This week on the blog, I want YOU to have the best access to the most amazing health food recipes. That's why I was inspired to interview my dear friend Nathalie, proud creator of Vanille Verte.
Who Is Nathalie?
I am a nutrition educator and natural foods chef, creator of the Vanille Verte app and food blog www.vanilleverte.com, and an upcoming cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2016).
What are your top 3 passions in life?
Food, health and, of course, my family.
How did you develop such a deep love of high quality food?
I grew up in Madagascar, where we ate whole, in season foods, cooked from scratch. When I moved to the US as a teenager, however, I ate a junk food diet well into my twenties. After years of this kind of eating, I developed a lot of health issues. I was overweight, and suffered from migraines and chronic anxiety. In my quest for answers, I discovered the power of food and healed myself naturally by changing my diet and learning how to cook. I am a hedonist, though, and I firmly believe that healthy food needs to taste ridiculously good, or I simply will not eat it. When you select foods with care and a commitment to quality, you end up eating foods that are not only nutritionally superior, but also very tasty. And that’s incredibly important.
Where do you shop for your weekly groceries?
In farmers’ markets, health food stores, or grocery stores with sizable organic and local produce sections. For hard to get un-perishable items, I also order online, as I find it easier and less time-consuming.
When buying food, what do you look for to ensure you are maximizing your nutrition?
I look for local, and in season, foods. Foods that are in season, and haven’t traveled very far to get to us are more nutritious, gentler on the earth, and certainly more flavorful. Can you buy strawberries in the middle of December? Yes, of course. Do they taste good? Nope. There’s nothing better than fruits and vegetables at the height of the season. And they’re much cheaper, as well.
How did you learn to cook so beautifully and wholesomely?
When I started my journey towards better health, I really didn’t know how to cook. I could make pasta with jarred tomato sauce, and that was pretty much it. After realizing that my key to better health meant reclaiming my kitchen and eating homemade food, I attended the Natural Chef training program at Bauman College in Berkeley, CA.
What inspired you to start the stunning recipe blog Vanille Verte and release a cooking app?
With the rise and convenience of processed foods, we have created whole generations of people who don’t know how to cook. But I really believe that the key to health and vibrancy lies in our kitchen, and at the end of our forks. Learning to make healthy food for ourselves is vital, and my goal with the blog, the app, and my upcoming cookbook, is to inspire people to reclaim that long lost tradition of making food for ourselves. That, more than anything else, is how we nurture health.
How do you consistently come up with new and interesting ideas for creating recipes?
I get inspired countless places - the farmers’ market (seeing all the produce in season); looking through recipes online or in cookbooks (which inspires me to try new ingredients, or techniques); restaurants (which often have very creative chefs that give me food for thought); talking with friends who love food; and in my own kitchen, depending on what is in the fridge. Like everyone, I can get into repetitive ruts in my cooking, times when I find myself making the same dishes over and over again. When that happens, I try to spend more time in farmers’ markets - there is always something new to discover, and the farmers are so knowledgeable and passionate about what they sell, which invariably sparks my creativity.
What has been your favorite / most memorable dish that you have made to date?
I don’t think there’s been just one! I am constantly evolving and learning, so my favorite dishes are often the ones that I recently created. But if I have to pick something, I will say that more than a single dish, there are certain techniques that have opened whole new worlds to me, such as when I first learned to make my own nut milks or creams, spiralize vegetables into spaghetti, or make chips out of just about any vegetable. When we remaster old techniques using new ingredients, it’s a very exciting thing.
Your husband and son are very fortunate to have you as their very own private natural chef, what are their favorite dishes that you make on a regular basis?
My son is a true carnivore, so anything with animal products, he really enjoys. Perhaps his favorite dish of mine lately is the Miso-Glazed Cod (recipe on the blog), which he gobbles up every time I make it. My husband is much less picky and loves just about anything I create, unless it has avocado.
If you could give us 3 top tips for making simple yet healthy food at home, what would they be?
1) Don’t be afraid. Cooking does not have to be complicated, and anybody can do it! When you buy high quality ingredients (organic, in season, local), they don’t need much fuss to shine. When an heirloom tomato is perfectly ripe, for example, it can taste like perfection on its own, or with just a drizzle or olive oil and sea salt. If you need a boost in confidence, look for instructional videos on the internet and in the app stores (of course, I am partial to my own app, Vanille Verte, that comes with lots of tutorial videos! :)) for cooking resources. Have fun and take a cooking class or two, as well. It will teach you that homemade food can be very simple to create!
2) You have time. We often think that we don’t have time to cook, but really, it is a question of priorities. We can watch hours of television each day, or cruise social media for far longer than we should, yet a simple meal of chopped up vegetables and salad and fruit will take less time to create than it would to get pizza delivered! So care about your only body enough to make it a habit to get into your kitchen and prepare food. It really is so very important for health. And even if we make unhealthy meals at home, like burgers and fries, when we use fresh ingredients and make it ourselves, the end product will be a lot healthier than if we had bought the same meal in a restaurant or fast food. At home, we have control over the ingredients that we use, and we will not use additives or ever as much salt as can be found in processed foods.
3) Make sure that 60-70% of your plate is filled with vegetables and fruits. There is probably no more important rule for health. The rest (i.e. whether you are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, Paleo, etc.) does not appear to matter as much. Most dietary traditions agree on that one single principle: when fresh produce and vegetables make up the bulk of our diet, vibrant health is within reach. So cut up some vegetables, drizzle them with a little olive oil and lemon juice, add some chopped up nuts or grilled meats, and finish it off with chopped mixed herbs and a sprinkle of sea salt. In less than 30 minutes, you will have a nourishing meal that will help you feel your very best. Enjoy!
Click here to get the Vanille Verte App full of delicious recipes for healthy cooking in the comfort of your home, AND be sure to check out Nathalie's stunning food blog www.vanilleverte.com for further inspiration!