Just in time for the holiday season, our Spotlight features Madea Allen, the “Organic Soul Chef”. Looking to prepare a satisfyingly healthy meal for your family this holiday? Read as she shares some of her favorite cooking tips, nutrition hacks, and life lessons.
What’s your favorite thing about cooking for the holidays?
One of my favorite things about cooking for the holidays is tapping into the wonderful memories of the delicious and elaborate meals my mother prepared. My mother was an excellent cook, who also catered and vended her food at local outdoor events around DC. She was highly skilled at preparing just about any cuisine she set her heart to create. One of her specialties was the traditional Soul Food that she grew up on and the Jamaican cuisine of my father’s homeland. I witnessed cooking as a way to bring my mother joy and satisfaction and we (my siblings and I), tasted every ounce of her joy in the food at our annual holiday dinners. There was such a pervasive feeling of love and warmth that my mother’s cooking provided during the holidays that it left a lasting impression on me. I use my mother’s memories as a great source of inspiration as I now cook during the holidays. I intend to continue her legacy of cooking with plenty of heart and soul to create lasting memories for my own family.
What healthy dish do you enjoy cooking over the holidays?
It’s hard to choose just one dish since there are so many healthy dishes I enjoy cooking! I love recreating my mother’s candied yams. She never topped hers with marshmallows like I usually saw at other people’s dinner table during the holidays. My mother’s candied yams featured warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, as well as sweet delicious fruits like orange and pineapple. I also love cooking mixed braised greens (usually collards and kale) with tomato, plenty of garlic, onion and dried herbs, which was another childhood favorite of mine.
What is a healthy ingredient alternative to margarine, solid oil, or shortening? Any recommended alternatives to white or brown sugar?
I’m not a fan of highly processed oils, no matter how healthy its label claims to be. Whether it’s from an animal or plant-based source, as closely derived from nature as possible is always best. I use real butter that comes from the milk of pasture-raised, grass fed cows. Look for pure, unrefined or extra-virgin to get the least minimally processed oils possible. Some plant-based oil I also enjoy using are coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, and sometimes palm oil for my West African or Afro-Brazilian dishes.
Great alternatives to white or brown sugar are evaporated cane juice, stevia, fruit (raw, dried, or cooked), maple crystals, maple syrup, agave, honey, brown rice syrup, or molasses.
What advice do you have for someone cooking healthy for a party of 8 or more?
Whether you’re preparing a meal for just one or a party of eight or more, there is an art to creating a healthy, satisfying, and delicious meal. I like meals to have a central focus. Make sure you’re creating a meal that doesn’t have too many themes or flavors that clash and compete with each other. When planning your meal, lead with your entree. Base everything around the flavors and colors of your entree. Keep it simple. Make it colorful, delicious, and include a variety of textures and complementary flavors. Staying organized is also helpful when cooking for larger groups. I like to keep myself organized by writing out my menu, then gathering recipes and scaling them up, if necessary, to accommodate the number of people I’m serving. Finally, create a complete and organized shopping list to make your trip to the market as stress-free as possible.
Can you share a few healthy dessert ideas that would go over well with the entire family?
I enjoy using fresh and dried fruits as the foundation for healthy desserts. Resist the temptation of adding sugar to fruits because they are quite sweet on their own. Sautéing, baking, roasting, poaching, broiling, or braising fruits help bring out more of their natural sweetness. Baked bananas; apple galette; mixed berry sorbet; cooked fruit with an oat crumble and whipped cream; or even an avocado chocolate mousse are some of my favorite go-to healthy desserts. Make your own whipped topping with fresh heavy cream or for a vegan cream use coconut creme or blend soaked cashews. An easy way to make any dish or dessert more wholesome is to go for high quality ingredients- fresh, whole, and real. Happy holiday cooking!
Share links to your favorite healthy holiday alternatives in the comments!