I love cooking, but I rarely follow recipes to the tee. If I want to find out how to make something, I usually scan the ingredients list, close the cookbook and just wing it. Last Christmas one of my gifts was Louisa Shafia’s cookbook, Lucid Food. It is one of the first cookbooks I actually read and actually followed all the directions. Food is personal and her cookbook tells a story through her appreciation of food. She has had the honor of cooking at Millenium and Roxanne’s in San Fransisco and Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit in New York City. Her love for food and eco-friendly practices resulted in the start of her catering business, Lucid Food in 2004. Her cookbook features seasonal recipes that draw from a variety of cuisines. Indonesian Corn Fritters, Seven Vegetable Miso Soup, Crispy Yuba Rolls, Watermelon/Apple/Lime Shake, Dungesness Crab w/ Fennel & Orange, Poached Quince in Orange Blossom Water … is your mouth watering yet??? A wide range of delicious food peppered with eco-conscious tips and earth friendly alternatives – and it’s all pretty easy to make. Cooking good food doesn’t have to be complicated and Louisa’s food is a testament to simple & sophisticated dishes.
After featuring her recipe for Cucumber & Pomegranate Salad on my blog, Louisa sent me a thank you email [much to my surprise] and gladly obliged to answer a few questions for the blog. Through our email conversations, I learned that she lives in my old home of Williamsburg [Brooklyn] – which made me like her even more! Here is what she had to say ….
Q & A:
What kind of food did you grow up eating? And when did you become passionate about local and organic cooking?
“I grew up eating fresh, unprocessed, homemade food. My mother is a great cook, and most nights growing up she would cook dinner. We had a lot of fish, chicken, beans, rice, vegetables, yogurt, and fruit. We didn’t eat a lot of red meat because my father has high blood pressure, and he’s a cardiologist so he knows red meat isn’t the best thing for your heart. That said, I do remember the classic “London broil” dinners (now completely un-trendy) and the ever-present exception [exception?? bacon is an exception?? no, Louisa … it is a MUST. lol] for bacon with Sunday breakfast. [I say ever-present because I’ve met so many people who otherwise don’t eat meat, but can’t say no to the bacon.]
I also tasted lots of interesting ingredients at a young age, particularly from Persian cuisine because my father is from Iran. When our Iranian relatives came to visit, or when my American mother experimented with Persian cooking, I tasted things like saffron, rosewater, dried limes, sour cherries, pomegranates, dates, and pistachios. I’m grateful that I was exposed to all these flavors, because they gave me a sense of openness towards different cuisines and therefore different cultures. [I must interject here … Louisa grew up lucky. I think most of us didn’t have that exposure to ‘un-American’ tastes. I am trying to do that with my daughter and even with my mom and gramma back home in Ohio. I was so food sheltered, I never even tasted goat cheese until I was 21 and it was weird to me! Thanks alot, mom. :-) ]
I didn’t eat fast food until I was in my mid-teens [I had my 5th birthday party at McDonalds. Groan.]. When I discovered a certain processed chicken product that has been made to look like “nuggets,” I swung to the other side of the food spectrum for a while, and I clearly remember stopping off to get a donut every day after school during the same period.”
What is the best piece of advice you have received in regards to cooking?
“That would have to be the rule that “fat carries flavor.” When I learned this at my cooking school, the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, it was like someone turned a light on. When a dish lacks pizazz, my first solution is to drizzle on some olive oil. Depending on the context, I’ll add nuts, nut butter, seeds, avocado, butter, yogurt, an egg, or oil. I feel good about adding healthy, unprocessed fats to my meals — our bodies need them!”
Name three foods and three spices you couldn’t live without [salt, pepper, olive oil excluded].
Hot pepper flakes
Lemon juice …..[Funny that her ‘can’t live without’ picks are things most people have no idea what to do with – cook outside of your comfort zone and be pleasantly surprised!]
Are there any more cookbooks in the works?
“Yes. My next book will definitely be about celebrating the sensuality of food through fresh, beautiful, rustic cooking. Beyond that, the rest hasn’t come to me yet.”
What was your inspiration for putting together Lucid Food?
“I found that people were really excited by what I was doing with my catering company, also called Lucid Food. People were surprised that they could have catered food that was sophisticated, delicious, and unique, while at the same time being eco-friendly. After working at restaurants in San Francisco, composting vegetable scraps, buying from local farmers, cooking seasonally, and eschewing disposable goods in favor of reusable ones like glass bottles and real china, and other sustainable practices were second nature to me. People in New York were charmed by my food and intrigued by my green kitchen practices, and wanted to know more. I felt like I had some valuable information to share with people beyond my clients.”
What is something most people don’t know about you?
“My cocktail of choice is a Makers Mark neat. My now fiancé was shocked when I ordered this on our first date (it was late, we had gone to see some music). This always surprises people because my diet is healthy, and because I’m a rather quiet and ladylike type. But on a cold evening, at a cozy bar with a fireplace, for me there’s nothing better. In summer, I’ll take good tequila either straight or in a sour margarita.”
What is your “go-to” comfort food?
“Kale sautéed with garlic and ginger, over brown rice seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper.”
Louisa, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Can’t wait to read the next book!!