With quarantine orders keeping everyone indoors, everything from putting gas in the tank to shopping for groceries has become a challenge. But even though it’s more difficult to get ingredients these days, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to eat well.
“It always comes down to what you have in stock. For someone like me, I’m always stocked,” said Leslie Cerier, a Shutesbury-based vegetarian chef and educator with more than 40 years of cooking experience who owns The Organic Gourmet. In her pantry, Cerier keeps a supply of dry goods and spices that include millet, oats, goji berries, hemp seeds, local organic turmeric, cornmeal and lentils.
Other products like ginger and berries can be frozen for later use.
As the health crisis deepens, Cerier has transitioned her culinary classes to an online format and is relying on her well-stocked dry goods. In general, her cooking methods incorporate ingredients like red quinoa and chia seeds — which keep well and provide good sources of protein.
“Depending on your budget, buy as much or as little as you can afford. That way, you’re eating foods that keep you healthy and also delicious,” Cerier said. Chia seeds, for example, which pack 9 grams of protein into every 3 tablespoons, are “loaded with omega 3. … a little bit goes a long way.”
Especially now, Cerier says it’s important to buy in bulk and plan meals in advance instead of shopping weekly and for specific ingredients.
“You could buy 25 pounds of onions. You could buy sweet potatoes and you don’t necessarily need to have a large refrigerator,” Cerier said. ”If you’re going to the store every three or four weeks, think beyond fresh. What can you stock that will last?”
Keeping a well-stocked pantry allows Cerier to cook diverse and healthy dishes without needing to leave the house. The other day, for example, Cerier says she made lasagna with dried shiitake mushrooms by adding a little bit of water to re-hydrate them. And when she does require fresh herbs, fruits and veggies, Cerier, who has been a part of Amherst-based Brookfield Farm’s CSA since 1987, buys whatever is in season directly from area farms.
It’s a culinary philosophy that Cerier has taught for decades. She was shopping and cooking in such a way long before the coronavirus became a household topic.
“During strawberry season, I’d picked and bought extra quarts for a very low price. I threw them in the freezer, I still have them,” Cerier said. “If I’m willing to sprinkle in the frozen berries I have, I could make blueberry pancakes, I could make strawberry waffles. If you’re going to the frozen food aisle and you buy frozen corn, buy two or three.”
With the ongoing pandemic keeping everyone indoors, Cerier says the benefits of her culinary approach are threefold: First, it’s more important than ever to cook for immune health; second, buying in bulk limits the frequency of shopping trips; finally, sourcing organic products supports the regional economy, which is badly in need of fiscal stimulus.
“Where do you live? Is there a local organic farm near where you live? Can you buy direct?” Cerier asked, noting that she recently made a trip to Seeds of Solidarity in Orange. It was an easy way to find local produce at a good price and meet social distancing requirements: “Not only did I save money, but I was the only one in that little shack. I’m supporting my local economy and I’m getting the highest quality food that’s possible.”
While there are many challenges brought about by the unfolding pandemic, there’s also a positive side. When the crisis has passed, Cerier said the culinary and shopping habits formed out of necessity could serve as the impetus for a healthier lifestyle.
“Some people are like, ‘when are we going to get back to the old normal?’ But I don’t think we want the old normal,” she said. “This is bringing back some really good ways to connect with one another. We are strengthening the overall health of our communities, our relationships and ourselves.”
Andy Castillo can be reached at email@example.com.
Mint Dressing for Immune Health, Recipe by Leslie Cerier
Organic Hemp Seeds are powerhouses of nutrition. Full of beneficial nutrients like zinc, protein and Omega 3 & 6 that can help give our immune system a boost. This creamy dressing is an excellent choice for green salads, steamed vegetables and pasta salads. Makes about one cup.
½ cup organic hemp seeds
½ cup water
¼ cup fresh cilantro*
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
4 teaspoons fresh mint*
1 teaspoon Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Organic Fair Trade Red Palm Oil**
½ teaspoons sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
Place all the ingredients in a blender and purée until creamy. Adjust seasonings, if desired.
Use immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers.
As the seasons change, or to better suit your dietary preferences, and what you have in stock, you can swap other fresh herbs for cilantro and mint such as basil, chives, dill, oregano and parsley.
You can substitute organic extra virgin olive oil or organic sesame oil for the red palm oil.
Stir Fry Bok Choy with Cashews recipe by Leslie Cerier
Quick and colorful, this vegetable stir fry is rich and flavorful. Especially wonderful this time of year with the local, organic bokchoy in season.
You can use any of these organic, healthy oils to make this easy, nutritious, vegan and gluten-free, yummy, side dish: extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, fair trade organic red palm oil, or sesame oil. Serves four.
2 tablespoons organic extra virgin coconut oil
2 tablespoons grated Organic ginger
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon organic tamari
1 cup organic cashews
1 cup organic red bell pepper, sliced
6 cups sliced organic bok choy
1 cup sliced organic scallions
Warm a wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil, ginger, mirin, tamari and cashews. Stir-fry two minutes to flavor the cashews with the ginger.
Add and stir-fry the red bell pepper and bok choy for three minutes, or until the red pepper turns bright red and bok choy wilts slightly.
How to connect
More information on The Organic Gourmet can be found at lesliecerier.com. The next group class, titled “Cooking Demo for Foods that Enhance the Immune System,” will be held May 3 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for a sliding scale fee, from free to $35. While they’re typically hosted at her home-kitchen in Shutesbury, Cerier is offering vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free cooking class via Zoom, an online video conferencing platform. Cerier can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.