The Current

Samin Nosrat wants to 'keep you company' with her podcast for pantry cooking

People's ability to go to the supermarket to pick up ingredients is being severely limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new podcast is hoping to help those in lockdown get creative with the food already in their pantry.

Cooking can help reduce anxiety amid uncertain times, chef says

Samin Nosrat, host of podcast Home Cooking, says because of COVID-19, we have 'all the time in the world' but 'a lot more limitations' in terms of ingredients. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images/Netflix)

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People's ability to go to the supermarket to pick up ingredients is being severely limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new podcast is hoping to help those in lockdown get creative with the food already in their pantry. 

Samin Nosrat, chef and author of cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, is one of the hosts of Home Cooking, which wants "to help you figure out what to cook — and keep you company — during the quarantine." 

Nosrat, whose cookbook was turned into a hit Netflix series, told The Current's Matt Galloway that the podcast idea had been sitting in the back of her and co-host Hrishikesh Hirway's minds for a long time, and mid-quarantine was the "right time" to get it started. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

What is different in cooking now than at a normal time? 

I would say the constraints are different. Typically we have every ingredient available to us. We can run up to any store and get anything we need, but we are often limited in our time.

And now it's a little bit reversed where we have all the time in the world and a lot more limitations in terms of our ingredients and what we're exactly able to make.

The first episode of this podcast, there's a large part of it that is devoted to beans. What is it about dried beans that is so perplexing to people? 

I think a lot of people have a really bad relationship to beans because, to me, I think they've historically undercooked them. So that can cause a lot of gastrointestinal distress. There have been many, many beans that I've eaten at other people's homes that are not cooked evenly. 

[Also] if you've been storing beans in your cupboard for many decades, they dry out to such an extent that they'll never cook up all the way evenly. 

It's just about giving people some tips and giving them the comfort to know it's OK if your beans are falling apart a little because it's overcooked. I'd rather eat overcooked ones than undercooked. 

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There's a lot of anxiety right now and people are feeling it in all parts of their lives. What do you think it is about being in a kitchen and cooking which can ease that anxiety? 

One, for me, cooking has always been a wonderful physical pursuit that gets me back in my body. I'm a pretty heady person, so I spend a lot of time being anxious and worrying about the future. You really are using all five of your senses and that is probably the shortest way into kind of meditation for me. 

And also, even though our circles might be really limited and for me, for example, I live completely by myself, …  but in other times food has been a reason for us to gather and a way for us to connect with others. 

And I don't think that that needs to end. Whether that connection is happening digitally, I know a lot of people are gathering for Zoom lunches and meals, or just sharing food with your neighbours and people in your community. 

I was speaking with Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, a few weeks ago and he talked about how the pandemic is reminding us of our place in the physical world. What about the idea that this will give us a better sense as to where our food comes from? 

I definitely think that a wonderful thing that is certainly happening here in California [is to] our relationships to the land and our own gardens. There has been a huge upswing here [in terms of people planting], nurseries are completely sold out of all of the plant starters and seeds.

A shopper walks through an aisle empty of pasta, rice, beans and soup, as supermarkets run out of stock due to pandemic panic buying. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Even more than that, I think the relationship to our local farmers is deepening and farmer's markets are still able to run here. A lot of farmers who are really suffering because restaurants are closed have pivoted, on a moment's notice, to farm boxes. People who I never thought I'd see order a farm box are ordering them and driving an hour or so to do a pickup. 

It is heartwarming to see these small farmers getting direct relationships to their customers, albeit under really quite extreme circumstances. But that hopefully is something that will sustain. 

What would comfort food be for you right now? 

One of my very favourite things to make, which actually does align with the vegan lifestyle, is a dish that I learned from one of my friends who grew up as a child of hippies with her sister in Hawaii.

And for them, their greatest treat that they could ever imagine when they went to the health food store with their mom was that she would buy them marinated tofu. 

I know this will raise a lot of eyebrows, but it's so delicious and I say this as a person who really enjoys eating meat. Take medium firm tofu and drizzle on a little bit of Bragg Liquid Aminos, a kind of unfermented soy sauce. 

If you can't find Bragg Liquid Aminos, you can use soy sauce and then pat it dry. Slice it into maybe half-inch thick slices and then it gets fried in coconut oil. 

There's something about the combination of these three ingredients that is so mouth-wateringly delicious. It's so incredibly savoury and wonderful. 

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Idella Sturino. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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