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Shop at Farmers MarketsRecently, a Mom with her 3 daughters came to me for a private cooking lesson. The mom and her 2 daughters were flying in from Chicago to visit her eldest daughter who was a first year student at Amherst College. She needed a nourishing place for her and her 2 daughters to stay, as well as a fun bonding activity: a hands on vegetarian cooking class. By email we confirmed arrangements for her to rent a room for one night from me and created a fun hands on menu for their cooking class: spring rolls, peanut sauce, something with chocolate, and maybe greens in tahini sauce. They always wanted to learn how to roll spring rolls and wanted to expand their cooking repertoire.

In the cooking class, I wanted to show them some new ingredients so I pulled out 3 different types of organic gluten-free rice noodles. They had never seen the black forbidden rice ramen noodles and chose them since black goes with everything.

Organic Forbidden Rice spring rolls

Subbing local, organic, seasonal produce, I harvested fresh thai basil, mint and nasturtium flowers from my garden and they grated some fresh carrots and a (new to them) rainbow radish from my CSA (Community Organic Farm). I showed them how to put the carrots, flowers, herbs on the bottom before adding the noodles to create beautiful patterns in and outside of the spring roll.

I offered lots of suggestions for seasonal vegetable and herb variations. Told them they could also roll in nuts, seeds, seasoned tempeh, sprouts and more. They got excited about using black sesame seeds and even sprinkled some of the seeds on the outside of some of the rolls. No two spring rolls were alike. They had fun, talked and laughed a lot; loved being together, while making 2 large platters of beautiful spring rolls.

With their smart phones, I took lots of photos of them posing holding the platters of spring rolls. Then we made the peanut sauce. Since one of the daughters did not like cilantro,

I showed them how to swap mint for cilantro to make a peanut sauce they all would love. Now they were starved. Time to eat. And for dessert, I offered them some of my cacao goji berry truffles.
Here are 4 ways to transform your menus

1. Add a new ingredient
a. Take your cues from the seasonal harvest: as the seasons change so do the availability of local produce. Making spring rolls with edible flowers is easier in warm weather. In winter, sliced avocados, and heartier root vegetables stand in for more delicate greens and fresh herbs.
b. Time constraints: fresh produce is quicker to use then steamed or fried.
c. Nutrition: adding super foods like hemp seeds and chia seeds boost nutritious and create new variations

2. Twist on a classic
a. When making lasagna: change the noodle: sometimes use a rice noodle or even a different shape pasta like quinoa macaroni, or swap thin sliced vegetables like zuchinni for noodles.
b. Change the cheese: goat, sheep, cow or use a vegan cheese or pureed corn.
c. Use a tomato sauce or make one layer of marinated dried tomatoes, sliced shiitake mushrooms and kale

3. Different cooking techniques
Sometimes make a raw salad; roast the vegetables with herbs and spices and other times steam the same vegetables and serve with a sauce

4. Substitutions
a. Use a different oil for salad dressing: toasted sesame, hemp oil or a flavored olive oil
b. Try using different spices. For example, one time when I was teaching Improvisational Cooking for Health and Vitality at Esalen Institute, one of my dear participants, Abby requested that we use a combination of cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon in our apple crisp, which was delicious.
c. Instead of using a pizza dough, or flour crust for a quiche, how about using a thin layer of cooked corn grits or teff grain? Then add your toppings.Leslie's Savory Gluten-Free Teff Flour Pie CrustThat’s the art of the mix and match. So the next time you cook, tune into the produce of the season and your mood. Swap ingredients on a whim. Cook from your heart. Are there any foods to avoid because you or someone else that you are cooking for does not like them or has food allergies? Get your creative juices flowing with a well stocked kitchen and a spacious, presence to keep a creative mind while cooking.

For more inspiration, please Call Leslie to book your Private hands on cooking lesson today 413-259-1695 or email:

Register now for upcoming cooking classes:


Previous Classes

October 23-25, 2015: Savoring Life, Luscious Cooking for Health at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA:

January 15-17, 2016: Spice It Up! Creative Cooking with Herbs and Spices at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA:

Feb 19-21, 2016: Delicious Meals in Minutes Fresh From the Esalen Garden, Big Sur, CA:

Feb 21-26, 2016: Improvisational Cooking for Health and Vitality; Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA:

Call Leslie to book a private coaching session via Facetime, phone or in person today 413-259-1695 or email:

Have a great organic feast!

Leslie Cerier, The Organic Gourmet

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