Plant-based Food Prep.

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

As a dietitian, I learned a lot about which foods rated highest in folate or vitamin C, and what made beans, peas and lentils the nutritional superstars they are. Yet my training did not include a course about how to make food taste good.

My mother enjoyed teaching children practical skills such as food preparation. All of my birthdays featured participatory cookie-making activities. Our Ingredients were not the healthiest—yet our parties were great fun! Meanwhile, my dad, a physiology prof, was doing cancer research and teaching about diabetes at universities and at Langara College.

It took a while for my two worlds of a) Nutrition and Health  and b) Food Preparation to merge.

One boost was to take courses at a chef school in Northern California,  that led to our two books: The Raw Food Revolution Diet, and Becoming Raw. People had come from all over the world to gain chef skills using health-supportive ingredients. Classes included people who wanted to transform the cuisine of their native country, in order to reduce risk of chronic disease. Some participants had just discovered cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer in themselves or a family member, and were well aware of the links between dietary choice and chronic diseases. Others wanted to improve chef skills for work at a spa on the Italian coast, or a health-oriented restaurant in New York, Texas, or Japan. Some wished to learn quick and simple ways to use a variety of plant foods or to make their everyday time in the kitchen more fun. Others were true gourmets who created exquisite arrangements, with subtle flavour combinations, both raw and cooked.

We learned knife skills, and how to how to plate artistically. We tasted items that we had never sampled. We learned how to store ingredient, create menus, and integrate healthful eating with travel. We did demonstrations for the class, on a topic of our choice, and gained confidence within this supportive, friendly environment.

One fascinating class explored combining flavours. We had 5 trays of food; each covered with ingredients. One tray held items that would contribute saltiness—amazingly, including celery. Other trays featured sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Each small group of students was to create a salad dressing or other menu item using our choices from these basic flavours.

One delight of working with foods is that we can involve so many of our senses. After attempts at recipes that were not winners in other respects, I appreciate learning from chefs, with the sense of taste and texture was so much better developed than mine.

Lemon Tahini Dressing

Sesame tahini can be used to flavor sauces and soups, or to give creamy texture in a dressing. Since it is not hydrogenated, oil may rise to its surface during storage; therefore you may need to stir it before using. Try this dressing on salads, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, and baked potatoes. Fresh squeezed juice is best.

Recipe from The Kick Diabetes Cookbook, by B. Davis and V. Melina. 2018
Makes 1-1/2 cups
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
1/2 cup (125 ml) tahini
1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon or lime juice
1-2 tbsp (30 ml) tamari
2 cloves garlic
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Put the water, tahini, lemon juice, tamari, garlic, and cayenne in a blender and process for 30 seconds or until smooth. This dressing will keep, in a covered container and refrigerated, for up to 3 weeks.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian; ; websites: ​

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