Mindful cooking at Christmas

Categories: Expert guidance

Nicole Pisani shares her tips on how to be a mindful cook at this time of year

Words: Nicole Pisani
Image: Regula Ysewijn

The world often feels out of balance to me—half throw food away each week, while the other half struggle to have enough. It might seem as though the current imbalance is the greatest it has even been, but if we each look at our actions—how we eat, how we buy, the respect we give to farmers, animals and the land—then we stand a chance of keeping humanity safe.

As a chef, the first thing I do in order to waste less is always ensure that I have homemade stock. I remember a larger-than-life Scottish chef who ran the kitchen in my first job at the Hilton in Malta – he said to me “the stock is everything, use your imagination, let it run wild, add spices, balsamic vinegars, alcohol or herbs”.

That was 15 years ago and ever since then I have never made the same stock twice, recently adding Sichuan pepper (which you can grow here in the UK) and rice wine vinegar. I make it on the hob or in the oven, and old vegetables always get transformed into fragrant stock for soups.

One of my favourite books is Instructions to the Cook by Bernie Glassman. The reason I love it is for all the comparisons between cooking and life: “For the zen cook, a seed of doubt, a pinch of faith, and a dollop of determination is enough to begin.”

My little comparison is that stock is the basis of cooking, just as a good heart is for life, and both are really all you need to start out with—you can work your way from there.

I also have a few tips for mindful cooking during this season of feasting and sharing:
Always look at what you have already before you go shopping and then write your shopping list.
It is the perfect time of year to go through your cupboards and enjoy the ‘magic of tidying up’ in the kitchen. Think of meals that can go together and use some of the same ingredients rather than choosing recipes that all require great long lists of random ingredients. Write up your menus and keep them on the fridge.

Unpacking is essential for keeping your ingredients fresh, as well as fresh in your mind. Take vegetables out of any plastic packaging and make sure you can see what they all are in your vegetable drawer. Keep grains and dry ingredients together and organise your spice rack or drawer so that you don’t hide things at the back until they become so stale you need to throw them out.

When serving Christmas dinner, I try not to cram the plates too full, but instead give a taste of everything with the invitation to go back for more. Last year I made stuffing ‘crumbs’ instead of serving in the usual wodges. After the initial panic, it was declared a success. I often make pickles with vegetables to extend their life—such as my cumin carrot pickles—and they add instant flavour to meals, especially leftover turkey and ham.