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(Paul Sakuma/The Canadian Press)
(Paul Sakuma/The Canadian Press)

Back to basics

Alice Waters' seven essentials of a green kitchen Add to ...

Alice Waters, chef and founder of the revered Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., thinks how we eat is our most political act. For her culinary philosophy - "eat what's in season, eat what's locally available, and share it with your family and friends" - she's earned the title of mother of the United States' Slow Food movement.

Now, with her latest book, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart, she is attempting to simplify the cooking-from-scratch edict.

"Cooking shouldn't be so difficult," she says. "It's really about demystifying cooking and including everybody in the process of making dinner."

Fittingly, the book opens with instructions for her signature dish: simple salad.

Here, she shares with The Globe and Mail the seven essentials of the green kitchen and why they're so important.

Your own vinaigrette

"It's just essential in my life to have a salad, and once you learn how to make that basic vinaigrette, [a mixture of olive oil, red-wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a garlic clove]there's just no end to the variations. It's so mysterious to a lot of people who don't eat salad, and think vinaigrette is a strange French word. We're trying to demystify that, and to differentiate between what's in a bottle and what you can make at home."

Make stock

"It's a great way to use those bits and pieces of cooking you may otherwise throw away - leftovers from a chicken or the vegetable and parsley stems. I was intimidated for a long time around making stock because you've got to get the right amount of water, or if you cook it too long the bone tastes funny, and how much to do you reduce it? But it's actually quite a simple process."

Blanch and wilt greens

"This is an essential in my life. You need greens, and you need to not be frightened by all those leaves, and how to make them manageable and flavourful. Whether they are little greens to go into a soup, or served as a side to some piece of fish, or whether they are chopped and added to stuffings or meatballs - they are incredibly nutritious and delicious."

Plant a herb garden

"The really remarkable and dramatic change that you can make to a dish can come through the herbs and the spices that you use. You just don't get the same flavour with dry herbs. So you can grow some of these herbs quite easily, and a lot of them are very hardy and stay around all year long, like rosemary, thyme and oregano."

Cook fruit

"It's great to know how to bake fruit or make jam or a little compote. Because sometimes when you buy fruit, you don't eat it as quickly as it ripens. Learning how to use the fruit instead of wasting [it]is important. Just simply cutting, say, apples, sprinkling them with a little sugar and putting them in the oven renders one of the most heavenly baked fruit dishes you could have. There's nothing to it."

Be minimal ist

"I think that the minimum amount of equipment in the kitchen is very desirable. When you get all those gadgets, you disengage with food, whereas if you use a mortar and pestle, or you're chopping instead of using a machine, you begin to feel empowered and you take responsibility for what you're making."

Enlist kids as helpers

"Engage your kids in the cooking of the food, setting of the table, and the conversation. Even if it only happens once a week, you gotta do it. Because they have to grow up with a set of values that ensure that the planet is going to exist. They have to be stewards of the land, and know how to fend for themselves and how to communicate at the table."

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