Since preparing and eating food is in every way central to life, it’s an important area to consider for anyone striving towards minimalism. What we eat deeply imbues our identities, relationships, ideologies, household economies, emotions and, last but not least, our health and well-being. In this post, we give some notes as to why we find that ketogenic eating – making sure that at least eighty percent of your caloric intake comes from high quality fat – best resonates with our minimalist lifestyle. In this post, I thought I’d focus on minimalist cooking. Is it possible to prepare healthy, tasty and inexpensive food without a vast machine park and a degree in gastronomy?
Before addressing these questions, let me just admit that I love cooking. To me, preparing food for myself, Kristoffer and our friends takes on spiritual, aesthetical and sensuous dimensions. The same goes for Kristoffer, which means that after grocery shopping, we tend to push and shove each other through the hallway in order to be the one to first reach the kitchen and start dinner. To my great surprise, this doesn’t seem to be the case in all households. For some reason, not everyone loves cooking. If you happen to be one of the people who find it boring, difficult or, for any other reason, unpleasant, minimalist cooking just might be part of the solution. If your reluctance has to do with inequality, however, you’d probably be better off changing your relationship dynamic or, if this proves impossible, partner(s).
A small number of high quality ingredients
Minimalist cooking, then, is about learning how to prepare simple, delicious, healthy food without spending an eternity or a fortune on either appliances, or the food itself. My version of this is, of course, ketogenic, but the principles go for any way of eating.
The first and most important principle is chosing, or, if you’re a total novice, getting acquainted with, a small number of high quality ingredients. These should, needless to say, be compatible with your way of eating and your preferences. I rely heavily on butter, tallow, olive oil, eggs, beef, organ meats, tinned mackerel, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. In Spain, avocados are a given, ketogenic go-to food, but in Sweden they’re too expensive and low quality.
For seasoning, I usually go with absurd amounts of garlic, lemon juice, turmeric, cinnamon, a North African chili blend called harissa, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary and other dried herbs. If this list of spices and herbs terrifies you, just disregard it – it’s not necessary to use anything but salt. And garlic, did I mention garlic?
Before we go on, just note that there are no processed meats like sausage or charcruterie, no dairy (besides butter), no semi-manufactures and, importantly, no “LCHF”- “Low Carb”- “High Protein”- or “Keto”-branded replacement products. You’ll find bread, pasta, ice cream and many other conventional food items branded as such, but most of the time, they’re a total scam – extremely expensive, quite high carb and packed with ingredients that are no good for you. If you want clean, healthy and inexpensive keto-food, just go with unprocessed protein, fats and low carb vegetables.
Experiment with your ingredients
Once you’ve chosen a few, good ingredients, it’s time to start experimenting with them. If you’re new to cooking, focus on learning just one way of preparing, say beef and broccoli, and don’t move on until you perfect it. It’s better to know how to prepare three delicious meals than twelve bland ones, right?
From my list above, let’s start with the example of cabbage. It’s very cheap, nutritious and versatile. The easiest way to prepare cabbage is making a salad. Chop it finely, removing the stem. Dress it in olive oil, lemon juice and add some salt (and, if seasoning doesn’t terrify you, do add mint, oregano, parsley or any other herbs you like). We have this kind of salad with most meals. Another great cabbage dish is chopping it finely and frying it gently – and not too long – in butter. This is the perfect, keto comfort food and sides beautifully with fish, chicken or any other protein source – much like you would use potatoes, pasta or other carbs. If you want to go to cabbage heaven, add lemon juice, garlic, turmeric and black pepper while frying it (the black pepper makes the healthy stuff in the turmeric more easily available to your body). Or settle with butter and salt only, which is more than enough.
Anything you can do with cabbage, you can do with cauliflower. It’s just beautiful if you fry it in butter, adding some salt, turmeric and garlic. The same goes for broccoli, but bear in mind it’s much easier to overcook, making it grey-ish and uninspiring.
Do you see the pattern? Fry any of the low carb vegetables on the list in butter, add salt, and, if you’re feeling extravagant, season to your taste. This is a good base for any ketogenic meal, given that you use enough butter – for us, that means about 50 grams per person. To this, add a salad and some 100-125 grams of protein.
Another good and quickly put together keto dish, will be frying 100-125 grams of any kind of protein, making a cabbage salad with some olive oil and lemon or vinegar, and adding herb butter. Make herb butter by mixing butter, garlic, herbs or spices with a fork. My favourite combination is turmeric and cinnamon. Garlic alone is fine, too.
Sources of protein, then. Eggs are excellent for breakfast. We both have three eggs, scrambled in 40 grams of butter every morning. Heat the pan, let the butter melt, add the eggs directly into the pan, add salt if you want, stir – and done. Don’t overcook the eggs, unless you prefer them really dry.
When it comes to meat, I prefer beef to pork or chicken, since beef has better nutritional value and, in my opinion, tastes better. If possible, chose grass-fed or organic beef. Do experiment with less expensive details, such as prime rib, which can be ever as tasty and luxurious as, for example, entrecôte. It’s actually perfectly fine to quickly fry prime rib and the like, just as you would with more expensive pieces of beef – it’s not only for roast or stew. Minced beef is, of course, a good, verstaile and inexpensive option. Just fry it in tallow, and when it’s done, add finely chopped cabbage, butter, salt and – again, if you feel like it – lemon juice, garlic, spices and herbs. This dish takes no more than 5-10 minutes to prepare, and it’s very nourishing and satisfying.
Organ meats have a special place in my heart – no pun intended. Look at this recipe if you want inspiration. If I find some decent salmon, chicken or any other high quality protein, I’ll go for it. Of course, I also happily cook aubergine, zucchini, asparagus and other low carb vegetables. I love making soup, casseroles, stews and – you name it. The point here, though, is that if you happen to be one of those people going “I can’t cook!”, or if you find it at all difficult, time consuming or boring, you’d probably be better off minimizing the number of ingredients you have to buy, store, keep fresh and learn how to cook.
Tableware and Kitchen Appliances
Apart from the food itself, minimizing tableware and kitchen appliances is central to our minimalist project. Kristoffer recently wrote this post about his minimalist coffee solution, which explains our “low tech, high concept”-approach to clearing out uneccesary items. Note that in order to prepare any of the dishes mentioned above, all you need is a cutting board, a knife, a frying pan, a pot, a spatula and a bowl for mixing salad. That’s it. This means, for one thing, that your kitchen doesn’t have to have a lot of storage space. For another, it’s virtually impossible to make a mess in the kitchen. We make a point of using one single cupboard, allowing only for the appliances and tableware we use every day. We do have additional tableware for dinner parties, but this is off limits when it’s just the two of us. This solution has proven to eliminate the piling up of dirty dishes, since it forces us to wash up anything we use immediately. This is a good example of what we mean by “Taking Willpower Out of the Equation”. Needless to say, for two rather neurotic pedants, this is nothing but bliss.
Minimalist cooking, then, is about the food itself, the way of preparing it and, last but not least, about organizing your kitchen accordingly. Planning for a future in what will most likely be a very small, Spanish house, these aspects of minimalism are of great importance to us, however mundane they might seem. It’s an interesting example of how seemingly small, everyday habits may add up to affect major decisions, such as where to live. How small a kitchen, and by extension, how small a home, can you happily accept, depening on the number of your belongings?