Stuck in a Food Rut? Here’s the Happiest (and Prettiest) Way to Eat

Turns out, cooking with all the colors of the rainbow leads to vibrant, nutritious meals.

(Photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink)
Sarah McColl has written for Yahoo Food, Bon Appetit, and other publications. She's based in Brooklyn.

A head of purple cauliflower a little past its prime knocked photographer and food blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink out of a creative rut. It motivated her to cook and eat the most striking colors of the season: spring's first soft green shoots and winter's nearly neon citrus. Shopping for the pink rib of a chard stem and cabbage's moody dark purples inspired the photos in "Color Studies," a series that appears on her blog, The Year in Food. This playful approach to food has sparked the idea behind her new cookbook, Vibrant Food

"That purple cauliflower just caught my attention so intensely and really renewed my enthusiasm for food and photography," says Hasselbrink.

The result is a book you'll want for the coffee table—but it's bound to end up sticky and splattered. An "equal opportunity vegetable lover," Hasselbrink has written a visual love letter to each season's most captivating colors: a delicate omelet filled with spring peas and shoots, summer's apricot-and-chicken salad with toasted-cumin vinaigrette, an apple-sage walnut bread for fall, and roasted beets with chimichurri in winter. Kitchen staples such as paprika, Greek yogurt, fresh herbs, and olive oil punch up the flavor in each season—and of course, as Hasselbrink reminds us, "Salty cheeses [like] feta and Parmesan will make almost any vegetable taste good." (Truth!) 

"I used to make the same thing over and over again. One huge pot of gluten-free pasta or a huge pot of soup every single week, and that would be my lunch." Now each trip to the farmers market yields colorful fodder for kitchen play. "It helped me be more inquisitive and experimental. I had never cooked with fava beans, nettles, and fresh chickpeas. I think that's what keeps me engaged with food, experimenting, and trying new things."

Hasselbrink found her new focus on color a liberating way to think about food, but it's a mind shift that works as more than an aesthete's creative exercise; color-forward cooking can serve as shorthand when putting nutrient-dense, peak-season produce at the center of the plate. Because it hinges on sensuous pleasure, it's a happy way to eat. "When you engage the senses visually with color and a beautiful plate of food and then the sense of smell and taste, it just becomes a really powerful experience." 

It's an approach to cooking that hits plenty of the bases for well-being. "There's this idea of nutrition and feeling obligated to eat things because you're supposed to. But finding the joy in something that's good for you? That's part of what I'm trying to connect with."

(Photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Summer Squash Pasta With Green Goddess Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

"One of my favorite summer recipes that's really simple is the summer squash pasta, using squash as the pasta noodles. You don't have to cook anything, so it's great on a hot day, and making squash noodles from vegetables is so fun and novel, there's this kind of element of surprise," Hasselbrink says. Buy a julienne peeler for this one. "It's a fun little gadget, and you can use it with so many vegetables. It is a game changer."

Ingredients

2 pounds mixed summer squash (yellow squash and zucchini) 

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus additional for serving 

1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 

2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon 

1 small clove garlic, minced 

1 anchovy, minced 

1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese 

1/4 cup raw pine nuts 

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions

Cut the squash into very thin strips using a julienne slicer. Alternatively, use a vegetable peeler or mandoline to make long ribbons. Sprinkle the squash with the salt, toss gently, and place in a colander over a bowl for 20 minutes, allowing the excess liquid in the squash to drain. Carefully squeeze the squash over the colander. Pat with a clean, absorbent kitchen towel to dry. 

Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, wine vinegar, basil, parsley, chives, tarragon, garlic, and anchovy in a food processor. Blend until smooth and creamy. 

Using your hands, gently toss the squash with about three-quarters of the dressing. Add the Parmesan and pine nuts and toss again. If needed, add the remaining dressing. Store any remaining dressing in the fridge for another use. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with small leaves of basil. This dish is best served immediately. 

Reprinted with permission from Vibrant Food, written and photographed by Kimberley Hasselbrink (Ten Speed Press, 2014).

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