herbs, homemade dressings.
An open mind
Making Skillet Bowls can be liberating. Foods you may not think “go” together, will marry just fine! When you are working with good, clean, fresh ingredients and simple cooking techniques, it’s pretty hard to make the whole dish taste like dirt.
With practice, this method will make you a confident & intuitive cook.
Here’s how a recent Skillet Bowl of mine went down. Remember, this is a method, not a recipe! (But copy these ingredients if you want – it turned out pretty good!)
1. First, pull everything out of the refrigerator that looks good/needs to be cooked/makes you happy.
Make sure that vegetables are your biggest category, and then add some protein, aromatics, fresh herbs, and maybe something crunchy.
You can think through a plan at this point, but the more you play with the Skillet Bowl, the more this method will become a familiar dance for you. It’s fun to let the cooking process unfold as you feel inspired!
These were actual ingredients I had on hand – I did not plan this dish:
2. Get the skillet good and hot – around medium high and add a high heat cooking fat.
I used duck fat here, but coconut oil, bacon grease, and avocado oil are other awesome choices.
3. Add vegetables that take more time to cook before adding the quicker cooking veggies.
The smaller you cut things, the faster they cook. This can take practice, but generally the starchy dense ones go in first: sweet potato, carrots, rutabaga, turnips, bell peppers, cauliflower florets, etc. before adding the veggies that take less time to cook. In this case it would have been the carrots, but I sliced them thinly so in they went with the cabbage and the red onion, both of which I also enjoy a nice thin slice on. Always salt right away! This is an important part of the science of cooking and building flavor.
Cook the veggies down until they reach your desired consistency, these took me maybe 8 minutes. I like the cabbage to get super soft and sweet, but if you like things fresh and crunchy, go for less time. Move the food around plenty, but make sure you also leave it alone for a minute at a time, this is what creates nice frizzled brown bits and carmelization, and that’s how you build flavor in a skillet!
This is also a good time to add dried herbs and spices if you want to use them – some crushed red pepper is always tasty, and if you are a cumin fan, go for it!
4. After your veggies are close to done, add your quick cooking protein to the middle of the skillet.
For me it was some grassfed ground beef. It can also look like tempeh, diced chicken thighs, ground turkey, a piece of wild salmon, etc. If your protein is in the form of a hard boiled egg or some full-fat dairy, as it often is for Liz’s lunchtime Skillet Bowls, then wait to add it at the end like a topping.
For my meat, I create a little area in the middle of the skillet, and place it flattened out in direct contact with the pan. This ensures it cooks quickly and evenly, and gets some crispy crustiness on one side – again, important for making flavor!
5. Cook well, mix everything together, turn off skillet, add zing.
You’re almost done! I like to add a small splash of something acidic for zing at this point; Apple Cider Vinegar won out this round, but lemon, lime, and balsamic can do the trick as well. Turn the heat off, and move it all around in the still-warm skillet to combine.
6. Scoop your Skillet creation into a Bowl and add the all-important toppings!
I made a quick pesto because I had basil, pine nuts, garlic and lemon on hand; it doesn’t take long. Keeping dips and spreads, like pesto, in your fridge ensures that no Skillet Bowl will ever be bad! If you don’t want to make a topping like pesto (or don’t have a pre-made one), just add some fresh herbs – cilantro, parsley, chives – whatever brings you joy. This is a great way to get comfortable with using fresh herbs.
You can also add something raw which adds more texture and nourishment. I plopped in some fresh, sweet tomatoes from the garden, but you could add diced red pepper, red onion, sauerkraut, and our absolute Skillet Bowl favorite: avocado.
Sometimes the Skillet Bowl looks beautiful and worthy of a Saveur cover. Sometimes it looks like a Skillet Bowl of mysterious mush. But 99% of the time, it’s delicious.
How about you? What are the 3 ingredients you are most likely to have on hand to throw into a Skillet Bowl?
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