Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why composition is important

It's easy to overlook how important it is to compose dinner. You may be thinking, "ok, listen, my spouse and kids could care less what's on the plate - as long as it's food". Perhaps, but it's important to think about composition not just for aesthetic reasons, but also because meals should be about balancing flavors and taking in nutrients. What do I mean by composing the plate? It means thinking about what components your plate is going to consist of. Let me explain by giving you an example of what NOT to do:

I once made the following for dinner: chicken, cauliflower, and rice. See a problem here? Everything was WHITE! Clearly a lack of planning. Had I visualized what everything would look like once it was on the plate, I might have realized that this would end up a monochromatic dinner. The best composed meals consist of a variety of colors, textures and flavors. My chicken would have been better alongside something green or red to perk it up.

"Eat the rainbow", the saying goes. Not only is a plate more visually appealing when it consists of a variety of colors, but by doing so we take in the diverse nutrients our bodies need from foods that are red, purple, orange or green. Each of these colors represents a family of nutrients that are vital to health.

Consider making small changes to your usual fare. For instance, potatoes don't have to be white: if you leave the skins on the little rose variety, they can be red (and also provide additional fiber that you would lose if you removed the skin). Roasting them with herbs can provide some interest. For something unique that even kids might find fun to eat are purple Peruvian potatoes that add a lot of interest to a plate, and taste just like regular potatoes. Rice also doesn't have to be just white; brown rice is FAR tastier and much more nutritious because the fiber hasn't been stripped off. You can try mixing rices. I just bought a 3-rice blend at Sprouts Market that contains grains of brown, red and black rice. Wild rice is also very visually interesting, either alone or when blended with brown or white rice. Spices can be added to rice while you're cooking it that give off some color. For instance, chili powder, saffron, and turmeric all have distinctive colors and flavors that can add some excitement to otherwise boring dishes.

A nice array of
colors and textures
 Meats can be changed color by blackening them, adding spice rubs to them, giving them grill marks on the BBQ and slathering them with sauce (of any variety of color).

Vegetables are going to naturally provide loads of color and texture. But the one thing you do not want to destroy is the vibrant green of many vegetables that get steamed or cooked. When done cooking, it's a good idea to immediately toss them into an ice bath to shock them, thereby preserving their green color. This is especially true of green beans and broccoli, which can turn a yucky brownish color when allowed to sit at room temperature. You'll just want to gently reheat them before serving.

Another thing to consider is not only color, but texture. For instance, you wouldn't want everything on your plate to be creamy. Vary the textures by offering something creamy, for example, alongside something with some crunch.

And lastly, another consideration is ingredients. Don't have the same thing in more than one side. For instance garlic. As much as I love it, you wouldn't want garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach with garlic, and garlic roasted chicken all on the same plate. Garlic is healthy, but goodness, you'll have to seriously air out the house and give everyone Altoids! Something to strive for is to prepare sides that either compliment or contrast one another, such as something acidic alongside something sweet for some good balance, or something spicy alongside something creamy (like dairy) to fan the flames.

Composing your plates does require some advance planning. It means visualizing the end result before beginning to cook. With some experimentation you can put together a well-composed plate sure to please everyone you are feeding.

1 comment :

  1. The Cuisinart Smartstick Immersion Blender is on sale at Sur La Table for $29.95.
    I replaced my Braun which I had for many years with the Smartstick a few months ago and I do like it. It is my most used kitchen utensil.


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