Whole Foods Healthy Cooking Styles

Experiment with new cooking styles, then add nourishing seasonal ingredients.

When thoughts of switching out winter coats and scarves for lighter jackets and sweaters begin to appear on to-do lists, it’s time to start making menu adjustments. Staying healthy is all about balance. And, food happens to be one of the most effective and readily available tools we have to bring balance to our lives. It’s really intuitive; all we need to do is pay attention. Think about it. What foods are we naturally drawn to and begin to crave as seasons change? If we listen to our bodies, as spring approaches, our draw towards winter root vegetables, hearty grains and long simmering stews diminishes and the attraction to fresh greens, lighter grains and quicker cooking styles begins. All we need to do is observe and listen. Following nature’s lead is an easy way to help ensure good health.

Are you looking for ways to transition your menus from heartier winter fare to lighter spring dishes? In addition to opting for lightening meals, try preparing foods a little differently. Try something new. Experiment with seasonings and lighter cooking styles. Notice how each style changes the taste of the foods and the effect each has on you — how you feel after eating it. Here are a few quick guidelines to help make transitioning to spring cooking easy. Start with a cooking style and then add nourishing seasonal ingredients.


Steaming vegetables is easy with or without a steamer. Common, inexpensive steamers include bamboo steamers and stainless steel collapsible pot inserts. Don’t have a steamer? No problem. To steam without any special equipment, just pour a little water (about a half inch to one inch) into the pot and add the veggies. Placing large chunks of carrots (or trimmed, whole carrots) in the pot first and layering other veggies on top is very effective. The carrots keep the other veggies out of the water and you end up with a healthy broth to use for miso soup. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil and steam until the veggies are just tender. Remember to cut everything to a similar size so they cook in the same amount of time.

Steamed Vegetables

whole-foods-cooking-styles-small-1Make this as an easy side dish or add some beans or tofu to turn it into a great main course. I’ve included one of my favorite vegetable combinations, but vary the selection to include your favorites. Green beans, summer squash, peas, cabbage and fennel are also delicious.

1 kohlrabi, peel and cut into cubes
2 cups broccoli, cut
2 cups kale, cut
2 carrots, cut
1 large onion, cut
1 cup cauliflower, cut

  1. Place your vegetables in a steamer basket and place in a pot. Add enough water to boil, but not enough that it touches the vegetables. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and allow to steam a few minutes until vegetables are bright and crisp.
  2. Remove vegetables from pot and season as desired. A splash of olive oil and lemon juice followed by salt and pepper is simple and tasty. I also like to sprinkle on a little turmeric. If you like things a little spicy, try a little chili paste or a sprinkle of chili powder.


With sautéing, everything is cooked at once and the ingredients are cut smaller, so it’s a fast and flexible way to create a delicious meal. It’s also convenient because it’s a style that works for just about any vegetable you can think of. The two key things essential to a great tasting sauté are: 1) the right size pan and 2) constant motion. You may choose to use either a small amount of oil or water to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. All the ingredients should fit in a single layer. If you layer the ingredients on one another, steam is trapped and you end up essentially steaming your food instead of sautéing. Choose a pan with a heavy bottom and low sides. It’s all about a large heating surface and low sides to allow the quick escape of steam. If your pan is too small, consider sautéing your dish in batches. Once everything is in the pan, keep it moving. Use a wooden spoon to move ingredients around. You’ll achieve a nicely browned and flavorful dish in record time.

Favorite Saute

Sautéing is one of my favorite cooking styles, and any leftovers make a delicious, virtually instant miso soup the next day. I like cutting everything julienne style; the appearance, texture and versatility is hard to beat. If you prefer your vegetables cut larger, just adjust for a little longer cooking time.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup red bell pepper, julienned
2 large carrots, julienned
1 large, sweet onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, diced
3 cups kale, remove stem, roll leaves lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin ribbons
2 cups smoked tofu, cut into thin strips
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil. Toss in red peppers and carrots and sauté for two to three minutes. Remember to stir frequently. Add onion and garlic and cook another two minutes. Toss in kale and cook another two minutes. Add tofu and cook an additional minute until tofu is heated. Season to taste. Note: if vegetables begin to stick to the pan, add a little water a tablespoon at a time.


There’s more than one way to boil, but they all have the same basic method. Cover everything in water or stock and cook. Two ways to boil veggies are: 1) cold water start and 2) hot water start. Each produces a very different end product. An example of a cold water start is stews or soups (excellent flavor development) and a hot water start is blanching (excellent for color and vitamin retention).

Boiled Salad

Here’s a different way to prepare a delicious, easy-to-digest salad that’s very relaxing to the body. Try this delicious as is, or use to top fresh, chopped romaine lettuce. The boiling time included in this recipe is an estimate only. It depends on how large your slices are. Remove veggies from boiling water when they turn a nice, bright color.

2 carrots, sliced thinly
1 cup kale, stems trimmed off and cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup broccoli florets
4 radishes, quartered

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Have prepared vegetables ready and lined up on your work surface. Start with the mildest tasting vegetables and work towards the strongest tasting veggies to avoid compromising the flavor of each ingredient.
  2. Place the carrots in boiling water for about 15 seconds, remove with slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain. When drained, place on a plate. Repeat this process with remaining ingredients (kale, broccoli and radishes). These vegetables will require about 30 seconds of cooking.
  3. Serve this salad hot, at room temp or cold with your favorite dressing or with a splash of lemon juice.


Call this the "speed dating" version of pickling. You get great taste and nutritional benefits in this easy to make dish and it’s perfect for those who have a difficult time digesting raw vegetables. All you do is cut up your salad ingredients, toss them in a bowl, "massage" them with a little sea salt or vinegar, weigh the mixture down for 20 minutes or so (to extract the liquid in the veggies), drain and enjoy! The quick pickling process makes everything much more digestible and it’s a pleasant change of pace for eating fresh veggies.

Pressed Salad

whole-foods-cooking-styles-small-2One of the most satisfying and refreshing salads you can make, and also one of the healthiest. Don’t be afraid to vary the ingredients. Cucumber, celery, red onions, thinly sliced apples, etc., are all great additions. It’s really about the process. If using vinegar, eliminate the salt and use a quarter cup of vinegar. Or try using both in the same salad. Experiment to find your favorite combination. Adapt the ingredients to your taste. One of my favorite ways is to use umeboshi vinegar to add a delicious sweetness to the salad.

1 cup cabbage, sliced thin
1 cup kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1 small onion, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
1 cup daikon, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar

  1. Wash and cut all the vegetables. Place them in a large bowl and add the salt and/or vinegar. Mix thoroughly with your hands to ensure all vegetables are coated.
  2. Place a dish on top of your ingredients and place a 2-3 pound weight on top of dish. This will press down on the ingredients. Let it press for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.
  3. Remove weight and plate. Place salad in colander and drain well. Serve. Note: if too salty just rinse with cold water and drain again.

Michelle Hirsch lives in southern NH and teaches whole foods cooking throughout New England. She is a graduate of the world-renowned Kushi Institute where she also worked developing curriculum. Michelle is the author of Venturesome Vegetarian and can be contacted at mphirsch@yahoo.com.