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Cookbook author Hetty McKinnon shares her best advice on how to stay inspired and feed your family during this trying time.

By Leah Bhabha
May 21, 2020
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hetty mckinnon and family havng dinner on their patio
Credit: Luisa Brimble

It's no surprise that in a period that calls for creative and resourceful home cooking, cookbook author and recipe developer Hetty McKinnon is hitting her stride. But, it was an uphill battle in the beginning: "In the first week, I was feeling completely uninspired (I also believe I was suffering from symptoms of COVID-19)," says the Brooklyn-based author of Neighborhood: Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad ($24.95, barnesandnoble.comand Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day ($31.50, barnesandnoble.com). But as she began getting used to a life of constant confinement with her husband and three children, the creative juices begin to flow.

McKinnon has long been known for her salads, which far surpass the concept of raw vegetables on a plate and are the focus of her next book, the upcoming Community: Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen ($29.95, barnesandnoble.com). She built a community on them, in fact, packing up her vegetarian creations and delivering them by bicycle throughout her native Sydney, Australia. Though her environs have changed, her goal of "making friends with salad" and other food hasn't; even in the current moment she emphasizes the importance of coming together over food whether with your immediate family or roommates, or even with far-flung loved ones virtually.

Here, in McKinnon's own words, she shares advice on best practices for staying innovative in the kitchen right now.

Embrace Unusual Combinations

In my day-to-day life developing recipes, I'm always looking at interesting ingredients and trying to be uber creative with them. But in the second or third week of quarantine, I started making really unusual things based on what I had in the freezer and pantry. It will probably change the way I cook forever. For example, I always have frozen dumplings in the freezer and I had leftover marinara sauce. I combined the two and it sounds strange, but it made sense—it wasn't far from ravioli. I tried putting kimchi in mac and cheese because I had three jars of it.

Rethink Basic Ingredients

I realized that when you don't have the choice of running out to the store every five minutes, you tend to substitute things and discover how much flavor you can achieve with few ingredients. You don't need fresh things all the time. I've been religiously buying ginger, garlic, and olive oil. Simple aromatics add so much. I also have the advantage of having a fully stocked spice cabinet.

Always Prioritize Texture

With salads, I always try to layer flavors and feature lots of different textures. I've been using a lot of tofu—I buy two extra-firm blocks every week. I'll pan-fry it to make it extra-crispy and serve it with roasted broccoli, brown rice, and sesame dressing—it's creamy, earthy, and crunchy all at once. Croutons have always been a major salad ingredient. When you're making and eating bread, you always have the ends. I keep all of them in a bag and then when I have enough to fill a big tray, I roast them until crispy and store in an airtight container. I'll also put store bought gnocchi on a sheet pan with vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus, and roast it all together. The gnocchi comes out like a crispy potato and then I just add some olive oil and sharp cheese. And that's the meal!

Check Instagram

Building community through food is the cornerstone of everything I've always done. I've been posting my recipes on Instagram as a way of contributing to the outside world. I don't usually do that as much, but I've made a new recipe almost every day. It's been amazing to see people making cooking a part of their lifestyle—I have friends who have never cooked who are now texting me and asking for tips and recipes. People are locked in their homes and missing that kind of contact, but the virtual world has provided us with that kind of connection.

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